I wrote about the voices of government last month – five categories of public sector bloggers, with the fifth largely empty. Step forward John Duncan who blogs and twitters in his role as UK Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament.
In my earlier post, I had the FCO bloggers in category 3 – People who represent their organisations, but I think Duncan’s blog is subtly different. As Stephen Hale, whose interview with John Duncan led me to him, notes:
If our digital diplomacy project is to really succeed, we need to demonstrate that diplomats and policy officials can use the tools of digital engagement to help deliver foreign policy objectives.
Pretty much by definition, of course, an ambassador represents his organisation, but this is moving beyond just opening a window into the organisation into using blogging as a tool for the core job:
In multilateral diplomacy there’s a lot of coffee shop diplomacy, where people will go and ask: “what’s the UK position?” and they want it quietly, not in the public speeches that may last 10 or 20 minutes, they want a quick snapshot. And what I’ve used the blog for is to actually have that conversation virtually. So people have become used to going to the blog to find out what is a snapshot of the UK view in the way that we might have a coffee shop conversation. So it’s replacing something that we actually do, and I probably have less coffee shop conversations as a result, but I think that’s quite productive.
I think that puts him in to category 5 – Everybody else, rather more so than most of the other FCO blogs I have dipped into. Perhaps that’s because Duncan has spotted a connection which resonates well beyond the world of treaty negotiations. In his blog’s opening post in September last year, he observed that:
Of course negotiating treaties may seem a particularly dry and legalistic area of work with hours spent discussing texts and the meaning of words. But all diplomacy is fundamentally about people and relationships. Time and again we see that our ability to build compromises and to secure deals is based on personal understanding and trust between the negotiators. Having a good argument is rarely enough to win the day.
The combination of the power of argument with the power of personal connections is a pretty good summary of one of the things social media are pretty good for. The opportunities across government (to say nothing of the world beyond) to amplify and project that combination are enormous.