6th August 2014 London, UK

Championing digital around the FCO

A key part of the FCO’s digital strategy is to build digital skills and knowledge across our network – over 13,000 people in nearly 270 offices around the world. In the Digital Transformation Unit we knew that we wouldn’t achieve this just with classroom training courses or lectures delivered in London, so we’ve taken an alternative approach: recruiting a network of digital champions who will help us to share ideas and best practice, and help us fully understand what teams around the globe really need.


The network launched in early July, and we’re delighted to have nearly 100 members, with more applying every day. Our digital champions are a very broad mixture, including staff who are locally employed in embassies as well as UK-based diplomats and ambassadors, with geographical locations ranging from Suva to Bridgetown, and jobs ranging from consular work to trade and security. Some have extensive digital expertise, and others are complete beginners – which is exactly what we want.

We’ve asked all of our new digital champions to tell us how (or if) they are currently using digital tools in their jobs, and what they want to gain from the network. Many of their responses cover the broad themes familiar to any twenty-first century professional, such as effective use of social media, running effective digital campaigns and personal networking. But we have also received responses from staff grappling with some of the key challenges of modern diplomacy – ranging from colleagues in African posts trying to use digital tools in an environment with poor infrastructure and low levels of internet usage, to teams working on trade and investment issues anxious to discuss building specialist business networks online.

Because the network comprises such a wealth of knowledge and experience, we want to avoid simply giving out instructions and training tasks from the centre. Our aim is to build a self-supporting community for sharing problems, suggestions and new discoveries. Using a new internal community platform, we’ve set up a community site with various discussion topics and talking points. We use the community to flag up new and interesting tools and we try to chip in where we can put people in touch with an expert, point them to a useful guidance document, or advise on FCO digital policy. But without our help we’ve already seen the community share ideas on the best ways of producing infographics; compare different tools for social media monitoring and internal collaboration; and debate how best to analyse impact online.

Of course, in doing all this we’re wrestling with some predictable challenges – including how to keep in touch with a community spread across global timezones, and the challenges posed by our internal IT. Whilst the community is still work in progress, we think we’re bringing together a great collection of committed, enthusiastic people. We’d be interested to hear from others who have tried to use this sort of community to build skills around such a complex global organisation. And we will rely on our digital champions to keep telling us whether we’re getting things right – and when everyone around the FCO has become such a champion of digital that we no longer need the network, and can retire…

1 comment on “Championing digital around the FCO

  1. Elizabeth, thank you for this insight. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand we are also working on building a mentoring network – which is slightly different from a champions network. We are in the early stages and anything you could share with us in more detail – how you recruited your champions, how you keep them motivated and learning – would be most useful. If you get a chance would you email me? Many thanks, Alexandra

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