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Knowledge management:

Modern communications technology offers the diplomat easy and fast access to broad areas of information and speedy and reliable methods of transmission. Information gathering has thus become easier, its management, however, more difficult at the same time. The problem, of course, is known in fields far beyond diplomacy: how to filter out from the bottomless resources of the World Wide Web the information that is reliable and useful; how to connect different streams of information to a coherent whole? Modern organizations have to change from being one in which you are rewarded for how clever you are in obtaining information to an organization in which you are rewarded for how useful the information is to the team. The fact that information is so much at the center of diplomatic activity makes this a primary challenge for the diplomat.

The easy access to information and the more ”democratic” means of information transfer offered by the Internet and Intranet also change (or at least need to change) the structures of foreign ministries and the relationship with and among representations abroad. The flow of information can no longer be monopolized and hierarchically controlled. In modern diplomacy, as in the modern business world, we need flatter hierarchies and the encouragement of teamwork, going beyond traditionally established boundaries and partitions of labor between the central authority and the field. In his famous book ”The Lexus and the Olive Tree” Tom Friedman recounts the advice he received from a seasoned businessman: ”We are not saying that headquarters doesn’t matter. But we are redefining what the center means in ways that are more inclusive, in ways that allow us to move faster and be more responsive. Any hierarchy that bases itself on denying information to its employees is not going to work. Now it has to be much more of teamwork”. The use of electronic communication seems to have the inherent result of not only calling for but also facilitating teamwork and a broadening of organisational structures. Substantive authority has to replace formal authority. Only those services, which are willing to bring such changes about, will be able to fully make use of the emerging vast new possibilities

The public diplomat

Many of the above mentioned developments (the nexus between diplomacy and internal politics, the broadening of issues to be dealt with by diplomats, the communication revolution and others) have helped to give prominence to a rather new concept in foreign relations: public diplomacy. The diplomat today is above all a communicator and mediator of positions of his/her own country vis-à-vis all sections of the politically informed public in the host country. The main business is no longer discreet and confidential dealings with the foreign ministry of the host country but public diplomacy aimed at explaining and canvassing support for positions among government circles, parliament, the political parties, the business community, the social partners, the media and representatives of academic and cultural life. For this the diplomat must build up and cultivate a dense and stable network of contacts in all areas of society with a view to becoming actively involved in shaping public opinion in the host country.

More than elsewhere this holds true for the relationship between individual countries of the European Union, but certainly also in places like Washington, where the art of public diplomacy has developed out of the more traditional networking and lobbying business and where today public diplomacy literally reaches the sky. A recent article in the International Herald Tribune carried the telling title: ”Construction boom; ambassadors compete; building castles to keep profile high in Washington.”

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