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

While the COVID-19 pandemic demanded adaptation across the diplomatic profession, small and developing countries faced an additional set of obstacles. Demands on already over-stretched diplomats based at multilateral hubs increased in many cases. Internet connectivity and lack of in-house cybersecurity expertise remain challenges.

Looking ahead, diplomats of small and developing countries, especially those posted at multilateral hubs, are likely to face an additional crisis in 2021 as increasing budget constraints and delays in replacing key personnel will create additional challenges. At the same time, some issues on the multilateral agenda have been postponed to 2021, thus leading to a backlog of agenda items and meetings.

 

Dedicated efforts are needed in order to avoid an increasingly uneven diplomatic playing field. This begins by closely listening to the experiences of practitioners.

In preparation of this event and for further details, please feel free to consult our new report The future of (multilateral) diplomacy? Changes in response to COVID-19 and beyond. The report and this event are supported by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Join us on Tuesday, 1st December, at 13:00 UTC (08:00 EST | 14:00 CET | 21:00 CST).

The COVID-19 pandemic demanded adaptations across the diplomatic profession. Most importantly, the need for social distancing has led to changes in how diplomacy is practised: meetings were cancelled, postponed, or moved online.

Speakers

Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila is the Director for Digital Policy at DiploFoundation, and the Editor of the GIP Digital Watch observatory. In 2018-2019, she served as Diplo’s Interim Director and Head of Geneva Internet Platform, replacing Founding Director Dr Jovan Kurbalija during his one-year position as co-Executive Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation. She holds a Doctorate in Law (LL.D.), a Master’s in Contemporary Diplomacy, and two law-related diplomas from the University of Malta, and her special areas of interest include legal issues in digital policy, human rights, and e-diplomacy. She holds a warrant to practice as a Notary Public in Malta, and is a former journalist with The Sunday Times of Malta.

Ms Asha DeSuza is Second Secretary at the Permanent Mission of St Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations in New York. She is responsible for social, humanitarian, cultural, and other issues covered by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. As a legal adviser, she additionally covers issues from the Sixth Committee (Legal), the Oceans and Law of the Sea, as well as health and migration, also under the remit of the General Assembly. Since her appointment in 2017, she has led several regional coordination efforts, and served as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) negotiator for the Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases, as well as the CARICOM coordinator during the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Having completed five DiploFoundation courses, including Capacity Development in Multilateral Diplomacy for the Caribbean, she considers herself part of the Diplo family.

Ms Maricela Muñoz is Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva. She has more than 20 years of experience in multilateral diplomacy, working with governments, international organisations, the private sector, and civil society organisations, particularly in the areas of climate change, disarmament and non-proliferation, and the advancement of more peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. She is particularly interested in areas such as digital diplomacy, information and communications technologies (ICTs), frontier technologies, including the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), nature-based solutions, and blended finance for regenerative development, among others.

Mr Moctar Yedaly is in charge of the Information Society Division within the department of Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union Commission. He is a telecom, satellite, and computer engineer with an MBA in International Business. He graduated from George Washington University, Amity University, and the Institute of Informatics. He has more than 20 years of international experience in the field communication and networks management, resources evaluation, and policy preparation. He is a former staff member of Intelsat in the USA and RASCOM in the Ivory Coast.

Moderator: Dr Katharina Höne, Director of Research, DiploFoundation

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by DiploFoundation within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our series of WebDebates.

If you belong to a dynamic circle of practitioners in your community, we encourage you to establish a diplomatic hub to follow the WebDebates and to facilitate discussions. For more information and assistance, please contact Diplo’s Ms Mina Mudric.

 

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[WebDebate #45] Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice

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.

There is no better example of the increasing importance of images and visual storytelling than the 2020 high-level segment of the UN General Assembly. 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.

What can we learn from these images? Which pitfalls are best avoided? What best practices can we identify when we take a visual and digital-driven pespective? In turn, how can we incorporate perspectives on storytelling and ‘storyshowing’ in digital diplomatic practices?

In order to address these questions, we are joined by Ms Stéphanie Fillion, a journalist working on UN affairs who recently wrote the article ‘The Dos and Don’ts of Digital Diplomacy in the Covid-19 World’, and Dr Massimiliano Fusari, an academic and consultant on digital media as a visual storytelling means.

