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Rethinking Diplomacy

The new year of GFYL started with an exciting opportunity for GFYL alumni to learn about the potential that digital tools can hold for the public sector and for overcoming the challenges of the world.

On 25 January, the Berlin-based German-French Young Leaders team welcomed a number of GFYL alumni of 2016 and 2017 and their invitees in the modern Babbel headquarters in the hip neighboorhood Hackischer Markt right in the center of Berlin. Representatives from various sectors ranging from startups and non profits to consulting agencies and the German Foreign Office all came together for an evening session dedicated to the topic "Rethinking Diplomacy".

A diverse range of 11 speakers representing not only the GFYL community, but also other experts from the private and public sector shared with about 40 guests their ideas on how to develop and implement digital concepts in the public sector.

The talks focused on three main topics:

(1) Digital tools in public administration featuring Susanne from Babbel, Lars from Axel Springer hy and Martin from quofox

(2) Digital tools for diplomacy with contributions by Jochen from Welthungerhilfe, Manouchehr from R&D, Niklas from Dalia Research and Paul from Jacques Delors Institut Berlin

(3) Process management and implementation of digital concepts explained by Ieva from Revolyx (Paris), Julia from Open Knowledge Foundation, Kerstin from i-potentials and Max from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

Exciting speakers and interesting topics certainly make for diverse talks and animated discussions. In the following we are summarising some of the main points made by our speakers.

The role of digital tools in public administration and what really matters

Increased political participation through crowdsourcing, web-based platforms offering easier access to public services, online training opportunities for public servants like quofox, digital startups such as babbel cooperating with public institutions — technologies have undoubtedly and irreversibly not only changed our lives but are also about to change the way public administration operates and connects with citizens. But according to our speakers, what is the key to doing digitalisation right in the public sector?

Max, an expert on the future of work, explains that hierarchies will have to be adapted to digital realities: While in the past, hierarchies were linked to asymmetric information flow, access to information today has changed greatly. Lifelong learning however, as described by Martin from quofox, offers opportunities in this area as it reduces information discrepancies.

The need for changing hierarchies is also emphasized by Lars from Axel Springer hy pointing out that "The future belongs to organisations with a comprehensive and transparent information flow" - today’s administration needs to put a stronger focus on dynamic networks and teams instead of hierarchies.

Process management and implementation of digital concepts - making the impossible possible in public administration?

In order to implement digital concepts, specific and often rare competences are frequently required. However, though we do not necessarily connect public administration with table football competitions in the break and free fizzy drinks as Kerstin from i-potentials explains half jokingly, attracting digital talent for public administration is not impossible as Julia from Open Knowledge Foundation knows: “Implementing digitalisation strategies in public administration successfully depends on the roles experts are given. Administrations and governments abroad have already made a successful case through the creation of interdisciplinary innovation teams that are integrated on the highest levels.

Startups are thought to be more reactive, modern...and digital. But are they really the "better" player in the digital scene? Niklas from Dalia Research puts it all into perspective perfectly: "Digitalisation is more about learning constantly, it is a lot less about technology. Startups like us can and must learn from established, often considered 'slow' organizations, whose enormous experience in digitalisation can also be an advantage." In that context the concept of "reversed mentoring" presented by Ieva, co-founder of the Revolyx, fits very well as it facilitates the flow of expertise from young(er) digital natives to senior decision makers - and vice versa - encouraging exchanges on different levels.

Digital tools for diplomacy: How big data, apps and games move into diplomacy

As digital tools have made their way into public administration with some countries like in the Baltic area being several steps ahead of others, the whole range that technology has to offer is also used increasingly in diplomatic fields. Modern digital tools make it possible to collect a great amount of real-time data in an efficient and fast way that requires relatively little investment of resources as discussed by Paul from the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin and Niklas. Big data is also of use in the non profit sector as shows Jochen from Welthungerhilfe who have made it possible to evaluate the physical well-being of children through photo analysis. Another example includes programs that monitor exchanges on social media providing a risk analysis anywhere in the world in real time and that can help companies make investment decisions but that are also of use to public administration such as the Foreign Office. That digital tools do not only revert to big data knows startuper Manoucher. His unusual perspective focuses on computer games. Those can offer great potential in conflict situations. How about a video game that simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that is used in schools throughout Israel for example? Or how about learning languages almost playfully on platforms such as babbel which facilitates exchanges and can ultimately contribute to the development of mutual understanding?

We would like to thank all guests and speakers for the interesting events.

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