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Digital Diplomacy: what goes around comes around PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Monday, 11 November 2013 09:52

Groupe Intellex logoAt a time when governments and global businesses are ruffled (if not alarmed) by an endless stream of embarrassing revelations this may seem an odd time to suggest that it’s been a good week for Digital Diplomacy.

In our digitalised economies it may now be far easier for stuff to be uncovered almost as fast as it can be covered up – exposure lag times decreasing as fast as info-forensics are improving.  That adds urgency to a seismic shift in the roles of diplomats and their ‘trade and investment’ partners – the latter being the primary post-colonial rationale for global networks of Foreign Office outposts.

More than just an umbrella term for friendly cultural overtures (e.g. ‘Scotland Leads the way in Digital Diplomacy’) the theme has become entrenched as a key part of any diplomatic mission or ministerial overseas visit.  Regardless of ideological differences we can always agree to share digital expertise, for this is a global market and who can resist planting our talent in foreign fields?

Britain may be a very long way from ruling the digital waves but old ambitions still drive the quest for success abroad and many folk get much patriotic thrill from these 21st century conquests.  We marvel that public transport in New York uses a ticketing system from the UK, that San Francisco is adopting the same 3D mapping that lies behind the mobile apps for Boris’s Bikes, or that a small firm from Northern Ireland supplied the voter registration software for Norway’s recent General Election.

In this past week it was no surprise that Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was signing a memorandum between the UK’s Government Data Service and the Republic of Korea to extend collaboration on digital government.  Nor was it any great surprise that the Guardian’s Media Network and UKTI teamed up to subsidise small businesses to attend events in new York and Singapore.

The edgy moves of the UK, France and Germany towards stabilising their less-public information sharing agreements with those of the USA are what most folks will assume to be the battle-front for digital diplomacy but, in the export revenue race, the UK’s education and research sectors are increasingly looking overseas whilst markets at home are constrained.

In recruiting senior civil servants the classis job spec asks for evidence of candidates’ ability ‘to cope with ambiguity’.  There is no hiding place for ambiguity in the openess of the digital economy.  The old notion of Competitive Advantage has given way to Collaborative Advantage.   A very senior EU Commissioner, meeting two young entrepreneurs, observed that one seemed to be giving away his trade secrets to the other.  ‘Madam’, the young man retorted, ‘you are so old fashioned’.

As business mentors (and now Digital Diplomats) are fond of saying ‘What goes around, comes around’.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 November 2013 10:29

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