Join us on Tuesday, 2nd February, at 13:00 UTC (08:00 EST | 14:00 CET | 21:00 CST) for 45 minutes of discussion and Q&A with our experts.

Speakers

 

Ms Stéphanie Fillion is a Canadian reporter specialising in international affairs, and based at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. She is a regular contributor to PassBlue, an independent media covering the UN, and she co-hosts UN-Scripted, a podcast on the UN. Fillion also covers the UN for Asahi Shimbun and is a contributor to Forbes, Radio-Canada, and Foreign Policy. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School in New York and McGill University in Montreal, and was awarded the Canada–EU young journalist award in 2015. She is fluent in French, English, and Italian.

 

Dr Massimiliano Fusari researches and produces digital media as visual storytelling for the strategic communication of social topics and international affairs. He is a recognised academic scholar and results-driven consultant with 30 years of established education and professional experience. As associate professor at the University of Westminster (UK), he runs the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB and lectures in the analysis and production of visual literacy, digital creativity, and cross-platform storytelling. He is currently reshuffling his online lab, The Visual Storytelling Academy, to incorporate the production of his mobile app –The Meta-Image. Read more on LinkedIn.

Moderator: Dr Katharina Höne, Director of Research, DiploFoundation

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by DiploFoundation within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our series of WebDebates.

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[WebDebate #46] Unpacking the EU’s digital diplomacy and foreign policy

Digital foreign policy is becoming a key topic this year. Both Switzerland and Denmark have just recently launched their digital foreign policy strategies (for an overview of digital foreign policy strategies, visit our Digital Foreign Policy page). Yet, it is also abundantly clear that the range of relevant actors in digital foreign policy goes beyond states. Following our March conference 2021: The emergence of digital foreign policy, we want to take a closer look at developments at the level of the European Union.

Join us on Tuesday, 6th April, 12:00 UTC (08:00 EDT | 14:00 CEST | 20:00 CST)!

In terms of the EU’s digital foreign policy and diplomacy, a number of threads are coming together under the European Digital Strategy with its commitment to setting global standards. Clearly, some of the norms set by the EU have relevance beyond the 27 member states, and the EU seeks to promote ‘its way of managing the digital transformation’. Further, in December 2020, the EU published its strategy on cybersecurity, and some observers have argued that this calls for the development of a more coherent approach to cyber diplomacy at the EU level.

In Webdebate #46, we want to begin to unpack existing and future elements of the EU’s digital diplomacy and foreign policy. Join our experts for the discussion.

Speakers

Dr Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard), is a senior researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), and the head of its research programme on rule-making in online spaces. He is a visiting professor for International Law at the University of Jena, a privatdozent at the University of Frankfurt, a lecturer at the University of Graz, the project lead at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in Berlin, the research programme leader for Platform and Content Governance at the Sustainable Computing Lab at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and an associated researcher at Germany’s Research Center for Social Cohesion. His most recent books include The Normative Order of the Internet. A Theory of Rule and Regulation Online (OUP, 2020), Navigating Normative Orders. Interdisciplinary Perspectives (editor, Campus, 2020), and, co-authored with W Benedek, Freedom of Expression and the Internet (2nd ed., Strasbourg, 2020).

Dr Patryk Pawlak is the EUISS Brussels Executive Officer. In this capacity, he maintains and develops relations with other Brussels-based institutions. In addition, he is in charge of the cyber portfolio, leading the Institute’s cyber-related projects and contributing to its outreach activities. Since June 2016, he is a member of the Advisory Board of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise. His work on cyber-related issues and the European Union’s security policies more broadly has appeared in several peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes.

Patryk holds a PhD in Political Science from the European University Institute in Florence and an MA in European Studies from the College of Europe.

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by DiploFoundation within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT).

Learn more about our series of WebDebates here.

 

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[WebDebate #47] Current diplomatic responses to COVID-19 

COVID-19 has posed tremendous challenges to diplomacy. Practices had to be adapted while diplomats had to address the immediate crisis situation and work towards coordinated responses. In this WebDebate, we focus on two current diplomatic responses to COVID-19: the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) initiative, and the work done at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

Join us on Tuesday, 4th May, at 12:00 UTC (08:00 EDT | 14:00 CEST | 20:00 CST).

