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Category Archives: DDC Washington News

e-Estonia: Building a Digital Society

What if it took you less than five minutes and no accountants to get your taxes done? Or how about voting in parliament elections online, while on a trip to Fiji? Would you like to set up a new company and have it legal and running within 20 minutes? What about signing business contracts or official documents digitally, without leaving your office – or living room? What if you never had any checkbooks from your bank or parking meters on the streets?

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Understanding The True Meaning of Engagement


By Maria Belovas, Member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team

The digital diplomacy conversation has moved beyond the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to new levels of listening and engagement. This sentiment was stressed recently in Washington at the Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s (DDC) “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel.

The panelists, as well as the moderator were no strangers to the theme:

  • Petrit Selimi – Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo and author of Kosovo’s National Strategy on Digital Diplomacy
  • Joakim Edvardsson Reimar – Head of Swedish Digital Diplomacy
  • Gökhan Yücel – President of and “Turkish Digital Age Geek”
  • Jimmy Leach – Portland Communications Digital Consultant and former Head of Digital Diplomacy at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Tasked with moderating that bunch? James Barbour – Minister Counselor & Head of Press and Public Diplomacy at the EU Delegation in Washington, formerly Head of Communications at the British Embassies in both Washington and Moscow.

Although each participant presented their views at a slightly different angle, none of them questioned the significance of digital tools in achieving diplomatic goals. Having worked in this field for a while I am glad to see that the conversation has moved from ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to ‘How to be even better’. And as Joakim Reimar stressed – it is essential to be good at this, because when you’re not you will only hurt yourself (your country).

So how can governments be good at using digital tools for diplomacy? Definitely not by using those tools as an extension to how things have been done in the past. As Jimmy Leach put it – “in the past digital diplomacy was tweeting a photo of two men shaking hands in front of a 19th century painting”. Of course you can do that too, once in a while. But will that transform the way nations interact with one another? Will that empower citizens to act as ambassadors of their country?

Back to my question – how? First of all you listen. The most important conversations today do not necessarily take place behind closed doors in fancy buildings. There are communities, forums, interest groups where real people deal with real issues. There are also misconceptions going around which could easily be overturned by providing accurate information. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t listen. And if you hear about them in the evening news…well it’s too late now isn’t it?

You listen carefully. And then you speak. You speak about what is important to you in a way which inspires others to take action, to keep the conversation going. Meanwhile you do not stop listening. A conversation requires two-way communication. This is what digital engagement should look like and I am not saying it is an easy task.

Governments are not always eager to truly engage. Engagement is arguably foreign to the ways in which governments traditionally operate. There is a lot of talk about two way communication but it sadly often boils down to officials posting press releases on social media and counting “likes” and “retweets”. This isn’t success, nor does it truly have an impact.

Tougher yet, often the people who have mostly been receivers of information in the public sphere, traditionally called “the audience”, aren’t always prepared  to interact as equal counterparts of the “serious” conversations.

But governments are made up of people too. We’re all people as a matter of fact. And we have these amazing technological possibilities to listen and to be heard. The more governments recognize  this – and the more they see “the audience” as “the community” – the more governments will be able to have a meaningful digital impact.


Maria Belovas is responsible for Public Diplomacy and Media Relations at the Embassy of Estonia in Washington. She is also a member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team. All views expressed are solely those of the author and may not reflect the views of her employer or the Digital Diplomacy Coalition.

This post follows our recent “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel. Watch the video here.

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Policy and Legal Considerations for Government’s Use of Analytics

By Allen Brandt, Legal and Policy Fellow, Future of Privacy Forum

Government agencies, like many private organizations, use social media for a variety of purposes. At its most basic form, monitoring of social media gives the agency feedback on how your constituents feel your agency is performing its duties; if you are seeing many complaints and negative statements posted, it might give insight into how to improve services. Some governments, however, are using social media or website tools to track their citizens, with potentially harmful results.

With the continually-decreasing cost of data storage, it is now easier and cheaper to keep data than it is to systematically delete it, so you can now hold an ever-increasing history of your users, their interactions with your web and social media sites or other people, and using simple tools, the ability to identify and track the identities of these users, and the use of this history could be in conflict with local or international data privacy laws.

A major use of social media by governments around the world is to relay official announcements, press releases and statements in a consistent and coherent way. One government agency in India, taking a cue from the new Prime Minister, has mandated that every government department post both a tweet and a Facebook post, at least once every 15 days, regarding their agency’s welfare schemes or achievements. The use of social media, in addition to speed, has the advantage of lower costs, since your agency can get official announcements published to your constituents at essentially no cost.

