Building Virtual Diplomacy

Building Virtual DiplomacyThe Setup

Lets look at Innovation, Crowdsourcing, and the United States Government for a minute…

The world continues to move faster than ever and diplomatic responses from the United States are required that are both increasingly more complex and more urgent, and the required solutions must address the inherent situational challenges while also protecting the interests of the United States and its allies. To deal with this diplomatic reality, the United States State Department is embracing the principles of crowdsourcing, eGovernment, and open innovation and partnering with America’s best universities to help solve the World’s biggest challenges as part of a new initiative called Diplomacy Lab. I found the following after meandering through a bread crumb trail of tweets from @AlecJRoss (Hillary Clinton’s former Chief Innovation Officer):

Diplomacy Lab is designed to address two priorities: first, Secretary Kerry’s determination to engage the American people in the work of diplomacy. And second, the imperative to broaden the State Department’s research base in response to a proliferation of complex global challenges. The initiative enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty experts at universities across the country. Students participating in Diplomacy Lab explore real-world challenges identified by the Department and work under the guidance of faculty members who are authorities in their fields. This initiative allows students to contribute directly to the policymaking process while helping the State Department tap into an underutilized reservoir of intellectual capital. Teams that develop exceptional results and ideas are recognized for their work and may be invited to brief senior State Department officials on their findings.

This then led to me to information about another digital diplomacy program.

US State Department Harnesses Interns Around the Globe to Address Digital Needs

During Hillary Clinton’s tenure, the United States State Department introduced an eIntern program, as detailed on the State Department web site:

Virtual Student Foreign ServiceThe Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) is part of a growing effort by the State Department to harness technology and a commitment to global service among young people to facilitate new forms of diplomatic engagement. Working from college and university campuses in the United States and throughout the world, eInterns (American students working virtually) are partnered with our U.S. diplomatic posts overseas and State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the U.S. Commercial Service domestic offices to conduct digital diplomacy that reflects the realities of our networked world. This introductory video provides an overview of the VSFS program.

VSFS eIntern duties and responsibilities will vary according to the location and needs of the VSFS projects identified at the sponsoring domestic or overseas diplomatic office. VSFS projects may be research based, contributing to reports on issues such as human rights, economics or the environment. They may also be more technology oriented, such as working on web pages, or helping produce electronic journals. Selected students are expected to work virtually on an average of 5-10 hours per week on VSFS eInternship projects. Students apply in the summer and if selected, begin the eInternship that fall lasting through spring. Most work and projects are internet-based and some have language requirements. Past projects asked students to:

  • Develop and implement a public relations campaign using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to communicate and reach out to youth
  • Conduct research on the economic situation, prepare graphic representations of economic data, and prepare informational material for the U.S. Embassy website
  • Create a system to gather and analyze media coverage on a set of topics including environment, health, and trade
  • Develop a series of professional instructional video clips to be published by the U.S. Embassy
  • Survey social media efforts of U.S. diplomatic posts, NGOs, and private companies around the world to help establish best practices in a U.S. Embassy’s social media outreach business plan.

The Conclusion

It is fascinating to see the world changing before our eyes and to see the children and young people of today engaged in commerce and government and entrepreneurship in ways that weren’t available to previous generations of young people. This only helps to accelerate the pace of change. But, the reality is that when an organization sits at the fork in the road and is making the decision of whether or not to actively engage people outside their four walls in their strategic efforts, the choice really is to either ride the crest of the wave by embracing and engaging talent outside your organization or choosing instead to get tumbled and drowned by this wave of progress by doing nothing.

What choice is your government or your organization making?

If you’re not sure how your government or your organization needs to change to adapt to these changing realities, check out my previous article:

What is the Role of Personal Branding in Achieving Innovation Success?


Required reading for Congress and Obama if they are serious about fostering innovation

About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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