"That's the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always makes one a little giddy at first."
Listening to the fascinating Editorial Intelligence Digital Diplomacy panel discussion hosted by Her Excellency Nicola Clase, Swedish Ambassador to the UK, I realise that in the domain of digital diplomacy practitioners might be missing a very important point. "Foreign ministries are getting the hang of social media" proclaimed the Economist and it is true that some professionals are exploring which social media platformsoptimize the info push and engage audiences, enhance the brand or message. Yet others explore the "Force" that is social media abroad. Yes, digital diplomacy can make us giddy with expectations. However, very few digital diplomats actually assess the transformative power their digital diplomatic mission could have on society back home.
Inspiration from Abroad.
In a bold social experiment back in June 2012, one swedish citizen per week became the @Sweden national twitter spokesperson. Most citizens managed to convey their routines and thoughts with brutal honesty, one woman even shattering the stereotype of the progressive, politically correct Swede. Social challenges are to be found world-wide and the global audience is fascinated with benchmarking lifestyles and habits. @Sweden got to the point: How does living in Sweden compare, for better or worse, to our daily lives elsewhere?
Recently, a trio made up of a communications consultant, a rapper and a journo launched an online campaign to encourage french youths to seek inspiration abroad. Aptly named Barrez-vo.us (get lost!) Felix Marquardt, the comms guru, proclaimed in a Libé tribune, that their "salvation is elsewhere" as France is a country of elitism and glass ceilings. Young people, according to Felix, should flee mind-numbing french intellectual self-sufficiency and thrive on the energy of other countries, come back, leave and so forth. He isn't that wrong. Countries like Sweden or Australia systematically see their backpack-clad young off to travel the world. Seeking inspiration abroad is not new. But where expatriation might be an option for the unattached youngsters, it's a pipedream for the 50% of us middle everythings busy creating our country's riches.
On the 1st of October a leaderless mouvement called #GEONPi garnered the support of 33 000 self-employed on Facebook to denounce a new law which would allegedly oppress entrepreneurship in France. As one venture capitalist tweeted: Whether they are right or wrong is not the question, it's the debate that surrounds this policy which stimulates ideas.
RT @pascalmercier: Pas pro #geonpi cet article de Libération mais ça montre qu'il y a un débat d'idées et c'est super bit.ly/O4TxjB
— Les Pigeons (@DefensePigeons) Octobre 3, 2012
Last year, conscious that France might need debate to inject innovation into policy making, the Centre d'Analyse Stratégique initiated a novel project: Identifying social policy curiosities abroad. Whilst this report reached a very limited audience one could easily imagine the impact of this type of information if scaled to a national level. With an enduring economic crisis in Europe, and by comparing what are mostly similar challenges abroad (adapting social policies to the aging population, changing family structures and generally fighting against inequalities by responding to new social needs) it enables us to think, reject or adopt new tracks to tackle our most burning issues.
The freshly announced budget for the french ministry of Foreign Affairs is roughly 4.9 billion €. To calculate the ROI of such an expenditure would be absurd and definitely a waste of tax payer money. In an effort to create some transparency into what actually happens in french embassies an obscure Web-documentary series called "Destinations- Chroniques d'Une Diplomatie de Terrain" was launched. Whilst this "EmbaCam" might inspire a career choice, seeing diplomats go about their daily functions doesn't actually add value to anyone's everyday life. Now, if that EmbaCam were pointed on how other people tackle their everyday challenges, we might just click-out with valuable take-aways.
So to loop back to the EI Digital Diplomacy discussion and to answer a tentatively on-the-record diplomat's quib @ 1:04:07: "Why don't we just publish our reporting?"
I say: Yes, please do that.
By understanding how foreign nationals problem solve, by importing ideas and creating debate back home, by walking through The Other Side Of The Looking Glass, we might be able to inject change into our own tired society.