[WebDebate #45 summary] Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice


Katharina Höne

Diplomacy is often thought of as a practice centering on language. Yet, the visual image of diplomatic practice is increasingly important in a world in which images proliferate and videoconferencing has replaced face-to-face meetings. Diplomats need to be aware of the power of images, and need to have a sense of best practices and potential pitfalls when it comes to visual storytelling. Our 45th WebDebate ‘Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice’ took a closer look at this important topic.

There is no better example of the increasing importance of images and visual storytelling than last year’s opening of the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, heads of states and governments were unable to travel to New York for the opening of the assembly. Instead, each country sent a video message that was displayed in the assembly hall.

With the help of our speakers, we took a closer look at how world leaders used images and visual storytelling to mark the occasion. We were joined by Ms Stéphanie Fillion, a journalist working on UN affairs, and Dr Massimiliano Fusari, an academic and consultant on digital media as a visual storytelling means.

How have countries utilised this opportunity for visual communication and storytelling?

Many countries used the added opportunities that the video messages presented in terms of visual communication skillfully. Fillion highlighted a number of best practices. Some countries, for example China and North Macedonia, used the background to convey a sense of the country’s culture, heritage, and landmarks. The video message from the Philippines contained additional images to underscore the president’s remarks. Small details, such as the placement of the country’s flag as well as the UN flag in the frame, conveyed a commitment to multilateralism. The use of visual communication and storytelling can be summarised as: (a) careful staging of the world leader, and (b) the intentional use of symbols.

What does a further analysis of the videos reveal?

Fusari presented some further analysis of the videos and highlighted the use of symmetry and the golden ratio. These visual elements provide a sense of coherence and balance and are pleasing to the eye. They are also used intentionally as a frame to direct the gaze of viewers towards key elements such as a person’s head and hands. Similarly, ‘framing the wings’ is a term borrowed from theater to describe choices made regarding the sides of the image. In some of the video messages, we could see very intentional choices for framing the wings to define the space in which the ‘performance’ was taking place. When arranging high-level video messages such as these, it is worth paying attention to these elements. They provide visual clues and important hints for the audience on how to read the messages of the video.

What are some other details that are worth paying attention to?

Fillion and Fusari’s analysis really showed that details such as camera placement, teleprompter placement, background, and lighting matter a great deal in conveying messages effectively. In addition, the video format, compared to being physically present in the UNGA to deliver a speech, also leads to more attention being paid to items of clothing and accessories and, therefore, necessitates very intentional choices

Who are the messages directed to?

As with every piece of communication and storytelling, it is important to define who the intended audience is. The example of the UNGA showed that video messages were often crafted with both the domestic and international audience in mind. In some cases, the choice of backgrounds and symbols can best be explained by realising that the speeches before the UNGA were addressed to more than one constituency.

What lies ahead?

Fillion highlighted how 2020 provided some substantial challenges to the communication of diplomatic practice. For example, in the absence of physical meetings, how can a videoconferencing or a phone call between world leaders be conveyed in an interesting way? Fusari stressed that messages can be crafted with good choices regarding symbols, staging, and framing, and how countries can engage in visual storytelling. The debate made it clear that this is more than a temporary situation and that careful thought needs to be given to the use of new technologies and  their communication and storytelling potentials.

Further resources

A platinum jubilee for the UN: A brighter future for multilateralism



Last year, the United Nations General Assembly met mostly virtually throughout the High-Level Segment for the first time in its history. This exploration of a new spatial dimension for the United Nations is a reflection of the potential and challenges of our time today. It is also further proof of how interlinked the modern world has become. No country is immune from the effect of cross-border infectious diseases, and no country is out of reach of the powerful information and communication technologies.

In every crisis is an opportunity, and this global challenge facing the pandemic is also a catalyst for adopting solutions that were long put on the backburner. What we should not forget is that we are at a historic crossroad, and that the path we choose is one that will determine our direction for years to come. The choice at this juncture is either to further pave the road of multilateralism despite bumps on the way, or to take the seemingly easy unilateralism lane, yet face the future alone. Making the choice of which road to take at this traffic crossing is not enough. Investing efforts and resources to chart the way forward is required to ease the journey through.

This pandemic is not only further proof of the interlinkage among all units of the international system, it was also a further reminder that the three main pillars of work of the United Nations, the world’s only universal organisation with a comprehensive mandate, remain organically interlinked for the preservation of prosperity and well-being of states and peoples globally. Multilateralism is much needed in each of the three pillars through a mutually reinforcing mandate. This is not necessarily an expansion of the concept of security, but a realisation of the interdependence between the three pillars, as much as between all states. It is also a recognition of the interlinkage among the needs and challenges among states.

Further empowering developing countries, thus enabling them to confront the daunting challenges that they face, adds a reassurance to the well-being and stability of the whole international system. COVID-19 has proven that the vulnerability of any unit of the system is as much a vulnerability of the system as a whole. ‘Collective development’ appears as a corollary of collective security. A developmental threat to any one of its units, including through a pandemic, should thus be met with a collective response by all the rest for the benefit of all. The only way to realise such a collective response is through the well-established tradition of multilateralism, albeit admittedly with sufficient innovation necessary for adapting to the new challenges.

Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in a world plagued by COVID-19 may not be an unintentional coincidence. Well, even if it is, a ‘coincidence may be better than a thousand appointment (or plan)’. It is a reminder of the common destiny of humankind. It is an invitation to reflect on the value of multilateralism. It is an opportunity to explore the potential of working together. It is also a moment of truth that exposes the selfish drive by some blinded by the narrow perspectives of self-interest, which would only serve them for a limited time. The anniversary, in the pandemic context, should offer a corrective lens for the short-sighted unilateralists. It is the United Nations System, with the necessary adaptations, that can offer joint solutions to common challenges.

The platinum jubilee of the United Nations System should be a time of reflection for a brighter future of multilateralism. One that comprehends that diseases recognise no frontiers, and hence their cure should also not stop at any borders!

This blog post was originally delivered as a speech by Ambassador Amr Aljowaily (Embassy of Egypt to Serbia) at the special session ‘Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the UN multilateralism & international security’ at the Deputies Club in Belgrade on 21 September 2020.