COVAX is a global initiative that aims at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Through the initiative, 92 low- and middle-income economies are eligible to get access to COVID-19 vaccines. As of April 20 2021, it has shipped over 40.5 million COVID-19 vaccines to 118 participants. Diplomatic efforts such as the Friends of the COVAX Facility (FOF), led by Singapore and Switzerland, played an important role in making COVAX a reality.

In its 46th session, the HRC passed ‘Resolution 46/14 on Ensuring Equitable, Affordable, Timely and Universal Access for all Countries to Vaccines in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic’. It is worth unpacking the dynamics at the HRC and the discussion around this resolution.

In short, WebDebate #47 takes a closer look at the accomplishments and ongoing challenges of diplomatic responses to COVID-19. We feel that discussing the COVAX initiative and shining a light on the human rights dimension of the pandemic couldn’t be more timely.

Join our experts for the discussion.

Speakers

Amb. Umej Bhatia is Singapore’s permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva. He joined the foreign service in 1996, and has served in various capacities on issues covering Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the UN in Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bhatia  served overseas as first secretary in Singapore’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York (1999–2003), as an alternate representative for Singapore on the UN Security Council (2001–2002), as Singapore’s consul general in Dubai (2011–2012), as Singapore’s first resident ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (2013–2016), and as director general in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia (2017–2019).

Mr Marc Limon is executive director of the Universal Rights Group (URG), a think-tank focused on international human rights policy, with offices in Geneva, New York, and Bogota. Prior to founding the URG in 2013, Limon worked as a diplomat at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) from the body’s establishment in 2006 until the end of 2012. This included participating in the negotiations on the institution-building package, on the Council’s midterm review, and on a wide range of thematic and country-specific issues. Limon was lead negotiator on nine different UN resolutions dealing with issues such as human rights and climate change, human rights and the environment, freedom of assembly and association, and the third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Alongside his colleague Subhas Gujadhur (Mauritius), he also established the HRC’s Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by DiploFoundation within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our series of WebDebates here.

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[WebDebate #48] Virtual and hybrid diplomacy: What have we learned?

In light of social distancing and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, diplomatic practice had to adapt. Overall, diplomacy has proven remarkably resilient. Videoconferencing and other means of digital communication have ensured continuity of diplomatic practice and negotiations. Hybrid (blended) forms of diplomacy that combine in-situ and virtual attendance at meetings have emerged as another adaptation. Given the advantages, this form of hybrid diplomacy is here to stay. Diplomatic practice has always existed at the interplay of continuity and change, and the present moment is a crucial turning point which might determine the future of diplomatic practice.

Join us on Tuesday, 8th June, at 12:00 UTC (08:00 EDT | 14:00 CEST | 20:00 CST).

In October 2020, Diplo provided initial research on this topic at its conference and in its research report. Now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, we need to ask: Where are we now? What have we learned? And how will the future of diplomatic practice be influenced? In order to shed light on these topics, we are joined by two scholars from the Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group.

Speakers

Prof. Corneliu Bjola is associate professor of Diplomatic Studies at the University of Oxford, and head of the Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group. He also serves as a faculty fellow at the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, and as a professorial lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. He has published extensively on issues related to the impact of digital technology on the conduct of diplomacy with a recent focus on public diplomacy, international negotiations, and methods for countering digital propaganda. His recent co-edited volume Digital Diplomacy and International Organizations: Autonomy, Legitimacy and Contestation (Routledge, 2020) examines the broader ramifications of digital technologies on the internal dynamics, multilateral policies, and strategic engagements of international organisations.

Bjola is currently working on the new co-edited volume Digital International Relations, examining how digital disruption changes the technological parameters of ordering processes in world politics.

Dr Ilan Manor is a digital diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University and a member of the Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group. His book, The Digitalization of Public Diplomacy, was published in 2019. His co-edited volume, Public Diplomacy and the Politics of Uncertainty, was published in 2020.

 

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by Diplo within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our series of WebDebates here.

