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Stephen HaleHead of Engagement, Digital Diplomacy, London
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:
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.
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.
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.
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We've changed the way we describe our work on the web in the Foreign Office. We used to mostly talk about managing websites. Now we mostly talk about running digital diplomacy campaigns.
The approach is significantly different. Before, we might have worked with policy teams to make sure we presented their work in an clear, engaging and useful way. Now we ask policy teams what they're trying to achieve, and then help them to make use of online culture and tools to solve their policy problems.
Of course, we do still manage websites (255 of them in 40
languages), but increasingly we are focusing of our work around high
priority foreign policy issues, rather than managing a set of tools.
We have a campaign methodolgy (Listen, Publish, Engage, Evaluate) that we think we can apply to any problem. But the digital activity that we suggest can vary hugely depending on what it is we're trying to do.
So we run some big public-facing influencing campaigns, which might involve setting up new official online spaces, or work in partnership with others to reach broad audiences. But we also run less publically-visible engagement with small target audiences which involve us helping diplomats to collaborate with, or influence specific groups.
Some of our campaigns have a natural home on our official websites. Some of them are entirely delivered elsewhere.
To do all this we've recruited digital campaign managers who have a slightly different set of skills to typical web staff. We wanted campaign managers who could really get stuck into policy issues, and design and lead digital campaigns.
That's the theory. But it'll make more sense if I describe some of the problems we're currently trying to solve, and the campaigns we're working on to solve them. That's what I'll do in the next few posts.
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We have digital diplomacy staff based in Washington, Singapore and New Delhi, as well as London. It's rare that we're all physically in the same place, but we were all in London last week for our annual bout of knowledge sharing, training and brainstorming.
Because it's so rare that we're all together, we try to pack a lot in when we do meet, sharing experiences from the last year and planning what's next. It's exhausting, but it's my favourite week of the year.
We spent a lot of the week doing and talking about training. We currently run 3 training courses for Foreign Office staff: 2 aimed at people who publish web content (which are really about how to use our content management tools), and a new course about digital campaigning.
They're all important, but it's the last one that I'm most interested in. At the moment we manage several campaigns out of our London based team. But we want people around our network to deliver digital diplomacy. There are 16,000 staff in the Foreign Office network, in 150 countries. If we're going to make the the most of digital diplomacy opportunities, we have to spread the word.
Our new digital campaigns course aims to do just that. It is aimed anyone who will be responsible for digital campaigns (which tends to be policy teams rather than web editors).
So how do you train people to embrace digital diplomacy? We try to cover a bit of theory (short), a workshop (using a real example), some case studies (recent things we've actually done), some practical help, and space for discussion.
I think that the key to the success of the course is to keep it rooted in the real world, avoiding hypothetical scenarios. We don't want to run an academic course on the theory of digital engagement - others can do that. We want the people we train to go back to their jobs and begin delivering practical digital diplomacy activity.
In practice this means using:
- real case studies (things we have actually done, or even better, digital diplomats talking about their work)
- real scenarios (so our workshop is introduced by a policy officer with a problem that needs solving, with the aim of developing real working solutions that the participants can then go and actually implement)
Having spent a week participating in expertly run sessions, I know there are lots different ways to share knowledge. I'm interested in finding the best ways to remove the novelty from digital engagement, so that the Foreign Office can make the most of opportunities to use digital diplomacy methods and tools. It will start with our brilliant digital diplomacy staff and our digital champions, but if we're successful, we'll spread the word much wider.
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We've just advertised for 2 new jobs in Digital Diplomacy Group: