I had the immense surprise of being invited to a dinner organised tonight by the US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, with Alec Ross, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Innovation senior Advisor.
Though the purpose was to talk about social media and foreign policy, digital diplomacy and democracy, we were warned that the dinner was under Chatham House Rules, a concept slightly foreign to the web 2.0 sphere but probably understandable if you have a couple of diplomats in the room used to a more hush hush approach to life.
I won’t break those rules and hence will not say specifically what was discussed at the dinner (even if nothing seemed to be a scoop in there) but just outline a seried of impressions:
- at an anecdotal level, Ambassador Rogozin of Russia is every bit the same in real life as he is on twitter: formidable with a quirky sense of humour and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
- at a substantial level, Alec Ross can switch from making extremely humane comments (notably agreeing with my theory that institutions don’t only need a voice but also faces) to quoting every statistic you ever thought of on Internet usage, penetration and digital literacy. With a smile.
- at an institutional level, the wave of change brought by Clinton to the State Department seems incredible when you hear where they come from and where they are aiming to go in terms of external outreach and communication. These people have been living on exchanging information through vetted cables for centuries (as Wikileaks has amply demonstrated) and are now encouraged by the highest ranks of their hierarchy to ‘tweet and like’ as much as they can. It is oddly a situation where the top wants them to speak and the ranks seem a bit overly cautious and overwhelmed.
- at a personal level, I was amazed by the level of openess of the responses given by both Alec Ross and Ivo Daalder, and by the level of interactivity of the whole event. Everyone could ask questions and did!
I do hope that @alecjross and @DRogozin will keep on tweeting like they have and extend a warm welcome to @USAmbNATO , the account run by Ivo Daalder and his staff. Yes, institutions definitely need faces.