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Stephen Hale
Head of Engagement, Digital Diplomacy, London

Our digital campaigns - some highlights

Posted 06 April 2010 by Stephen Hale  

It's annual appraisal time for civil servants, so I've been thinking back over a year of Foreign Office digital campaigns. 

As I've mentioned before, we've organised a lot of digital diplomacy work around the concept of running campaigns in the last year. Not everything we do is actually a campaign, but we've tried to apply our digital campaigning method to foreign policy issues, whether it's a 3 week campaign in the lead up to an event or a 5 year campaign on a big strategic issue. The campaigning approach helps us to frame our work to focus our energy on things that will help deliver foreign policy objectives.

This is a new way of working for the Foreign Office and we've spent the last year working out how to do it. We started by recruiting campaign managers and developing our method, and we've refined our approach throughout the year based on what we've learned.

But more important than our method, we've run lots of campaigns. Here are some highlights from the last year: 

London Summit

This time last year we were just rounding off our G20 London Summit campaign. It was a massive campaign, it won some awards, we evaluated it thoroughly, I blogged quite a lot about it, and it has informed our approach since. 

Climate change

We've run an ongoing campaign on climate change, one of the big priorities for the FCO. Our main focus has been on:

Act on Copenhagen

We ran a 6 month campaign in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. Typically for our campaigns, it was run in partnership with others across Whitehall, in this case the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for International Development. We ran a campaign website, hosted on the FCO web platform. But the successes of the campaign were often away from our official site. We had some success generating eye catching set piece bits of content for others to reuse such as our 4 degrees map and our Road to Copenhagen timeline. We used video, email and FCO climate bloggers extensively, and we made full use of the FCO network of web editors to run a 24/7 operation  during the summit.

Middle East

We've been working with our staff in the Middle East and North Africa to help them to make better use of digital engagement. This is a big long term strategic campaign, and it was difficult initially to know where to start. We've had some success creating content and aggregating content from our posts in the region. But we've found that we've been at our most effective when we've worked with particular posts and individuals to help them deliver their local objectives, and then in turn our broad objectives. For example, we now have 5 people blogging in Arabic (from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan) who are beginning to have a real reach into local conversations.


We worked a number of influencing campaigns on Burma in support of UK objectives on human rights. We've worked with the Burma Campaign on the 64 for Suu campaign which reached millions around to world to raise awareness of the continued imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. Assessing the impact of this campaign is tricky, but we've been working with our community in the UK to maintain momentum, through our Facebook group, and through events like the screening of Burma VJ at the Foreign Office


We worked with the Royal Commonwealth Society to run the Commonwealth Conversation campaign on the future of the Commonwealth. It was the largest ever public consultation on the future of the Commonwealth and the campaign website generated more than 1000 comments from around the world which fed straight into the Heads of Government meeting in November and informed the RCS call for reform of the Commonwealth earlier this year. 


We worked on a cross government campaign in the lead up to the London conference on Afghanistan in January. We built a conference website in almost no time, and generated lots of content and engagement opportunities in English, Arabic, Urdu, Dari and Pashtu. Like most of our digital campaigns this was run in partnership with lots of others. It wasn't difficult to generate interest, content, or engagement. The tricky thing was knowing where to place everything with so many interested parties. We're now focussing our digital efforts on helping to deliver FCO objectives on Afghanistan, and using digital engagement to support the objectives of our posts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nuclear Disarmament and Counter Proliferation

We've been working on a campaign around the UK objective to move towards a world without nuclear weapons. This will reach a head in May in New York at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It's sometimes been difficult to know where to place digital in this work, and how to demystify a complex and technical issue. But it will be a test of our method in May, particularly as we'll have a blogging and tweeting Ambassador and a digital campaign manager on the ground in New York.

During the year we've also applied our campaigning method to lots of other subjects including the 2012 Olympics, Chevening scholars, the Arms Trade Treaty, Europe, China, Human Rights (including a joint campaign with the British Red Cross), diaspora communities in the UK and more.

No two campaigns are the same, so to do all of this we've had to make full use of the digital diplomacy approach. For us that means focussing on listening (using research, developing dashboards, changing what we do as a result of what we hear), publishing (making full use of our branded FCO web presence), engaging (refining how we collaborate and participate and work with others), and evaluating (learning from what we've done so that we can get better at it).

We've also made full use of the Foreign Office network to deliver our campaigns. We've put effort into coaching and cajoling, and evangelising about digital diplomacy internally. And it's been diplomats on the ground who have actually delivered our campaigns.

So has it all been worth it? The real measure of success for us is not how good we are at running digital campaigns, but how useful our work is in helping to deliver diplomats' particular objectives. So there's no single measure of success. But the experience of running digital diplomacy campaigns in the last year has definitely made us better at applying the tools and techniques of digital engagement to help diplomats solve complex foreign policy problems. 

This is still all a work in progress of course, but I think we're getting better at it.  

You can find out more about our digital diplomacy campaigns on the Global issues channel of the Foreign Office website and on the Digital Diplomacy website.  

Stephen Hale
06 April 2010

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>> Sir, FCO Blogs have successfully given importance to INTERNATIONAL ISSUES of all fields. FCO made contacts with grass root level intelligentsia through blogs. My best wishes to all team members, bloggers and readers of FCO Blogs, year after year. <<

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