[WebDebate #44 summary] Diplomacy in times of COVID-19: The experience of developing countries


Katharina Höne

This year has posed a tremendous challenge to diplomats. The impact of COVID-19 is felt in almost all areas of international relations. At the same time, there are various challenges to the conduct of diplomacy and how diplomats work. Particularly, in light of lockdowns and social distancing, diplomats had to change the way they worked. For example, how can negotiations be pursued and furthered in times of social distancing? For diplomats from small and developing countries, some of these challenges were exasperated, and additional challenges arose. 

This last month of 2020 presented a good opportunity to look back at what happened, but also to look ahead towards next year and even beyond.

In order to do so, our speakers for the 44th WebDebate included: Ms Asha DeSuza (Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of St Kitts and Nevis to the UN in New York), Ms Maricela Muñoz (Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the UN in Geneva), and Mr Moctar Yedaly (Head,  Information Society Division, Department of Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission (AUC)). 

The debate took place in the context of DiploFoundation’s research project ‘The future of (multilateral) diplomacy?: Changes in response to COVID-19 and beyond‘ which was supported by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Miia Rainne (Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN) provided the opening remarks and joined the discussion.

Reflecting on 2020, what were the experiences regarding the practice of diplomacy and its adaptations to COVID-19?

Diplomats acquired new skills in navigating and using digitals tools for communication and meetings. New forms and options for meetings – in particular hybrid (blended) forms of meetings, whereby some participants meet in situ while others participate remotely – have been established. Navigating new ways of working, while pushing negotiations ahead has proven to be a herculean effort. Zoom fatigue, working from home, and a proliferation of online meetings added to the pressure. There was, however, a sense that diplomats stepped up to the challenges presented in 2020. DeSuza described this as the ability to find creative and acceptable solutions. The year has also been a testament to the resilience of diplomatic practitioners. Muñoz, for example, stressed that diplomatic practitioners should be proud of what they accomplished in 2020, while Yedaly stressed how diplomats have shown that they are masters of adaptation.

What are some concrete examples of those challenges and adaptations?

  • All speakers agreed that diplomacy is best done face-to-face and that informal spaces for conversations, that push negotiations forward, are indispensable. Yedaly, for example, remarked that the African Union builds largely on making decisions by consensus. However, the absence of informal spaces takes away the important means for reaching consensus.
  • While face-to-face meetings cannot be replaced, Muñoz mentioned  her practice of finding ways to have virtual coffee breaks, and to maintain bilateral contacts, by arranging meetings online.
  • Muñoz and Yedaly gave examples of meetings and summits that were postponed to 2021. This gives rise to concerns about the workload for 2021, and the ability for small and developing countries to take on this load with comparatively smaller delegations and fewer experts.  
  • DeSuza mentioned that many small and developing countries feel the economic impact of the pandemic, and that diplomatic services will experience further budget constraints. Yedaly also stressed that connectivity, Internet shutdowns, and cybersecurity have been key concerns.
  • Rainne highlighted the need for careful planning. It is yet unclear what 2021 will bring, and she described how her mission is planning for alternatives and contingencies – keeping in mind that meetings might be face-to-face, but might also be in hybrid format or held entirely online.

Looking ahead, what will 2021 bring and what are the next steps?

DeSuza highlighted that what we consider as ‘normal’ has been challenged in 2020, and that we have no way of predicting what 2021 will bring. It will be important to learn to live with this uncertainty and adapt to the new normal. Muñoz suggested that trust and confidence-building need to be at the centre. While adapting to the new ways of working, it is crucial to keep inclusivity at the centre of our efforts. For smaller delegations, there are hardware and software limitations that need to be addressed, but the ultimate goal is to ensure meaningful participation. DeSuza highlighted the need for creating greater understanding, listening to each other, and being generous in cases of misunderstandings. Yedaly also pointed to trust as a crucial ingredient for moving ahead. He further stressed that security and privacy will remain important concerns in 2021, but that diplomats need to find ways of navigating these concerns while keeping communication open. Rainne underlined the importance of leaving no one behind. She added that all diplomats adapted to video conferencing tools in 2020, but that perspectives on the use of these tools vary, and that further discussion is needed. Going forward, further dialogue and learning from each other will be of crucial importance.

[WebDebate #43 summary] IGF+: What’s next?



Internet governance (IG) is about the rules, policies, standards, and practices that determine how cyberspace is governed. It goes beyond technical and infrastructural considerations, and addresses the legal, economic, developmental, sociocultural, and human rights implications of cyberspace. 

Formed in 2006, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multistakeholder forum for discussing these issues. Multistakeholderism – the participation of all relevant stakeholders – is really the core value and a core practice of the IGF. 

In our 43rd WebDebate in the context of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT), we brought together a group of highly experienced speakers to reflect on the future of the IGF and debate the topic IGF+: What’s next?. This debate could not be more timely as the annual IGF meeting is underway. WebDebate #43 presented an opportunity to bring the discussion around the organisation and process of IG into the context of the IFDT. 

The first IGF took place in 2006, and continues to be an absolutely unique forum. Some would say that if the IGF did not exist, it would surely have to be invented. Yet, debates about IGF reform are intertwined with debates about the goals and purpose of the forum, and are almost as old as the forum itself. Some of the key issues center around questions of inclusivity, coordination and cooperation, concrete outcomes, financing, and the relationship to the UN system.

In June 2019, the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which was mandated by the UN secretary general, launched its final report The age of digital interdependence. As part of addressing digital cooperation, the panel made suggestions on the future of the IGF architecture. One of these suggestions was the IGF Plus (IGF+) model, which at this point seems to be one of the favourite options for IGF reform and for the future of IG. Building on the High-level Panel’s recommendations, the UN secretary general launched his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, containing a section on digital cooperation and IG reform. 

For this debate we were joined by Dr Andrea Calderaro (Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Cardiff University), Dr Olga Cavalli (ISOC Board of Trustees Member and Co-founder and Academic Director, South School on Internet Governance), Dr William Drake (International Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Communication and Media Research, University of Zürich) and Dr Matthias Kettemann (Senior Researcher, Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut)

Generally speaking, what are some hopeful signs regarding IGF reform?

