Avatar photo

Alison Daniels

Digital Transformation Leader at UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Part of Digital Diplomacy

18th December 2015 London, UK

Digital diplomacy in 2015

At the start of 2015 the Digital Transformation Unit set itself an ambitious to do list. After the euphoria of celebrating our first anniversary, the year has been defined by hard graft as we’ve worked with colleagues across the FCO to begin work on how to deliver digital services to British people across the world who may need them, put in place a Digital Curriculum, and ensure our digital communications contribute to the delivery of the UK’s foreign policy objectives and keep British people informed in a crisis.

British people can now book appointments online at most of our embassies, high commissions and consulates round the world. We learnt some valuable lessons on rolling out a global service. We underestimated the time it takes to help our embassies get up and running, and the demands on our staff to incorporate a new system into their busy days.

We’ve been working hard on a digital application service for Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs). The FCO issues around 40,000 of these each year and we hope that eventually around 75% of British people who need an ETD need will apply online. The service is moving to beta and Phil Buckley’s casebook sets out how we hope to not only provide a better service but free up consular staff time to focus on those who need face to face help.

By April 2016 our 150,000 Legalisation customers will be able to order and pay online.  Legalisation is the confirmation that a signature, seal or stamp on an official public document is genuine and the FCO legalises 480,000 documents a year. It’s a process that needs modernisation and one where our customers want simplicity.  For more on the complexities of creating simple Mark Barlow’s blogs set out the challenge.

Our global digital communications effort has helped British people get the key information they need during a series of tragic events from the earthquake in Nepal to a number of terror attacks which marred 2015. Social media has played a crucial role in supporting our foreign policy goals. Highlights include the UK Mission to the United Nation’s digital diplomacy effort at the UN General Assembly – putting British values and the core priorities of the United Kingdom in front of hundreds of thousands of people that would not normally see them – to our work on countering Daesh by producing consistent media rich content, using data analysis to hone this and hosting global coalition partners to pass on our insight and methodology.


We also continued to ensure we reach out to new audiences. Steven Hardy blogged on how we’ve used Snapchat as part of the FCO’s recruitment drive and we’re sharing understanding between and across the network on how to adapt new tools such as live video-streaming on Periscope for diplomacy.

We also continue to improve how we evaluate our impact and engagement. At the start of the year we procured a new social media monitoring tool which has allowed us to monitor all our social media both in London and across our network of posts. This has been incredibly valuable to us in understanding how our messages are being amplified and who is engaging with our channels. Throughout the year, staff in London and at post have been trained to use this platform which has in-turn given us standardised metrics and benchmarks to provide us with more intelligent and contextualised evaluation. Steven Linzell blogged earlier in the year about use of Ripjar in our Regional Digital Unit in Madrid.

Underpinning our work has been the roll out of our Digital Curriculum. At the start of the year we had mapped capability and developed “foundation”, “practitioner” and “expert” level courses, to make it easier for staff to plan digital into their longer term development.  Since then we’ve trained over 450 staff around the world and gathered valuable insight  into what’s worked and what’s not.  We’ve developed some new video training aimed at those creating social media content. Now we understand the broad FCO user needs, and we’re piloting leadership training to ensure a wider mandate for digital transformation.

There is much here for us to continue on into 2016. Our Regional Digital Units are already preparing for a refreshed digital comms drive by hiring in dedicated regional publishing resource to ensure we make the most of the opportunities presented by gov.uk around the world.  They are also auditing our global digital network to build a more detailed picture of the specialist digital skills our staff possess, so we can make even better, smarter use of our network next year.