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Hands on digital diplomacy

Anne Chounet-Cambas - Quai d’Orsay, Paris, France - 21 février 2014



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The staff of the Quai d’Orsay’s Web Unit : Who are they and what are their networks ?

In case, you were still wondering, yes, there are geeks working for the French administration ! Within the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the web team is where you’ll find such individuals.

The Web Unit is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Press and Communication Directorate. We are the team responsible for digital communication. Here are a few examples of our activities :

  • The Web Unit is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Press and Communication Directorate. We are the team responsible for digital communication. Here are a few examples of our activities :
  • we have just remade the France Diplomatie website in responsive design (ie. the site automatically adapts to the medium through which it is browsed, be it a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. We are also responsible for editing the website – which receives more than 1.7 million unique visitors per month – in four languages. And we are more than a little proud to announce that the redesign was carried out fully in-house.
  • we manage all "France Diplomatie” accounts on the social web (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Storify, Youtube, Dailymotion, Flickr, etc.) and organize all events on these platforms (such as Q&As on Twitter and Facebook).
  • we provide technical and editorial support for France’s diplomatic network abroad in the digital field (training, websites, social networks, support extranet, etc.).
  • we are participating in the public open data effort on
  • we produce infographics to clarify the Ministry’s action in the field.
  • we train our colleagues in digital technologies during courses throughout the year.
  • we are responsible for the Ministry’s intranet (and for its upcoming remake).
  • we run this blog.
  • and sometimes we go wild, but outside office hours and at no cost (because we are big on principles).

Material organization

So now you know more or less what we do, but I think it would help to give you an idea of our natural habitat. Our offices are somewhere between that :

Nos locaux 1
(dans mes rêves j’ai un adjoint en charge du massage des trapèzes douloureux) - Source : L’exercice de l’Etat

and that :

Nos locaux 2
(plus proche de la réalité pour ce qui est du mobilier. NB : le port de la chemisette avec cravate est rigoureusement interdit par la charte de bonne conduite du pôle web) - Source : NBC

But pictures can’t do justice to the atmosphere that reigns here.

Until very recently, musical entertainment was mostly provided by the graphic designer, a Metal fan. If you aren’t familiar with the subject, a summary can help you update your notes :

TV Poils : Le guide du metal par Fat Ed

That was until not so long ago.

One Web Unit Security Council meeting later, we were pleased to reach an agreement respecting the interests of the different parties. We continue to call for respect for the borders established by the 2012 Peace Agreement : :

  • Monday : carte blanche (in reality that means putting up with the graphic designer’s Black Metal, but any diplomat can confirm that tricky art of negotiation involves knowing when to make concessions on certain minor points of the text)
  • Tuesday : redemption through pop music
  • Thursday : film soundtracks
  • Thursday : nineties
  • Friday : dead singers
  • Weekend : no man’s land (the duty officer is free to listen to all Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas if they feel like it)

In reality, we know what the implementation of peace agreements is like. There can be failures. To draw a parallel which will speak more to some readers : the Web Unit is like the Macumba Club : there are several musical atmosphere’s (depending on offices).

Web Unit sociology

The staff who work in the Web Unit are a bit different from the rest of their colleagues who spend less of their time on the Internets. For example, they tend to wear a beard (less true of the girls) (not sure why) and tie-wearing is very much optional (though strongly recommended with shorts).
As for hairiness, if you’re not big on geekery, don’t ride a fixie, and don’t hang around in Williamsburg or the Right Bank of Paris, a table to summarize the situation will no doubt be useful (you’ve surely noticed how much diplomats like summary sheets) :

Extrait de

UNIX administrator and diabolical graphic designer beards are overrepresented at the Web Unit (see fg. 1). Certain community managers and project managers have preferred to stop cutting their hair. Which is, I’m sure you’ll all agree, useful for head-banging.

The torment of the creative process

It’s a bit like a scoping meeting on the United Nations General Assembly : long and complicated. But less rigid.

Le processus créatif
Inspiré de

The torment of the validation process

For once, what prevails within the Web Unit is perfectly representative of the general workings of departments within the Ministry.

Next time I will discuss the relationships between hard rock and diplomacy in greater detail.



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