Drake suggested that the processes initiated by the High-level Panel, and further developed in the Roadmap, are a good sign. Involvement at this level ensures the engagement of governments, and provides for a more institutionalised dialogue on IGF reform. It also led to new circles of interested stakeholders being engaged in the process. The suggestions for a high-level segment and a parliamentary track are welcomed additions. The suggestion of establishing concrete IGF outcomes or recommendations is still discussed controversially, but having this discussion in the first place is a good sign.  

What are some of the concerns in this process?

Drake warned against a top-down approach or an intransparent, closed-door decision-making approach to IGF reform, which would run counter to the spirit of the forum. Further, it will be important to have a broad basis of agreement and buy-in for IGF reform. Building a group of, for example, ‘Champions for Change’ is, however, a tremendous challenge. The following discussion further underscored that any notion of hierarchy in the institutional character of the IGF, or the debates taking place at the forum, need to be avoided. The IGF is built on the principle of horizontal relations between stakeholders, and there was an emphasis that this spirit needs to be retained going forward. Panellists and participants also identified and raised concerns about an increasing fragmentation of IG-related debates, exacerbated by geopolitical tensions and fragmentation. There was a sense that reform is urgent but has to proceed incrementally in a bottom-up fashion. 

A reform process needs to have legitimacy. What have we learned from the consultation processes leading up to the Roadmap?

It is clear that we cannot just focus on the content but also need to pay close attention to the processes. Kettemann suggested that it is not enough to ask ‘the experts’, and called for a broader involvement of populations from across the world to develop recommendations for the reform. Applying deliberative democracy approaches in this context is important. This is especially important in an area such as the governance of the Internet, which is closely intertwined with the lives and livelihoods of many people around the world. In particular, Kettemann drew on his experiences with regional consultation processes in the lead-up to developing recommendations on the IG architecture for the Roadmap. 

What are the specific concerns from the perspective of developing countries? What role can and should the IGF play?

Cavalli reminded everyone that developing countries face tremendous challenges to their economies and that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates this problem. In a sense, developing countries have to focus on the most urgent matters at hand, and very often this means that discussions on IG take a backseat. At the same time, digitisation plays a huge role for these economies. It will be important to think strategically how to incorporate technology into the economy of developing countries, and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. A particular challenge is to capture the views of various stakeholders and to translate these into policies and regulations. It is noticeable that those who are responsible for defining policies and regulations face capacity and resource challenges to follow the various IG-related topics and debates. A forum like the IGF is important in this regard as a point of focus for those debates, and a forum to promote the exchange between colleagues from various countries, learn from best practices, and discuss and compare policies and regulations. 

What can we say about the future of the governance of the Internet?

Calderaro suggested that this is a huge question that, in many ways, boils down to the question of finding an effective approach for transnational governance. As we have seen over the last 20 years or so, new issues are emerging as technology advances, and so IG, by its very nature, always deals with a moving target. Looking at the current situation, a fragmentation of IG communities and spaces for debates, in the area of cybersecurity for example, is a huge concern. This is a challenge that IG faces and that urgently needs to be addressed to ensure that the IG community is able to address current and future challenges effectively. As a simple first step, formats for the IGF that bring different parts of the IG community together for discussion should be explored again. This could also support capacity building and establish clear lines of dialogue between various stakeholders. Overall, this touches on many of the original aspirations of the IGF, and panellists suggested that we need to find ways to reinvigorate that spirit.

[WebDebate #41 summary] The UN at 75: Evolution or revolution?


Katharina Höne

We organised our September WebDebate, ‘The UN at 75: Evolution or revolution?’, to mark the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. By looking back at the past 75 years of the world organisation, we zoomed in on two key questions. 

  • Are we seeing an evolution or a revolution in some of the key UN topics and how they are addressed? 
  • What future lies ahead for the UN, and what can we do to ‘build back better’?

The discussion focused on three core pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. In addition, we explored digital co-operation as a cross-cutting issue connecting these three core pillars of the organisation. For this debate, we were joined by Dr Jovan Kurbalija (Executive Director, DiploFoundation), Mr Marc Limon (Executive Director, Universal Rights Group), Ambassador Asoke Mukerji (India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York from 2013 to 2015), and Ms Irena Zubčević (Chief, Intergovernmental Policy and Review Branch, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).

Are we seeing an evolution or a revolution in some of the key UN topics and how they are addressed? 

According to Mukerji, there are good reasons to speak of evolution in the area of peace and security. Membership is universal and has increased from 51 founding members to 193 today. Through the UN General Assembly, a democratisation of international relations has taken place. At the same time, the UN Security Council is in dire need of reform and it is difficult to speak of an evolution in that area of the UN. 

Looking at the UN and human rights, Limon argued that we are seeing a somewhat mixed bag. It is useful to remind ourselves that the UN human rights system, and the idea that the UN should be able to address human rights violations by states, is revolutionary. At the same time, states do not like revolution, so for a number of political reasons during specific historical periods, such as the apartheid, the UN human rights system was never allowed to be as strong as it could have been. 

Zubčević reminded us of the revolutionary character of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the process of adapting them. For the first time, there was a global agreement on a universal agenda that holds true for developed and developing countries alike. The SDGs touch on all aspects of human life, and encompass the peace and security, human rights, and sustainable agendas. They represent a forward-looking agenda that – in its attention to people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships – is much needed at present.

Digital technology was a driver of international co-operation. However, the UN’s experience is a mixed bag, as Kurbalija, who headed the Secretariat of the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, argued. We can observe an evolution from the World Summits on the Information Society in the early 2000s, to the current emphasis on technology in the Secretary General’s RoadMap on Digital Cooperation. Kurbalija argued that the UN is now coming to a realistic understanding and relationship with technology. Technology should be seen as the connector between the three pillars discussed in the debate. 

What are the key points for the future of the organisation?

