Institute for Digital Government celebrates International Democracy Day through a digital diplomacy seminar
The International Day of Democracy (15th September 2016) was marked by Institute for Digital Government through a seminar symbolically entitled “Diaspora in the Digital Age: New Opportunities for Open Government Partnerships”. The event aimed to analyze the potential of digital technologies to shape the manner in which foreign ministries and embassies communicate and conduct their relations with target audiences, as well as the mechanisms through which these interactions could be strengthened and connected to the opportunities endowed by the Informational Era. Besides, the seminar sought to develop recommendations meant to improve the capacity of Romanian institutions to interact with the Romanian diaspora and that could be translated into potential public policies. The event was organised in partnership with the Department of Policies for Relations with Romanians Abroad within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group, with the support of the Romanian Presidency and of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
In his opening remarks, Corneliu Bjola, Associate Professor in Diplomatic Studies at the University of Oxford, provided an overview digital diaspora diplomacy, encompassing both conceptual and practical dimensions. The presentation of Mr. Bjola identified four major elements of the relationship with diaspora – communication, consultation, networking and advocacy, justifying the importance of using digital technologies in optimizing the interaction with diasporic communities. Further discussions within the second session gathered representatives of the institutions with key roles in the relationship with diaspora, who identified the main needs, challenges and opportunities of communication and interaction in the digital age. The Minister-Delegate for Relations with Romanians Abroad, Maria Ligor, outlined the necessity of building a partnership between national institutions and diaspora and of defining a strategy that would have at its core the interests, needs and expectations of Romanians abroad. Furthermore, Maria Ligor described the elements embodied in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ strategy of digital diplomacy, the presence on social media of both the institution, its departments and of the diplomatic missions, as well as the on-line activity of Romanian diplomats, with a special emphasis upon the applications developed in the consular field, as part of the E-Consulate integrated project.
These ideas were reinforced by both Sandra Pralong, Presidential Advisor for Diaspora, who also brought into attention the substantial progress made by the current government and the Presidency as regards transparency and the relationship with citizens abroad, and Dan Nechita, Adviser to the Prime Minister, who presented to the public the GovITHub platform, aimed to support the IT entrepreneurship and to make the most of the digital and technologic competences of Romanian citizens (including those abroad) in creating a digital future for Romania.
Our guest from part of the Swedish Institute, Per Gårdehall, presented a series of platforms through which Sweden’s country image is promoted within the digital environment, whereas Dorin Fleșeriu, President of ROMBEL, introduced the successful initiative of the Romanian community in Belgium, offering thus a model of best practices as regards the proper use of technologies in facilitating communication at the level of diasporic Romanian communities.
The second session was also dedicated to the promotion of best practices, gathering representatives of the diplomatic missions from Romania. They presented to the public the initiatives and priorities in the field of digital diplomacy which stay at the very core of the communication strategies implemented by countries such as India, the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom or Israel.
Therefore, Ravi Chandar, First Secretary Commercial Representative & Consular Officer, Embassy of India in Romania, highlighted not only the progress made by his country as concerns the use of new technologies, but also the economic and cultural opportunities bestowed upon the foreign affairs ministries.
Huub von Frijtag Drabbe, Economic and Commercial Counsellor, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, explained the manner in which economic diplomacy is influenced by the evolutions in the digital environment and presented the first mobile application intended for the Dutch business community of Romania, designed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bucharest and replicated by many embassies around the world.
From part of the Embassy of the United States, Sean Whalen, American Citizen Services Chief, outlined the manner in which digital instruments could play a crucial role in managing crises and in ensuring the safety of American citizens, for instance in cases of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Embracing an actual and hotly debated subject, namely the referendum of the United Kingdom, Adam Sambrook, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the United Kingdom in Romania, presented the digital campaign for the overseas voters’ registration, offering a successful example of a communication strategy for the conveyance of key information through social media. In the end, Tania Berg Rafaeli, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel in Romania, explained an innovative concept, namely the branding of a nation through digital diplomacy.
The last session consisted in two simultaneous workshops, by means of which the participants gained new information and were encouraged to involve in interactive debates. One of the workshops was moderated by Alina Dolea, Fulbright alumni and researcher at the University of Bucharest, who discussed about strategic communication on social media with the purpose of actively engaging diaspora, as well as about the online limitation of institutional communication. The other workshop, moderated by the President of the Institute for Digital Government, Andreea Hanganu, analysed the practical elements of digital communication in crisis situations, as well as the impact of new technologies upon the degree of awareness of the target audience. Last but not least, the event promoted a freshly launched initiative, belonging to a group of young people who intend to support the use of technology in the interaction with Romanian diaspora. VotDiaspora.ro is a project of Code4Romania which aims to help thousands of Romanians who were not able to exercise their right to vote within the 2014 elections through the valorisation of digital instruments with a view to engage and inform the diaspora, and connecting it to the Romanian society.
The event fulfilled its main purpose, namely that of creating the proper context for a platform of interaction between actors of the central administration, representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps, members of the civil society and of the academia, as regards the new paradigms generated by the reality of the Digital Era and the opportunities it creates in the relationship between the state and the citizen.