Updates on the Office of eDiplomacy at the US Department of State

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I first spoke with Richard Boly, Director of the Office of eDiplomacy at the U.S. Department of State, early in 2010 and was immediately impressed both by his ability to deliver results and with his passion for open government. I caught up with Richard this week to get an update on the projects this key team is currently working on.

It is important to understand that the eDiplomacy team has traditionally been focused on internal innovation but, due to their ability to deliver projects under less than ideal circumstances they are now also working on external-facing initiatives to, you’ll see that reflected in the list below.

Corridor

One of the major initiatives being worked upon is project Corridor, a professional networking platform, similar to LinkedIn, for internal State Department use. They are currently in an early beta stage with 250 “customers”, working on bug fixing and feature enhancements, and will soon have another beta update to release to this beta team. Corridor will ensure that skills, work history, your Corridor Reputation, are available at a glance, helping this very large organization more efficient.

One might think that innovation at large Federal agencies include access to large budgets. Wrong. Richard has done well building solutions without spending a lot of money. Corridor is built entirely on BuddyPress and their internal community blogs, which are currently on Movable Type, are moving to self-hosted WordPress.

Virtual Student Foreign Service

The Virtual Student Foreign Service is an existing solution that the eDiplomacy team is moving forward. This solution is being used by more than 100 students who are working with 70+ embassies. eDiplomacy is looking to extend the platform to better enable students to engage with each other, to move between online and offline communication where useful, and to make it easier for students/embassies to work on short-term discrete projects (think mechanical turk as an example).

[email protected]

The next quarterly [email protected] will be in May or June of 2011, again in Washington DC. What is exciting, in my opinion, is that there is a discussion underway to take this “on the road” through [email protected] While nothing is yet confirmed, this may take place in locations such as Silicon Valley, Boston, and elsewhere, bringing diplomats together with technologist outside of the Washington, DC, area.

Civil Society 2.0

Civil Society 2.0 was launched by Secretary Clinton in Marrakesh in 2009. Civil Society 2.0 was attempting to put “technology in a box” and deliver it to NGOs to ensure their success. This approach was presumptuous, assuming that the Department of State knew what the NGOs needs were better than the NGOs themselves. Tech Camps, which first took place in Santiago Chile with 200+ people, bring NGOs and technologist together to do demos, discuss technology, and to determine what core problems (and solutions) are faced by the NGOs. The Tech Camp in Chile resulted in 15 problem definitions. In the Spring, Tech Camps will also be taking place in Jakarta and Moldova.

The eDiplomacy team has a lot on their plate, as you can see, but they are doing a great job delivering solutions that both make the Department of State more efficient as well as benefiting civil society around the entire world.

John

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