Mukerji argued that it is high time for the UN to become truly multistakeholder in structure and working. Further, in light of digital developments, we need to build a ‘digital home’ for the UN. And lastly, it is time to bring the UN back to the people. Limon argued that, in terms of human rights, we need to make sure that the human rights pillar does not stay confined to being the ‘small’ pillar in the work of the UN – only 3% of the UN’s regular budget is allocated to the human rights pillar compared to about 25% for both development and security. Zubčević issued a powerful reminder that we cannot imagine a world without the UN and that in order to make sure the organisation has a stable footing in the future, we need to strengthen multilateralism and global solidarity. Kurbalija returned to his suggestion regarding a digital home for the UN. He argued that a digital home for the world is needed and that there is no better place than the UN in terms of: first, a space for diplomatic online meetings and, second, a space where questions and concerns about digital policy can be raised and resolved. 

[WebDebate #40 summary] Are permanent missions at global diplomatic hubs more or less relevant in 2020?


Jovan Kurbalija

Permanent missions will become increasingly important in the post-COVID-19 era, and their modus operandi will change as they become a key segment of ‘hybrid diplomacy’ (i.e., diplomacy that combines onsite and online diplomatic meetings).

These were the underlying messages of DiploFoundation’s WebDebate entitled ‘Permanent missions at global diplomatic hubs: More or less relevant in 2020?’.

The rich discussion led by Amb. Asoke Mukerji (Former Permanent Representative, UN, New York) and Ms Maricela Muñoz (Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to UN, Geneva) involved a wide range of discussants from diplomatic services and research communities from around the world.

The webinar kicked off with a poll asking whether or not permanent missions to multilateral hubs will become more important in the coming years. Although the majority of participants gave their votes to the increasing relevance of permanent missions in the months to come (as illustrated in the photo below), the discussion took many turns.

WebDebate July 2020 - Poll results

To illustrate, a few speakers spoke of the counter-intuitivity of the poll results in an era of online and hybrid diplomacy, given that officials from capitals can now participate virtually in most meetings held by international organisations. To that end, they raised the following question: Why should countries have diplomats in New York, Geneva, or Vienna if they can participate online?

This argument was challenged despite the opportunities offered by technology which do not necessarily translate into diplomatic reality. Several main arguments were marshalled in favor of greater relevance of permanent missions in the time to come.

  • Context matters a great deal in multilateral diplomacy. Even in the online era, diplomats on the spot are better placed to understand and decipher nuanced signals in global negotiations.
  • Controversial issues and crises are better addressed with people on the spot, even if they have to wear masks and keep physical distance when practicing ‘corridor diplomacy’. Permanent missions need to be ready to deal with crisis situations which are difficult to predict as it has been the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Capitals often do not have the capacity to follow policy processes in specialised agencies. Interestingly enough, online meetings during COVID-19 did not shift this area-specific policy focus to capitals.
  • Time differences are an obstacle to participation from capitals. For instance, afternoon meetings in Geneva would require late evening or night participation from capitals in the Pacific, or early morning sessions for representatives for Latin America. While such participation could be arranged under exceptional circumstances,  this is not a sustainable solution in the long run.
  • Travel restrictions make having diplomats on the spot in main multilateral hubs crucial.

Discussants also provided reflections on some of the emerging aspects of hybrid diplomacy and the new role of permanent missions.

Online meetings are ‘power equalisers’. Namely, it is much more difficult for major actors to project in an online setting. In virtual meetings, these actors do not have their large delegations sitting behind them. Online meetings can therefore contribute towards balanced and inclusive global politics.

  • Small countries with limited human and financial resources can develop hybrid diplomacy by combining the work of their permanent missions on the ground with all the available experts back at home. For instance, academics from local universities could remotely cover specific issues that require focused expertise, such as climate change, health, and transportation, to name but a few.
  • Capitals may get a more prominent role in co-ordinating activities among permanent missions. Human rights were cited as an example where many countries face co-ordination difficulties between permanent missions in Geneva and New York.
  • With the transition to online meetings, the rules of procedure have been and will be subject to broader interpretation in response to the restrictive measures adopted to combat the pandemic. The UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) development of working procedures for online diplomacy was cited as a successful example of the adaptability and responsiveness of the multilateral system to the new circumstances. However, as the hybrid form of diplomacy becomes more widespread, due considerations will need to be given to the revision of the rules of procedure.

Diplomacy is often portrayed as a slow-changing profession, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the opposite. Diplomatic services and international organisations adjusted quickly to the new circumstances by shifting most of their work to the online space. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) new modus operandi will be analysed as a case study of the fast and efficient adaptation to dealing with crisis and the many unknowns.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, the creative and agile dynamics absorbed by multilateral diplomacy should further accelerate. As the old saying goes, ’A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ 

Drop us a line at multilateral@diplomacy.edu if you wish to stay updated on our research, training, and tool developments on effective and inclusive multilateral diplomacy.


[WebDebate #37 summary] Multilateral diplomacy in times of COVID-19


United Nations

In our monthly WebDebate, which is organised in the context of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT), we looked at Multilateral diplomacy in times of COVID-19. When we observe the responses to the COVID-19 crisis, we seem to encounter a paradox. On one hand, we have reports that shipments of masks and other key equipment are diverted from their destination countries. On the other hand, there are examples of enormous solidarity within societies and among countries. The work of the United Nations (UN) is clearly important in this crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has played a crucial part in responding to the crisis and UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for ‘a global ceasefire in all corners of the world’. He also launched a report on shared responsibility and global solidarity in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Taking this as a starting point, in this debate we addressed:

  • the role of multilateral diplomacy in this crisis;
  • the specific role of the UN system and the WHO; and
  • the question how the multilateral system and the UN will emerge after the crisis.

Our speakers for this debate were Ambassador Umej Bhatia (Singapore’s permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva), UN Undersecretary General Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond (special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary) and Dr Owain Williams (senior research fellow in global health governance at the University of Leeds).

The need for multilateralism and solidarity

The UN system and multilateralism are facing a substantial challenge, yet for many small states multilateralism is a necessity, as Bhatia pointed out. The pandemic reminds us of our interconnectedness and therefore also demands for a global response. The harsh economic and development consequences of the crisis are substantial and this calls for greater solidarity between countries. However, while there are both worrying as well as hopeful signs, it is too early to tell how multilateralism will emerge from the crisis.

