It is time to evaluate governmental diplomacy in a post-WikiLeaks world.
In case you’ve been away from Earth, the controversial WikiLeaks site released more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables
from more than 270 US embassies around the world. Although the contents of the cables were not top secret, they did include diplomatic transmissions that took aim at several countries and prominent figures and were not meant for public consumption.
As expected, reactions to the leaked documents were rabid on both sides of the debate. Some said that the leaked information was damaging to the United States, while others welcomed the release, saying that the leak forced the government to be held accountable for its actions.
No matter which side you took, WikiLeaks provided undeniable evidence that, behind the scenes, diplomacy is a winner-take-all game that greatly influences the lives of people around the globe.
That’s precisely why Diplopedia, a Wikipedia of sorts for the US government to aid in diplomatic efforts, is such a fascinating tool.
Launched in September 2006, Diplopedia runs on the US Department of State’s internal intranet, OpenNet. Access to Diplopedia is restricted to State Department employees; the public cannot see or access the service.
Diplopedia is meant to be a place where members of the State Department can collaborate on “all topics of interest,” away from the public’s prying eyes. The service isn’t meant to be confidential, but it is meant to be an internal resource.
Since its launch, Diplopedia has grown exponentially. Starting with just a few documents on a few servers four years ago, it now has approximately 13,000 articles “written and edited by Department of State” employees.
Chris Bronk, the fellow for IT policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, was instrumental in establishing Diplopedia. When he recently spoke with me about the service, he said it is “designed to be the internal knowledge repository for the entire State Department.” He said that it has made the jobs of government employees much easier.
The existence of Diplopedia raises the question of why the State Department needs several different means of sharing information when, at least so far, Diplopedia’s confidentiality holds up, while giving employees most of the background they require to do their jobs.
Indeed, Diplopedia has become the go-to source, Bronk said, for everything from protocol on handling motorcades to information on writing Congressionally mandated reports. In essence, the wiki is no different than internal content databases any company might make available to employees to provide them with resources on what’s expected of them and how they should perform the duties of their jobs.
According to Bronk, Diplopedia features a sub-portal for country desk officers, a know-it-all source in embassies around the world, and a primer for diplomats (and others) entering new positions. Bronk said that the sub-portal provides all the information that employees need to help them get up and running in their positions as quickly as possible.
For example, Diplopedia might not have “exhaustive information about Italy,” Bronk said in the interview, “but it could have exhaustive information about European Union issues related to Italy that State Department people need to think about.”
Diplopedia might not boast the international intrigue that the WikiLeaks documents offered (Bronk says Diplopedia isn’t “sexy or exciting”), but it plays a key role in how State Department officials perform their daily tasks. And it has quickly become a central resource in the international efforts those folks partake in each and every day.
Moreover, Diplopedia effectively shows that there is a resource available to the State Department that can allow employees to share information -- without getting on a highly confidential network to do it. And in a post-WikiLeaks world, that’s important.
— Don Reisinger is a technology and video game columnist.