The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 32

32
JULY-AUGUST 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
in Washington could have written them just as easily as I did from
China. Almost all the data was on the Internet, and much of it was
in English.
The fetishization of reporting at many posts has led to an odd
phenomenon. Even as overseas posts are reporting more than
ever—not just by cable, but by email, both official and personal—
Washington’s attention span is getting shorter. Many desk officers
could spend all day doing nothing but reading (or just skimming)
all the cables and emails and press summaries and Ops Center
briefs and daily activity reports that pop into their inboxes. “Inbox
management” has become as critical a skill in Washington as
drafting a briefing memo, much less running an office.
The department is drowning in information. But howmuch
reporting actually gets read? Howmuch ever reaches bureau front
offices—not to mention the seventh floor? And if it doesn’t get
read, how can it influence policy?
We need to get back to
basics. State should review
the role of political officers in
the Foreign Service, to help us
refocus our work and set expec-
tations. (We might start by
looking at the recent emphasis
on “economic statecraft,” and
how it has revitalized the work
of economic officers.) Senior
officers should mentor and
train newer officers not just in
cable drafting, but in how to identify and engage contacts, and
how to elicit and synthesize information.
We should focus less on producing quantity reporting about
our host countries, and focus more on clear, concise reporting that
helps Washington understand those countries. We need to help
the department better manage all the information it receives—not
just add another cable or email to someone’s inbox.
Good reporting is vital to diplomacy. It provides a record for
others to learn from our successes, and our failures. It can inform,
advise and even influence the making of policy at the highest lev-
els. But diplomacy is more than some kind of glorified journalism.
We still have to go talk to people and influence them. We have to
hit the damn ball.
Since joining the Foreign Service in 2002, Christopher W. Bishop, a
political officer, has served in Shanghai, Khartoum, Yokohama and
Washington, D.C. In August, he will begin Chinese-language and area
studies instruction in Taipei at the American Institute in Taiwan.
Bring in the Noise:
Using Digital Technology
to Promote Peace and Security
By Daniel Fennell
Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations,
Washington, D.C.
Running at full speed on projects at our overseas posts, it’s not
easy to break focus and find time to send reports back to Wash-
ington. But like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, an activity
in the field needs to make some noise if you want anyone in Wash-
ington to know it struck the ground.
Working in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Opera-
tions has impressed on me how field reporting can promote the
use of new tools to fight conflict and instability. For example,
our team in Honduras helped mount a conference with young
technology-savvy participants,
international funders and
local government officials to
identify tech-based solutions
for addressing destabilizing
violence in the country with
the highest murder rate in the
world.
This event, called a “Tech-
Camp,” was jointly organized by
CSO, the Office of eDiplomacy
and Embassy Tegucigalpa. It
was a new experience for our bureau, but looked like an innova-
tive way to address drivers of conflict.
Field reporting painted an engaging picture of 13 groups pro-
posing ideas involving digital platforms. Some, like coordinated
social media strategies, were free. Others, such as a new com-
puter-based crime-tracking system and a plan to allow anony-
mous incident reporting, won basic funding from an international
nongovernmental organization. All of the proposals sprang from
local groups using local expertise to find solutions to citizen secu-
rity problems—meeting a central goal for the U.S. mission.
Field reports on the TechCamp, including cables, email and
even video clips, caught the attention of our bureau leader-
ship and our Burma engagement team, which believed that a
TechCamp would work there, too. That team adopted the basic
elements of the Honduras event, and the Burma version, mounted
in partnership with Embassy Rangoon and the Spirit of America
foundation, was another success.
We are now seeking opportunities to set up similar events
One of the hidden benefits
of serving inWashington is
seeing how field reports that
get into the right hands can
improve policy and operations.
—Daniel Fennell
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