Bhatia also stressed that it is clear that we cannot return to the old way of doing things and that reform of multilateralism and reform of the UN are needed. Similarly, Hochschild argued that it is clear that we cannot go back to the status quo after the crisis. The status quo exacerbated the current situation through fragmented and disjointed approaches and the multilateral response to the next crisis needs to be better. Wiliams highlighted that the main impact of the crisis is about to be borne by the developing world, especially by those countries where public health and the public health systems are the weakest. This is another reason why solidarity and multilateral response are called for.

The UN system

Looking more closely at the UN system, Guterres’s report ‘Shared responsibility, global solidarity’ is an important call for increasing co-operation. Another signal for solidarity is the resolution on ‘Global Solidarity to Fight COVID-19’ passed by the UN General Assembly. It was initiated by Indonesia, together with Ghana, Liechtenstein, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland, and cosponsored by 188 countries.

These expressions of global solidarity also carry a challenge. Looking at the broader picture, Hochschild argued that the UN needs and can do better when it comes to global challenges such as climate change, migration, demographic changes, and growing inequalities. More specifically, the current crisis further underlines both the importance of the UN as well as the need for reform. Before the background of the tragedy of the Second World War, the UN has learned from the shortcomings of the League of Nations. Similarly, this crisis might help in galvanising new commitment and much needed reform.

Especially before the background of the 75th anniversary of the world organisation, it is crucial to further reflect on this. While the current crisis demands immediate responses, its implications are much larger. As part of the preparations for the 75th anniversary, Hochschild’s team is conducting a global listening exercise to get people’s perspectives on where the world is heading and how international co-operation and the UN can do better.

WHO and global health governance

Zooming in even further on the UN system, Williams stressed that the WHO has risen to the challenge of the crisis. However, a lack of funding for the WHO is a big challenge. Across global health governance, additional resources are needed to make a critical intervention. These resources have been lacking for decades. While this crisis is of an unprecedented scale, it comes on the back of a number of serious pandemics. Lessons from those crises were not implemented and the needed resources were not put in place.

The space of global health governance is also a crowded one, with many new institutions, including many private actors, having emerged over the last decades. First, this carries with it the danger of incoherent and un-lead responses. Second, experience has also shown that the market mechanism alone is not working when it comes to developing drugs and vaccines. Both points are challenges of multilateral diplomacy in the health sector and will need to be addressed if we are to learn from the current crisis.

Final reflections

From my perspective as the moderator, I was impressed by the frankness with which speakers pointed to serious challenges of the multilateral system. There was a general agreement that the current crisis has exposed long-term challenges of the UN and the need for reform. It is too early to tell how multilateral diplomacy and the UN system will emerge from the crisis. However, it is clear that, as Hochschild emphasised, the world needs to do better when the next pandemic hits. In order to move forward, Bhatia suggested to be guided by ‘the better angels of our nature’. Williams pointed out that we need to question what we really value and act accordingly. These points serve well for further reflections as we move forward.

Further resources

During the debate, a number of resources were mentioned that are helpful in following up on the topic.


[WebDebate #34 summary] Exploring innovative teaching methodologies: Digital tools for teaching diplomacy

Digital tools have garnered substantial interest in the context of teaching and training in diplomatic practice. Tools such as video conferences, small online courses, and massive open online courses are changing the landscape of what is possible in the field. Conversations on digital tools for teaching diplomacy are important in order to keep diplomatic teaching and training up to date, offer the best possible experience for participants, and reach those that might have been excluded previously.

The key experts for this debate were Prof. Jaime de Aguinaga García (Professor of Practice of International Development, School of Global and Public Affairs, IE University) and Dr Katharina Höne (Senior Researcher and Lecturer, DiploFoundation). In particular, they explored the digital tools currently employed; the ‘how’ and ‘why’ they are utilised; the challenges and opportunities associated with them; and, best practices and lessons learned. The debate was moderated by Mr Marco Lotti (Project Manager, DiploFoundation and Geneva Internet Platform).

How are digital tools used in teaching diplomacy and training diplomats?

De Aguinaga highlighted that there are many ways in which digital tools can be included in the training and teaching of diplomacy. However, it is important to think about the implications of these tools for students and teachers. He explained that at the IE University, a variety of blended formats (such as mixing face-to-face contact with digital lessons) are explored. In this context, he stressed his belief that blended formats are often the most successful ones, as they can draw on the advantages of both face-to-face and digital approaches.

Highlighting some of the innovations explored at IE, he mentioned the use of apps to draw on the aspects of gamification in the learning process; facial recognition in order to tailor learning content by analysing the student’s reaction, and thus, increase the quality of teaching and the overall learning process; digital simulations of business negotiation cases; and, virtual reality.

He also explained the idea behind IE’s WOW-room which includes 48 screens, cameras, robots, holographic projectors, and the use of facial recognition. However, despite new possibilities due to technological innovations, he stressed that teachers and instructors need to be trained in the use of online and digital tools, because the human component is often what makes or breaks these tools.

Höne introduced DiploFoundation’s approach to online learning, which builds on small-scale courses with a maximum of 25 people, which last around ten weeks on average. These courses are highly interactive and highly collaborative. She explained that at the core of each course is the discussion of a tailored lecture text each week. Participants go through the text and highlight key words or phrases in places where they have questions or comments to deepen their understanding of the topic. Course lecturers, who are often also the ones developing the lecture texts, join the ensuing discussion to answer questions, respond to comments, and further drive the discussion.

She explained that three approaches are particularly important: asking and answering questions; weaving different topics together in order to create a tightly knitted discussion; and, summarising key points in the discussion. Each week, this practice results in discussion trees which are typically well over a hundred entries long. This approach puts collaborative learning at the core. The assumption is that everyone in the course has something to contribute and the course brings all of this together in order to construct knowledge jointly

What are the advantages and disadvantages and best practices that others can learn from?

