Technology Advances U.S. Diplomacy Goals

January 17, 2013
Woman With Mobile Phone in South Africa

When we apply technology at its best to public service at its most critical, we can make powerful differences in the lives and well-being of people.

Advances in communications and information technology are allowing us to do just that, whether we are using crowd-sourcing or Twitter, or reaching people via mobile phones or Skype. We are assisting survivors in the wake of natural disasters. We are monitoring elections to ensure they are free, safe and fair. We are reaching more people in non-permissive environments. Technology has become not only our virtual eyes and ears, but our helping hands, in a variety of ways.

Take Ushahidi ("witness" in Swahili), a crowd-sourcing platform developed by Kenyan citizens in 2008 that uses technology to collect, verify, and map information from citizens on a variety of issues. That can include incidents of violence, election-related offenses, service distribution, or emergency response -- thereby empowering people to become "citizen journalists."Ushahidi has been deployed more than 40,000 times in 159 countries. It was used successfully in the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the 2011 tsunami off the coast of Japan, to locate survivors, help guide assistance, and tailor responses.

Its Kenya elections platform, Uchaguzi -- which means "election" -- will support the goal of holding free, fair and peaceful elections in March 2013. As reports are analyzed and verified in real time, Uchaguzi will coordinate with the Kenyan government, the security services and election commission, and civil society, to identify and implement responses to disputes and defuse situations that could lead to violence. Uchaguzi has also launched a project called UMATI, which will monitor social media for the use of hate speech, which could incite ethnic tensions and lead to election-related violence.

Crowd-sourcing is also useful in accessing good ideas. "Opinion Space," developed jointly by the State Department and the University of California at Berkeley's Center for New Media (BCNM), allows anyone in the world to share perspectives on U.S. foreign policy through an innovative visual map that compares user opinions and engages participants in shared community of ideas.

As the world goes more and more mobile, we can not only reach greater numbers of citizens with physical assistance, we can access their ideas and engage them in conversations that advance our own ideas. It is estimated that in 2013 the number of mobile phones -- smart phones -- will outpace the number of fixed laptops and PCs, much as the number of mobile phones exceeded the number of fixed phone lines a decade ago. People and ideas are on the move.

In the area of public diplomacy, technology is enabling us to educate more citizens, virtually, and to reach more and more young people through video games and mobile activities. Online interactions are also providing to be highly effective in countering violent extremism by correcting wrong impressions and disinformation, and presenting a more positive narrative of the United States.

These are just some of the ways in which technology has become a critical tool in the national security toolbox. We must continue to embrace it and leverage it for good. Paired with smart power and good policy, it can deepen and expand our public diplomacy, crisis mitigation, and U.S. foreign policy, as we continue to speak to the deeper needs and aspirations of people on an unprecedented scale.



United States
January 18, 2013

Mari in the U.S.A. writes:

"Let them eat Twitter."


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more