Modernising Dutch Diplomacy

Summary of the progress report by the Advisory Committee on Modernising the Diplomatic Service

In spring 2013 the Advisory Committee on Modernising the Diplomatic Service drew up a progress report at the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The report is intended as input into reflections on the reform of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on modernising diplomacy in general. Significant steps have already been taken within the Ministry since the Committee began its work in March 2012, and efforts are being made to create an organisation more in keeping with today’s realities. Promising examples include co-location of missions, the creation of collaborative digital workspaces, intensive interactive use of social media at a number of missions and Ministry departments, and experiments with regionalisation, including at policy level.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to be reformed if it is to maintain, or regain, its relevance. In concrete terms, it needs a new organisational and institutional form in order to meet today’s challenges. Modernising the diplomatic service requires organisational changes in three intrinsically linked areas: professional expertise, organisational conditions and interaction.

The foreign ministry of the future as envisaged by the Committee is one that:

•    essentially thinks and works like a network organisation: open and flexible, and organised into groups of varying composition, around cross-border regions, themes or interests;

•    can cope with the hybrid nature of 21st-century relations, is capable of not only classic but also network diplomacy (as well as combinations of the two) and makes its exceptional professional expertise available to whoever wishes to serve Dutch interests;

•    operates in a single virtual space together with its diplomatic service;

•    focuses on working in partnership with other ministries, government bodies, businesses, civil society organisations and individuals, actively seeking such partnerships and ensuring their quality;

•    maintains regular, systematic contacts in the Netherlands, centred on a council working in the general interest and chaired by the Minister, as well as panels dealing with specific areas, which conclude and monitor agreements on the standard of performance expected of the Ministry;

•    systematically ensures that the Dutch public is aware of its activities;

•    is easily accessible to both Dutch citizens and nationals of other countries, primarily online but also through help desks.

To this end, the Ministry should create the following organisational, IT and management conditions:

•    Training that facilitates and maintains professional expertise of exceptional quality. The goal should be to train fully fledged diplomats in seven years, with refresher and specialist training thereafter. There will be a diplomatic academy, with a dean. The academy will be accessible to anyone with the right qualifications who serves Dutch interests abroad, whether in the government, business community or civil society organisations or institutions.

•    A promotion and placement policy that focuses on assessment and development, with a heavy emphasis on acquired specialist knowledge and expertise.

•    Secure IT systems that allow informal internal communication and working methods, such as project groups that can extend across the world.

•    Policy that is drawn up as close as possible to the place where it is intended to make an impact. Strategy and supervision will remain in The Hague, however.

•    Management based on trust and placing maximum responsibility at lower levels of the organisation. Management rules will be reviewed regularly.

•    Hybrid diplomacy designed along regional lines. Rather than precisely demarcated entities, regions are now arenas with fluid boundaries within which actors can operate and agendas can be developed. The hybrid world often manifests itself at regional level – across borders and beyond the national context – but is not all-embracing. In practical terms this means that one of the ambassadors in a region will be responsible for the regional task.

•    Thinking on the composition and form of the network of missions is based on a model of regional units containing various local missions. This will allow efficient, effective local representations to be maintained. The aim is to be physically present in as many places as possible. Local embassies complete with chanceries and residences will no longer be created and maintained as a matter of course. Although ambassadorships will be more widely available, reflecting a high-level function, they will no longer be synonymous with prestigious residences and chauffeurs.

The first steps have been taken, but there is still a long way to go!