Completion rates are a concern when it comes to online learning, and while there are various ways to address this, Höne argued that a ‘human approach’ might be the best solution to keep completion rates high. She explained that in Diplo’s courses, there are at least two people in constant interaction with course participants: one focusing on discussing the content, and one focusing on keeping the participants on track, managing their workloads, and providing support and guidance where needed.

The distinction between synchronous learning and asynchronous learning can also be usefully employed to provide the best possible training. Asynchronous learning content is content that can be accessed and interacted with at any time. Synchronous components of online learning require all participants to be online at the same time. Höne highlighted that asynchronous tasks help to include people who are geographically dispersed and living in different time zones. In this way, people from all around the world can be included. Building on asynchronous learning also helps in allowing participants to fit their learning around busy working lives or other commitments they might have.

Höne also cautioned that it might be tempting to see digital tools and online learning as a way to respond to an accelerating world. She argued that while it is true that these tools allow for providing just-in-time courses or learning units on current and emerging topics, this should not lead to neglecting other aspects of learning. She advocated that it is crucial to protect spaces for broader reflections.

De Aguinaga stressed that it is easier to teach face-to-face in a physical environment, and that it is crucial to realise that online teaching is not easy. He argued that, from his experience, in order to keep people engaged, the number of participants should not exceed 50 people. Furthermore, the right faculty and the right people in the classroom make a huge difference.

He also shared some of the key lessons from his work at IE. Flexibility and the willingness to update content continuously are important. Similarly, moving an existing course online requires some careful thought on how to build and sustain a community of learners. Learning from peers is often even more crucial than learning from a professor. In addition, careful thought needs to be put into the design, including considerations on format, timing, and attention spans.

Both speakers agreed that digital tools are not a panacea nor a magic bullet; they have to be chosen and tailored very carefully.

How can we decide which tools to employ?

Höne emphasised the need to start with a clear definition of the learning objective. Is the aim: (a) acquiring and remembering information; (b) developing analytical skills; or (c) practising problem solving-skills? Depending on the answer to this, different approaches are called for. She argued that recorded lectures and massive open online courses (key elements include watching a video or reading a text) are useful when it comes to acquiring and remembering information. A totally different approach is needed for developing analytical skills and problem solving-skills. In these cases, moderated discussions, essay-writing, experiments, and simulations are called for.

De Aguinaga pointed out that there is high demand for learning and an overwhelming supply of information. Yet, it is a whole other question to create effective learning and a community of learners and practitioners. He highlighted different dimensions that impact the decision for or against a specific tool: access, scalability and the question of how many people it is trying to reach, affordability – especially in terms of the marginal cost of the tools, possibilities for engaging the participants, evaluation of learning (in terms of knowledge and skills), possible actions that come after learning, and the value participants attach to certification.

In addition, questions around inclusion are important. For example, Höne explained that the work at Diplo focuses on diplomats and other officials from developing countries. In this context, questions around the digital divide and making sure that no one is left behind become important. Issues around the lack of access, lower bandwidth, and intermittent electricity or Internet access need to be taken into account when choosing learning tools.

And finally, de Aguinaga stressed that ‘you should be able to use the technology without having the feeling of using a new technology’; the setting should be intuitive and feel familiar.

[WebDebate #32 summary] Visual digital diplomacy: Opportunities for diplomatic practice


Andrijana Gavrilović

In our October WebDebate, we discussed the visual quality of communication, specifically, as applied to the field of diplomacy. We were joined by Amb. Stefano Baldi, Italy’s representative in Bulgaria, and Dr Massimiliano Fusari, visual communications trainer and consultant. The debate was moderated by Diplo’s senior researcher and lecturer Dr Katharina Höne.

Fusari began by explaining that digital communication is led by visual components. The visual informs both the medium and the message. Visual diplomacy is about adapting a media-informed approach to a) engage content form and practices, b) enhance resulting visual toolkits, and c) tell diplomacy stories in an organic way across multiple media, channels, and platforms. Fusari gave his tentative definition of visual diplomacy: it is the credible visual storytelling of who does what to whom.

He then stated that there are two main challenges to reviewing the visual quality of digital diplomacy communication: digital agency (identifying the visual diplomat, the audience, and outlining their role), and the visual medium (defining a visual medium, and identifying how to inform diplomacy with effective visual tools). In addressing these challenges, it is necessary to keep in mind that diplomats should be able to reframe and enhance visual storytelling toolkits, and to implement these visuals toolkits towards the production and understanding of digital platforms. However, this should be done beyond digital platforms as the message always makes its way to the audience, which is outside of the pixel. Diplomats should remain flexible and adaptable in their visual media approaches, strategies, and tactics. Fusari underlined that communication is a performative act – how images and media forms are edited affects the symbols they project. Another point Fusari raised was that there has been a shift from the notion of stakeholders to the notion of social media contributors – they contribute to the conversation by sharing their perspective, and are actually able to influence, if not redirect, the online conversation. Visual media have become key players in representation. This is because of the shift from multiple tools to a single tool – the mobile phone. According to Fusari, questions on how to conduct visual diplomacy remain: How do we assess media? What are the facts of the storytelling? How to communicate strategically, toward which engagement, for which reception? 

The importance of resources

Baldi stated that diplomats and political leaders use the same visual tools, but have different resources, constraints, and purposes. For a diplomat, the main purpose of communication is promoting their own country. To do so in a visual manner requires a lot of expertise, as there is a delicate balance to be struck between visibility and not being overexposed online. To be visually present, diplomats need resources: money, personnel, and knowledge. Visual evolution has changed diplomatic communication, because today’s diplomats do not only communicate with their counterpart, but also with a wider audience. 

Fusari took the floor again to underline the importance of resources. Resources also encompass literacy –  diplomats need to learn and understand strategically how much of their communication can be done through a mobile phone by themselves, and when it is necessary to hire professionals. Resources are also about knowing how to read analytics, and tracking their own media presence to understand what has been done well, and what could have been done better.

Controlling the message 

Fusari argued that controlling the message should not be the key focus. Rather, being credible is possibly the best way to manage the message: it is the highway to branding oneself as the carrier of a specific message. The carrier can manage the message in an adaptable and realistic manner for different audiences. They can actually give consistency and strength to their communication, and avoid being hijacked by those opposing their perspective.