Privacy Policy

Does your agency have an easy to find privacy policy, written in plain language? For U.S. Government sites, writing in clear language “that the public can understand and use” is now the standard, starting from the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and the Executive Orders that follow. For others, take the effort to have your websites and social media postings written for your audience. In many global organizations, that may mean insuring that your writing is to a 6th or 8th grade level. If you are unable to have your privacy policies rewritten into easy to understand language, consider adding an easy summary section to the beginning, where a user can get a one or two sentence description for each part with a link to the longer, more formal language, sometimes called a “layered privacy notice”, and are considered an industry best practice. This is especially important if your audience is multinational, such as USAID or the State Department in the US, or for your customs or immigration accounts.


As a big advocate in transparency: do your public facing policies match the actual practices that your agency has in place? Doing this often eliminates constituent FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), and goes a long way towards your agency’s credibility, and the elimination, or at least minimization of your users’ surprises. One recommendation is to review your policies against actual practices on an annual basis. In the private sector, an organization failing to have their actual practices match their website statements could lead, in the US, to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) section 5 violation, commonly called an unfair or deceptive trade practice, in the UK, an Unfair Trading Regulation, and other countries are similar.

Data Collection

A privacy concern is the potential secondary uses of this collected data. First, it’s seemingly impossible to give proper notice to a social media or website user for future uses of their information that are not yet known at the time of collection. Mass collection of personal data, without consent by the individual or another legal basis, could be in violation of both EU and US data protection laws. And some secondary uses, especially those for the public good, would be generally seen as positive, such as using social media after a hurricane or natural disaster, when normal telephone or mobile service was overloaded or slow, if working at all. Of course, with the speed and available to all access of social media, rumors and false information can be just as easily transmitted. After Hurricane Sandy, FEMA published a rumor control website, giving people the real story on what was happening and ways to contact them via phone, website or mobile device. The First Responder website offers guidance, best practices and lessons learned from the use of government agency’s use of social media during times of disaster.

But care should be taken for secondary uses of data that might not be universally appreciated. While a user’s social media name might be personal data, as it is in the US under GSA guidelines or would be under most EU laws, removing the individual identifiers to use, share and analyze the data without the means of identifying any individual has many advantages, including the ability perform research and analysis without risk of identifying any user. Google shares anonymized data with the public for both flu and dengue trends, allowing health officials to better respond to outbreaks. Working with university and other researchers may give your agency additional options to remove individual identifiers from social media logs and allow you to use and analyze the data without the risk of potential disclosure.

Using anonymized Google data to help determine where the flu might be headed is one thing, but to track or potentially identify users who may be searching for information about a communicable or socially unacceptable disease, and the use of this information could lead to legal or labor issues, Privacy Act violations, Genetic Information Act issues, or other problems, should be something to be avoided.

Finally, care should be taken that uses of collected data do not profile individuals, or perform some algorithm that disadvantages any individual (the concept of algorithmic accountability or insuring that your data processing is fair, just non-discriminatory, and in conformance with society’s standards and norms), and the credibility of your agency may depend, in large part, on the public’s perception of how they are treated and if they feel that their person information is being protected.

International, Host Country, and Domestic Laws

Remember that all data that your agency collects in your home country, and under many foreign laws, could be subject to eDiscovery or the ability of citizens to request that your agency produce for inspection, the information that you hold on an individual. The data that you collect or use for analysis have privacy impacts, often subject to various and often conflicting legal and use rules, conflicts between intelligence gathering and the internal agency’s policies, and requests for secondary uses.

Ask your agency’s privacy office and general counsel for guidance, or other agencies, to learn what they are doing and create your own policies and procedures that work for you, and help educate your agency’s management on these issues and how to navigate them.



Allen Brandt is an attorney who has merged his technical skills with delivering practical data protection and privacy advice, bringing more than 20 years of experience in the technology and information industries. He also served as a panelist at the Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s “Digital Diplomacy and Proactive Monitoring: Challenges to Solutions” event with the Open Technology Institute and Future Tense at the New America Foundation in Washington DC.

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Digital Diplomacy and Proactive Monitoring: Challenges to Solutions

In today’s increasingly connected world, proactive data monitoring makes it possible for organizations to listen to their communities and evaluate interactions, creating rich insights into digital engagement. But wonderful as these technologies are, there are challenges—especially when it comes to government use. Data monitoring can raise questions about privacy, what information the government is collecting, and how it is being used. This discussion explored how governments can balance these very real concerns with their need for situational awareness, data-driven strategy, and community engagement.

Josh Keating  Slate


  • Julie Weckerlein  US Department of Health and Human Services
  • Mohamad Najem  New America Foundation and Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  • Allen Brandt  Legal and Policy Fellow, Future of Privacy Forum
  • Christopher Harvin – Barbaricum and Sanitas International

Presented by the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, the Open Technology Institute and Future Tense at the New America Foundation in Washington DC.

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Jargon-filled economic policy can be sexy—if done right

By Amanda Allison

According to a panel of experts at last week’s Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s event on Economic Diplomacy, social media has the power to engage and prevent eyes from glazing over—even when the topic is complex and traditionally uninteresting.