[WebDebate #47 summary] Current diplomatic responses to COVID-19

Author:

Katharina Höne

COVID-19 has posed tremendous challenges to diplomacy. Practices have had to be adapted, while diplomats have had to address the immediate crisis situation and work towards coordinated responses. In WebDebate #47 (4 May 2021), we took a closer look at  the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) Facility and the debates and resolution of the Human Rights Council (HRC) that took place during its 46th session. COVAX is a global initiative that aims at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Through the initiative, 92 low- and middle-income economies are eligible to get access to COVID-19 vaccines. As of 10 May 2021, it has shipped over 58 million COVID-19 vaccines to 122 participants. Diplomatic efforts such as the Friends of the COVAX Facility (FOF), led by Singapore and Switzerland, have played an important role in making COVAX a reality.

At its 46th session, the HRC passed ‘Resolution 46/14 on Ensuring equitable, affordable, timely and universal access for all countries to vaccines in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic’. It is worth unpacking the dynamics of the HRC and the discussion surrounding this resolution.

Moderated by Dr Katharina Höne, Diplo’s director of research, our WebDebate’s special guests were Ambassador Umej Bhatia, Singapore’s permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva, and Mr Marc Limon, executive director of the Universal Rights Group (URG). This debate followed on from Diplo’s report on the impact of COVID-19 on multilateral diplomacy, which is supported by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

What was the diplomatic effort behind the COVAX Facility? 

In 2020, the FOF, led by Singapore and Switzerland, started its discussions over a series of  virtual meetings. Working across multiple time zones created quite a few challenges, and further coordination and negotiation took place via email. The FOF focused on supporting the operationalisation of the COVAX Facility.

Bhatia compared these efforts to putting a fire brigade together while the fire was already burning. He also emphasised that these efforts are best described as vaccine multilateralism and that they took place in addition to national and bilateral initiatives to get the pandemic under control. However, one of the driving forces behind COVAX and the FOF was the clear realisation that the scramble for resources to fight the pandemic and nationalist tendencies would complicate equitable access to vaccines.

Diplomacy was key in these efforts. The FOF, for example, brought countries together that are not necessarily in regular rich diplomatic exchanges. It involved diplomats and health experts in capitals, as well as experts from Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

How did the 46th session of the HRC address COVID-19 and vaccine access in particular?

In the HRC high-level segment, COVID-19 and its human rights implications clearly emerged as one of the top issues. The HRC addressed the equitable and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, but also, the disproportionate impact on different parts of the population – people in pre-existing vulnerable or marginalised parts of the population (in particular women, children, and people with disabilities).

Resolution 46/14 on equitable, affordable, timely and universal access was the result of great efforts at building consensus. Limon highlighted that the resolution encapsulates one of the big debates in human rights, whereby one perspective emphasises the responsibility of states, while the other perspective emphasises the role and responsibility of the international community. These two perspectives are sometimes in an uneasy balance.

Limon also argued that developed countries giving to the COVAX Facility is only one aspect of addressing the equitable distribution of vaccines. The practice of not exporting and stockpiling vaccines raises serious moral questions and goes against the international consensus on the issue.

What are some of the challenges that lie ahead for the HRC resolution?

As always with non-binding resolutions, implementation remains a challenge. Generally speaking, HRC resolutions have a mixed record when it comes to implementation. It will be important to go beyond rhetoric to meaningful action. The efforts of like-minded countries in supporting multilateral efforts will be key. However, when countries have to weigh between internationalism and nationalism, nationalism tends to win. For example, only starting to export vaccines when the population is sufficiently vaccinated is morally questionable.

What have we learned and what is the road ahead?

Limon highlighted some laudable developments. First, there is a debate on the dangers of vaccine nationalism, which was not a given this time last year. Second, a mechanism such as the COVAX Facility was also far from being a given this time last year. Third, the HRC clearly brought the human rights dimension of the pandemic to the discussion and found consensus on a resolution that calls for equitable vaccine distribution. Bhatia stressed that it will be important to strengthen the multilateral response and build a more robust global system, so that during the next global health crisis, the necessary mechanisms and institutions do not have to be created on the spot. Regarding questions such as intellectual property and vaccines, he suggested that solutions are not to be found in ideological debates. Rather, negotiations should be pragmatically guided by the question of which decisions lead to more people getting vaccinated.

[WebDebate #46 summary] Unpacking the EU’s digital diplomacy and foreign policy

Author:

Stephanie Borg Psaila

Foreign policies have for many years served as countries’ compass in their relations with each other. With the fast digitalisation of most sectors of society, updating foreign policies to incorporate digital aspects – recognised both as a tool to facilitate diplomatic practice, and a theme on diplomatic agendas – is a natural progression.