Can digital diplomacy assist in protecting a state’s foreign policy position to domestic and foreign audiences?

Baldi recounted his experience with promoting the policy positions of the government. These are not very easy to visualise, but it is worth searching for fitting visuals to enhance communication. However, the social activities of diplomats – such as opening a school – often get much more attention than attempts at communicating policy positions. Diplomats have to balance the message – they should show their social activity, but cannot allow it to marginalise the political message. Diplomats also need to keep learning about the sensitivity of their audience, as it changes from country to country. Baldi also stated that when a new policy position is presented online, negative comments outweighing the supportive ones are to be expected.

Catering to different audiences

In order to cater to different audiences, it is necessary to define who the target audience is, Fusari noted. Analytics are crucial in managing a basic notion of audience and basic engagement. By choosing what we want to engage and how we want to engage in that communication, we also define ourselves as a digital communicator – a digital diplomat. It requires adaptation, flexibility, and intelligence to think in short-to-medium as well as medium-to-long term, and willingness to readjust strategy and tactics.

Baldi agreed that it is crucial to define the target audience ourselves. In accordance to the target audience, priorities in communication can be defined and the strategy can be adapted.

Making diplomatic communication stand out

Baldi pointed out that there is an abundance of information online, but that the online audience is always hungry for more content. Therefore, communicators need to keep communicating, and in a continuous manner, in order to be visible to the audience. Making diplomatic communication stand out is risky for diplomats – they cannot only aim to please their audience – but need to represent their country in line with their national interests. 

Communication and prudence

Fusari noted that prudency is something all Internet users should be concerned with, not just diplomats. Once information is out, it resonates and trickles down, therefore prudence is even more necessary now when communication is required to be immediate.

Baldi highlighted that to be prudent online might sometimes mean not being visible online at all, and therefore choosing not to communicate. For diplomats, a delicate balance between visibility and prudence online must be struck.

Who is a diplomat?

Baldi highlighted that while diplomats are professionals with great knowledge and responsibilities, they also have a great need to learn new things on their job. Diplomats have to be to be humble enough to keep learning, and at the same time, applying what they have learned, otherwise they would just be very knowledgeable but have no effectiveness in their work.

According to Fusari, one of the biggest challenges in digital communication is that there are state-appointed, internationally recognised diplomats, and there are people that act like diplomats on certain topics. Both have roles and responsibilities, and their own, sometimes intersecting, spaces online.

On fake news 

Baldi underlined that diplomats should not unintentionally spread fake news. The quality of the content used and re-used (shared and retweeted) must be thoroughly checked. This is also relevant in case of re-using visual content, as it has own its meaning attached.

Journalism is based on telling factual information, Fusari stated. The word ‘fact’ comes from the Latin verb ‘facere’, which can be translated into English as the action of doing, making, creating – by humans. Facts have a very strong human connotation and are actually subjective rather than objective. This is why storytelling – connecting the dots and arranging facts and data – is crucial, Fusari concluded.

[WebDebate #31 summary] Technology and diplomacy: Unpacking the relationship


Andrijana Gavrilović

Our July WebDebate aimed to unpack the relationship between technology and diplomacy, and to make suggestions for diplomats who want to understand and address the geopolitical, security, human rights, and economic implications of the rise of new technologies. Joining us for this discussion were Mr Daniel P Bagge (Cyber Attaché to the United States and Canada, National Cyber and Information Security Agency, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington DC) and Mr Vladimir Radunovic (Cybersecurity and E-Diplomacy Programmes Director, DiploFoundation). The debate was moderated by Ms Tereza Horejsova (Project Development Director, DiploFoundation). Right from the start, the participants stressed the importance of technology for diplomacy and then moved to discuss specific examples, such as the new 5G technology as it pertains to diplomatic questions. 

The importance of 5G

Radunovic stated that most users think about 5G as the next generation of telecommunications networks which is going to have a faster speed – 10 Gbps connections – compared to today’s 50 Mbps. The essential difference, he pointed out, will be in the latency of package travel, because 5G technology will enable users to receive and send information in almost real-time. The resulting reduction in latency allows real-time control of smart devices. 5G will thus enable connection of all smart devices and taking a step further towards a smart environment where everything communicates with everything – an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. Radunovic highlighted that this will actually be a step forward in artificial intelligence (AI) development, as IoT will generate high quantities of data from which AI can learn. He stated that the development of 5G technology is actually part of the race toward a more extensive IoT and, ultimately, to the race for dominance in AI. Bagge added that while 5G technology will increase the number of connected devices, which will generate this potential for data, for training AI, or machine learning, it will also create a lot of entry points that a bad actor might want to exploit for an attack.

The security concerns around Huawei

Bagge stressed that Huawei is not the only company capable of building 5G networks – Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia 5G networks are already in use, for example in South Korea (Samsung) and the US (Ericsson and Nokia). He cautioned that we must be careful about the inputs we bring into the discussion on technology and diplomacy so that they are not only technical or pertain to PR battles between competitors on the market.

Bagge also spoke about the warning the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) of the Czech Republic issued over security concerns about Huawei. For two years, NCISA analysed the potential impacts of 5G and actors on the market. The warning was a heads-up to telco operators, almost a year ahead of the 5G spectrum bidding in Czech Republic, to behave according to the law. Bagge stated that 5G is very important as it will bring economic growth, it will qualitatively change how governments and societies function. For instance, governmental communication will be transferred over 5G and not fibre optics or landlines, because it will be not cost-effective anymore.

5G networks and trust

Radunovic spoke about the implications 5G networks will have for society’s trust in technology (for more information see our April GIP Digital Watch Newsletter). He agreed with Bagge about the future dependency of societies on 5G and other technologies. He noted that there is a risk of bad actor employing ‘kill switch’ meaning that a malicious actor could penetrate another actor’s communications or industry systems and undermine or shut those systems down in case of an open war. A less radical possibility is espionage – snooping on the communications and innovations of another country. Radunovic also highlighted that technology is a black box and users do not know what is inside it because it is very complex. Further ramifications are added by the fact that most technology also contains intellectual property. Western countries emphasise as a risk that Chinese companies, Huawei included, are required to cooperate with the Chinese government upon the government’s request. However, as Radunovic pointed out, the Snowden affair revealed that in the US as well, the private sector cooperates with the government – willingly or unwillingly – meaning that users are not completely safe with any technologies, anywhere.

