Virtual Diplomacy Workshop at GKP GK III: A missed opportunity

I attended Diplomacy Goes Virtual: Opportunities and Limitation of Virtual Diplomacy, a worshop at the recently held Global Knowledge Partnership GK III conference in the hope that I would learn more than I knew and had already done using tools, mechanisms and platforms such as blogs, Skype, mobile communications, the XO laptop and Second Life, to further inter-cultural understanding, reconciliation and peacebuilding.

I was very, very wrong.

The panel was, by far, not just the worst I attended at GK III, it was one of the worst and most ill-informed I have ever attended in my life.

Perhaps it was on account of the gross mismatch between what the audience expected from reading the description of the workshop in the official GK III brochure (as reflected here) and what the panel turned out to be, which as noted here concentrated exclusively on Second Life.

I could have even endured a discussion on Second Life if it was anchored in the socio-political and cultural dynamics of countries and regions outside of North America and Western Europe – for example, those with repressive regimes that clamp down on fundamental freedoms, or those that were embroiled in Complex Political Emergencies (CPEs) and protracted ethno-political conflict.It was not to be.

The panel, that did not have a single Asian on it or anyone with experience in using MMORPG‘s / virtual worlds / Second Life for real world complex political negotiations, focussed entirely on the simplistic uses of Second Life to bring people together for genetic research and other mundane and relatively uncomplicated tasks. The unique and extremely challenging demands of virtual diplomacy shaped by and responding to violent conflict or where not at all covered.

The panel repeatedly pointed to the existence of Embassies of countries such as the Maldives in Second Life as proof of the coming of age of virtual diplomacy. My challenge to the panel was to map out how long the Maldivian Embassy on Second Life would last if there was a concerted effort to demonstrate against the essential dictatorship of the Gayoom regime in its virtual space.

It was a question they could not answer.

Even with Second Life, they did not cover at all the potential of conflict within sims, real world conflict spilling over into virtual interactions (or vice versa), alternative dispute resolution mechanisms within Second Life (such as the E-Justice Centre in Second Life), evolving notions of justice and peace within Second Life, how media reporting within and on Second Life influence the manner in which avatars interact or how sims in Second Life could be used for future scenario model based simulations in support of conflict transformation processes.

Further, the panel did not address the challenges posed by new media, such as blogs, to diplomacy and diplomats, as brought out in my post Diplomacy and blogs (on Jan Pronk’s behaviour in Sudan) or critical discussions on how the United States State Department is now using blogs to further international relations.

The panel also scoffed at the environmental impact of using Second Life, even though there’s no agreement that using Second Life is as environmentally friendly as it is often made out to be.

In fact, the panel did not address even a single point on the potential and challenges of using Second Life for dispute resolution, collaboration and civic participation I had made earlier at the 5th International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution in Liverpool, England.

On the positive side, the panel did discuss the urgent need for and developments towards interoperability of virtual worlds and the need for open standards and open source based access to and development of various sims and MMORPG‘s. A representative of Linden Labs who connected virtually made the exciting announcement that Second Life would be connected to (and perhaps even accessible from) mobile devices.

Regrettably, the constitution of and terrain covered by this workshop was the anti-thesis of what was expected from a global knowledge exchange as envisioned by GK III. Not only was the knowledge imparted through this workshop US and Western Europe centric, dated, passe and extremely blinkered, it was also at at times, dangerously naive.

To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy said Will Durant, the American writer and historian. In light of the overwhelming insignificance of this workshop’s presentations, one can compliment them all on mastering half the art of diplomacy.

I sincerely wish however that GKP invites, the next time around, non-diplomats who would invariably make for more meaningful and interesting discussions!

UPDATED: Please read Critique of “Virtual Diplomacy” workshop at GKP touches a raw nerve

10 Comments on “Virtual Diplomacy Workshop at GKP GK III: A missed opportunity”

  1. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    December 24, 2007 at 9:33 pm #

    An email I got today from someone present at the workshop and who played a key role in the discussions was as follows:


    “Thank you for your alert. After I read your message I was wondering if we attended the same session!?! The session focused on public diplomacy aspect of “traditional diplomacy” not on peace-keeping and conflict resolution. Yes, it was very basic since only 4 participants in the audience had any experience with Second Life. There are also quite a few factual mistakes in your post. I forwarded your blog to organisers to comment on factual mistakes. I am not sure it would make any sense to comment on the “judgemental (sic) part” of your post. The blog post is forwarded to people who attended the session. They may provide their comments. Organiser will also post the video/sound/text recording of the session. People will be able to judge themselves.”

    To which I responded and said, among other things:

    As noted in my post, the confusion arises on account of the description of the workshop here – http://www.gkpeventsonthefuture.org/GK3/dsp_page.cfm?pageid=670#ep17 – and the description of it here – http://www.diplomacy.edu/DiplomacyIsland/Events/default.asp, which is what is ended up being. I came based on the GKP’s description as it was printed on the brochure, the points of which were not covered in what the workshop ended up being. Perhaps there was some confusion organisationally in this regard?