The Digital Diplomacy Coalition (@digidiplomats) held a panel discussion titled “Economic Diplomacy: FromDigital Engagement to Results”. The discussion focused on how governments, organizations, and diplomats are using digital technologies and social media to promote trade policy and economic diplomacy. The event, hosted by the Embassy of the Netherlands (@NLintheUSA), convened over 120 people to hear how three seasoned experts craft their country and organization’s critical messages around these important topics.

Steve Glickman (@GlickmanS), Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University moderated the discussion and kicked the event off by noting that “economic diplomacy is simply the use of foreign policy tools to achieve economic goals. Digital diplomacy has democratized how we communicate those goals, impacting every sphere: political and private.”

So what tools should an economic diplomat use? Jude Hanan (@JudeHanan)Social Media and Emerging Tools Strategist at The World Bank (@WorldBank), said her organization engages on over 350 channels over multiple platforms, with the goals of transparency and accountability.

“You need to be true to your brand, but speak your audience’s language. Be multilingual and multiplatform,”@JudeHanan said. She later hinted that LinkedIn is the best tool to use in a professional space for those looking for funding or stakeholders.

Andreas von Uexkull, Minister of Trade at the Embassy of Sweden, said that his Embassy uses social media to bring together citizens to discuss current events. A hot topic now is the Transatlantic Trade and InvestmentPartnership (TTIP), and @SwedenInUSA utilizes hashtags to encourage people to join the conversation and to create buzz around the issue. Swedish citizens can also rely on their country’s social media updates to learn about important safety information such as the ongoing situation in the Ukraine.

“I’ve learned though,” von Uexkull added, “that social media cannot replace having actual meetings.”

Social media can, however, make wonky, complicated and boring topics more accessible, such as urban water management and economic water policy. Joining the panel from @NLintheUSA was Dale Morris(@DaleTMorris), an Economic Adviser. @DaleTMorris and his team created an app to demonstrate water management solutions for the New Orleans area, and through this work, he understands the importance of communicating complex information in an engaging way.

According to Morris, the key tools for any diplomat attempting to convey critical, complicated topics: pictures, social media, and apps. His team’s app alone contains the knowledge of 18 books in an easy to use, easy to look at format.

But what happens when your embassy or organization’s message on social media is misunderstood?

“Social media is the antithesis to the rigorous hierarchy of the traditional embassy structure. How do you adapt?” asked the moderator, @GlickmanS.

According to @DaleTMorris and keeping with a water theme, social media can be a literal flood of information—sometimes without barriers or filters—and lends itself to quick responses and misinterpretation.

While you can’t have full control over how your audience interprets your message, you can ensure that social media tools are in the right hands, which comes down to trust and training.  “You have to trust your staff,” said@JudeHanan. “We are all professionals and diplomats. You have to use common sense and staff guidelines.”

The evening wrapped up with a discussion on how these social media experts balance work days full of social media and a life away from the screen. “There are times you just have to turn off,” said @JudeHanan. “It can be hard to switch off though when you have to monitor all the time.”

An audience member noted that social media could potentially save time, too. We no longer have to physically go to events; rather, many are streamed online and often live Tweeted. For instance, if you couldn’t make it tothe Embassy of the Netherlands on Wednesday for the event in person, you could follow the discussion on twitter using #digitaldiplomacy.

The biggest takeaway from the night: Social media can bring people together and make information accessible if it’s engaging, monitored, and conversational. “Social media is your embassy; a good website is your home country,” said @JudeHanan.

We’d like to thank our moderator and panelists for a great night of discussion and the Embassy of the Netherlands for hosting this event with us.

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Photos: Digital Diplomacy Open House at the Canadian Embassy

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Watch: Digital Diplomacy +SocialGood Forum

Video from our Digital Diplomacy +SocialGood Forum held on 25 October in Washington, DC.

The event was a Digital Diplomacy Coalition (DDC) and UN Foundation hosted half-day conference focused on the transformative power of technology. This event brings together the dynamic international community with innovative technologists and influential minds. Diplomats, non-profit leaders and industry professionals explore the potential of digital media and technology to make the world a better place, and how to translate that potential into action.

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A Conversation with Petrit Selimi

Five years ago, on 17 February 2008 the Republic of Kosovo declared independence, hence starting an immense nation-building effort. In its agile form, Kosovo was quick to deploy the latest technologies in its efforts to establish its presence at home and abroad. Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Selimi led the push within the international community and continues to be instrumental in the young country’s digital diplomacy efforts. The digital diplomacy strategy of Kosovo was named one of the best in the world, after that of the US, the UK and Israel, in a global survey conducted by Turkish experts evaluating the content of strategies of dozens of countries.

Petrit Selimi, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kosovo
James Barbour, Press Secretary and Head of Communications at the British Embassy in Washington



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Digital Diplomacy Open House a Huge Success

We had a great turnout for our Digital Diplomacy Open House at Levick Strategic Communications during DC’s Social Media Week. Check out more photos on our Flickr.

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