Bagge stated that all technologies are vulnerable, but stressed that it is more important to discern whether they are vulnerable by design or by accident, and if the vendors are willing to fix a vulnerability found by security researchers. Another important question is perceiving underlying motive behind a company’s actions – whether they are profit-oriented or if there is another larger motive behind them. According to Bagge, the main issue is not the quality of the technology, but questions of trust, of what users entrust to the technology they are using. He also pointed out that vendor lock-in (which makes a customer dependent on a particular vendor for products and services) is complicated and financially and politically costly to get out of, and elected politicians might not be willing to pay this price.

Trade and technology

Radunovic stated that Huawei controls more than 25% of the global telecom market at the moment. He noted that the telecommunications market has already been established, and it is difficult to dismiss any corporative member. For example, cutting Huawei out of the telecommunications network in the UK is not simple, because the existing telecommunication network already depends to a large extent on Huawei. If a developed country decides to roll back its plans for 5G technologies, it could lose billions as well as the ongoing race to develop 5G networks, which leads to developing more extensive IoT, and then AI. But Radunovic also stated that Ericsson and Nokia said that they probably would not be able to make up for the lack of Huawei in the market should Huawei be banned in most countries. He noted that an important factor in the advancement in technologies during the last few decades was that institutions and experts worked together on a global level, with international projects and finances focussing on different parts of the supply chain. However, politics could break this supply chain and lead to a breakdown in the trust in the global effort in developing technologies. If everyone starts to build complex technology (hardware and chip industry) in-house, it could lead to the fragmentation of the market, which could further lead to a fragmentation in developing and implementing technologies, and deterioration of trade relations.

Bagge touched upon the issue of values, including the purposes collected data is used for. He pointed out that countries cannot think only in terms of security, but must also consider larger economic aspects. The balance between security and prosperity is reached in negotiations, he noted, but diplomats often cannot understand the nuances of cybersecurity as it is not a tangible concept. He stressed that diplomats do not have to be technically proficient, but must be able to understand the potential implications of a lack of strong cybersecurity.

Developing countries and 5G technologies

Developing countries are not in the race for AI at the moment. Often, the choice between telecom equipment vendors is made by considering the quality and the cost of the equipment rather than issues of trust. Although they do not usually produce their own equipment, they often equally (dis)trust foreign vendors. Because the USA has a strong culture of protecting intellectual property with trademarks and copyright, this is especially problematic with US intellectual property. He noted that many experts, scientists, and researchers from developing countries have worked on developing technologies and in some way co-own parts of global intellectual property in technological developments, but developing countries often do not legally protect this or try to use it in trade and political debates. He stated that the main problem in developing countries is that they rarely consider the digital aspects of diplomacy and international relations, because they consider digital aspects to be something that is present in developed countries only. He stressed that awareness must be raised on political and diplomatic levels to get involved in digital policy discussions.

Bagge pointed out that each country has different circumstances and conditions which affect the development of technologies. He noted that the Prague Proposals outline areas of interest that government or a corporate entity should have a look at if they are considering building a 5G network. The proposals are not country-specific and they are not vendor-specific.

Can the US technology ban kill Huawei?

Adding to the ban on the use of Huawei equipment in the USA, the US President has introduced a ban on the export of US technology to Huawei and other Chinese companies. Bagge believes that the bans could kill Huawei, but that in his opinion, will not. Radunovic noted that Huawei itself stated the latest ban would cost them billions, but that he is also of the opinion the company will survive. There are a couple of things Huawei could do rather quickly: emphasise software development and parts of chip design. Huawei might come out stronger in the long run, Radunovic hypothesised. An analysis of the Huawei ban by the USA, including prospects and consequences for Huawei, the US tech industry, and the global market, can be found in the May issue of the GIP Digital Watch Newsletter.

Looking ahead

Radunovic called the US decision to introduce the ban on Huawei ‘crossing the Rubicon’ because it clearly showcased that politics plays a big role in the technology development process – and reverting the ban will not undo this perception. The whole debate about Huawei crushed trust in the technological supply chain. In the future, we will need to begin with the knowledge that the trust in the global technological supply chain is gone, Radunovic noted. He concluded by reflecting on trust and values. 

On the one hand, our trust in technology has been ruined by states misusing technologies to undermine each other, to achieve their geopolitical interests, and wage hybrid wars (blending conventional and unconventional warfare). On the other hand, companies such as Huawei, Microsoft, and Kaspersky have started extending their ‘transparency efforts’, and that might mean that the corporate sector understands that it needs to be more responsible, transparent, and reassuring that their products do not contain backdoors. This might be a good move to increase trust. Each country has a set of values it stands for, and it is important to take them into account.

Bagge highlighted that the US ban on purchasing Huawei equipment for US infrastructure was not reverted, but that US companies will be allowed to sell components to Huawei again. He noted that transparency centres (for example at Microsoft) are meant to communicate with political leadership, and not users or tech professionals, and that the centres are – for numerous physical and technical reasons – useless in terms of cybersecurity. Bagge concluded there is a growing interest in cybersecurity and cyberspace from governments, as they realise it will be the backbone of future governance, future societies, and future economies. In the future, there will be more uncertainty in the international arena; but there will also be more efforts on the professional level by the technical community, think-tanks, international law organisations, etc. He also stated that he hopes to see many more courses for diplomats and decision-makers on these issues, as capacity building is needed in these areas.

Many of these topics are discussed in more depth in Diplo’s Internet Technology and Policy: Challenges and Solutions course scheduled for July 2019.

Horejsova concluded the WebDebate by inviting the audience to watch previous WebDebates and webinars, and visit the GIP Digital Watch observatory. She also invited the audience to attend the Digital [and] Diplomacy: How to deal with digital aspects of foreign policy conference organised by DiploFoundation in partnership with Swiss Confederation and the Republic and Canton of Geneva.