In Europe, several countries have introduced strategies that focus specifically on digital topics; others have updated their strategies to include references to digitisation. At a regional level, the EU’s digital strategies are providing the backdrop for even more developments.

In WebDebate #46 (6 April 2021), we took a closer look at how the EU is tackling digital issues in its foreign policy. We looked at whether the EU should develop a dedicated digital foreign policy, and how to inject coherence into the way it coordinates its digital policies. We also asked whether there was a dissonance between digital sovereignty (clearly one of the EU’s ambitions) and digital interdependence (in light of how digitalisation is connecting countries and geographies, and the increasing calls for multilateral solutions).

Moderated by Dr Katharina Hoene, Diplo’s director of research, our WebDebate’s special guests were Dr Matthias C. Kettemann, senior researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), and Dr Patryk Pawlak, head of the Brussels office of the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS).

What do we mean by digital foreign policy?

Many terms have mushroomed in diplomacy-related jargon, including cyber and digital diplomacy.. Pawlak noted that the terms essentially point to the same concept: diplomacy. Using such a range of terms is unnecessary because it leads to reinventing the mechanisms, instruments, and the whole set of discourses and narratives about diplomacy.

Does the EU need a dedicated policy for digital issues?

Mapping the EU’s digital policies is quite complex. Pawlak explained how foreign policy is dealt with by the vice president of the EU; in addition, two commissioners deal with the digital portfolio; plus, digital issues also have a strong international cooperation component.

Given the complexity, the EU needs to develop a cohesive digital foreign policy which serves as a unifying element that brings the institutional elements together, and serves as an awareness-raising exercise of what each arm is doing.

How can the EU improve the cohesiveness of its digital policies?

Kettemann noted that the EU has made great strides in setting normative standards and in laying the course for the next few years. These standards – such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – are respected globally. Improving its strategic orientation would make its policies more cohesive, and would highlight more strongly its work on digital norms. This will enable it to exercise even more foreign policy influence on digital issues by using digital tools. Pawlak also highlighted the need for setting up a council on digital affairs, aimed at bringing countries together to discuss digital issues specifically.

Which objectives should an EU digital foreign policy have? 

Referring to his earlier studies, Kettemann highlighted the need to increase the self-determination of people as part of the digitalisation process. This includes informational self-determination, that is, the right of ownership over their personal data. The GDPR is a solid normative framework which has been exported to other countries.

The EU needs to strengthen the link between its strategic capacity to act in the foreign policy fields, and its goals. It also needs to ‘re-sovereignise’ certain parts of the digital landscape – including internet nodes, cloud infrastructure, and international standardisation processes – to allow Europe to continue shaping the rules.

Pawlak highlighted four guideposts, which were recently used to provide orientation for the newly launched Digital Compass, and which can serve to improve policy coherence. The first is sovereignty, which involves making choices that strengthen European technologies and alternatives, while taking a mature approach that explains its policy and tries to get more allies by its side. As interest in the EU’s policies increases, it also becomes more attractive – and hence a bigger priority – for the EU to strengthen its resilience against  cyberespionage or politically-motivated cyberattacks.

The third is to utilise the norms that are inherent in the EU’s regulation to inform a digital foreign policy. The fourth is to tackle the sovereignty/multilateralism dilemma which the EU will face, as a flip side of its digitally sovereign approach. In order to stand behind multilateralism, the EU will need to continue engaging with other countries, which would inevitably put certain constraints on what it can do as a digitally sovereign actor.

What is the diplomat’s role?

From the lens of an observer of EU Council discussions, Pawlak said how in recent years, diplomats with experience in negotiating cybersecurity issues have increasingly broadened the notion of cyber diplomacy to include non-security issues. Kettemann also noted the EU diplomats’ experience in navigating several national positions, making them well-placed to engage international actors with finding solutions to cyber issues.

Both Pawlak and Kettemann agreed on promoting the concept of digital ambassadors or digital attachés. They also noted that this requires a policy which unifies the EU’s efforts in the digital field, and which would then be able to guide the attachés’ work.

[WebDebate #45 summary] Visual storytelling for diplomatic practice

Author:

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

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

Author:

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?

Author:

DiploFoundation

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.