    While the definitions of public diplomacy can be contested, and that which was presented certainly legitimate uses of SL to engender and augment discussions in real life, panelists were limited in their imagination to believe, as Rita quite openly said, that SL is this magic catalyst of inter-cultural understanding. Scientists working on protein folding can perhaps agree – but for the rest of us, public diplomacy through the web, internet and virtual worlds is far more challenging, serious and layered than what was presented.

    Again, perhaps the organisers were to blame for giving you instructions to cover an area that was different to what was expected of the panel?

  2. Gingerp Allen
    December 25, 2007 at 6:22 pm #

    With your expertise in particular areas of diplomacy such as conflict resolution, and a vision of ICT4Peace, I can see that you might have been disappointed that this conference was not directed towards that focus. However, I found that the conference more than filled my expectations by catalyzing new avenues of thought:

    How do we bridge the gap between the online world and the real world?

    and a confirmed determination: It is time to apply these technologies for inclusion of representatives of developing countries through remote participation in conferences such as GKIII, and particularly the upcoming IGF in India.

    These conferences are one of diplomacy’s strongest tools for education, inclusion, and even the possibility of conflict prevention by dealing with the underlying causes before they become violent conflict.

    I attended this conference in Second Life, from Maracay, Venezuela. While I could not participate in the background murmur of participant reaction, online chat during the panel indicated interest and positive response to the presentation. I found it to be not only a demonstration, but an actual application of virtual diplomacy. I was pleased to attend a conference that was directed to the level and interests of the majority of attendees, and that the panelists cared enough about their audience to ask what experience we had, in order to deliver information we could use.

  3. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    December 28, 2007 at 12:42 am #

    Email exchange with Joshua Fouts from Dancing Ink Productions, who was present at this workshop and a colleague of whom was present on the panel.

    Please read bottom up.

    ~

    Dear Sanjana:

    Thanks for your nice email. And your invitation to use your work. I assure you, if Rita or I use any of it, we will attribute. Both of us have a background in journalism that is still fresh enough to feel all but compelled to attribute anything and everything. That’s what journalism is supposed to be, no?

    I can say that both of us found your brutal honesty to be welcome and refreshing. Communication in a blunt, unabridged manner can be incredibly helpful. And I found your question and blog post to be useful in that regard. I certainly tried to make that point in my blog post responding to it!

    That said, I think that the issues and challenges facing Sri Lanka and the possibility of using ICT, especially virtual worlds as a device for improving understanding, nay, facilitating peace is dear to me. I would be pleased to continue this dialogue and see if there are ways we might work together on this very important area.

    Best wishes to you for the holidays!

    josh

    On Dec 24, 2007 8:08 AM, Sanjana Hattotuwa wrote:
    Dear Joshua / Rita,

    Thank you for your email.

    Almost all of my work is in the public domain, either on the ICT4Peace blog or on my two personal blogs ( http://sanjanah.wordpress.com and http://sanjanah.googlepages.com) – you are more than free to use any or all of it in your own work that I consider no less valuable than that which I pursue, doggedly and in the midst of violence, in my country and region. All I ask is for attribution if you do end up using or taking inspiration from my work, but I’m not a stickler for this either. Good ideas and the pursuit of strengthening the human potential using them is for me more important than out-moded notions of copyright and ownership.

    My essential exception to your panel was more on the disjuncture between what I expected from the panel based on GKP literature and what it ended up as – perhaps the GKP organisers are to blame for this and it seems you and your colleagues were prepped for something very different that what myself and my colleague from Sri Lanka (sitting on my left, a mother of two, one of Sri Lanka’s best known filmmakers and a fan of Second Life) expected.

    Perhaps my hamartia is my brutal honesty – but I feel it is more useful to state openly what one feels rather than to oftentimes dilute in diplomatic gobbledegook what one really feels. To this end, I was harsh in my post – but deliberately so and I will make no apologies for it. However, I am without any reservation at your service if you want to sound out any ideas that you are interested in or want to use my help in any way to strengthen your work.

    Merry Christmas and a fruitful and peaceful New Year,

    Warm regards,

    Sanjana

    Sanjana Hattotuwa
    Head, ICT for Peacebuilding, InfoShare

    On Dec 23, 2007, at 11:49 PM, Joshua S. Fouts wrote:

    Dear Sanjana:

    It was great to meet you in Kuala Lumpur. I was delighted to learn of your work and appreciated your question during the panel.

    I read your blog post with interest and have posted a response to it on Rita and my blog EurekaDejavu.com. Here’s a link:
    http://eurekadejavu.blogspot.com/2007/12/its-full-of-stars.html

    I would love to learn more about your work and see if there are potential areas for collaboration or cooperation. As I mentioned at the panel and in my blog post, I feel that the overwhelming predominance of North American and European in virtual worlds creates a focus that detracts from the critical work that could be done with countries who could use the technology most. To this end, I have been working with Brazil and China to this end over the past few years.

    Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

    Best,

    Josh

    Joshua Fouts
    Dancing Ink Productions

  4. vd_gk3_organiser
    December 28, 2007 at 6:37 pm #

    Lucy from “BBC in Future Media” on Virtual Diplomacy Panel

    http://lucyhooberman.wordpress.com/2007/12/16/kl_gk3-040_diplomacy_panel/

  5. vd_gk3_organiser
    December 28, 2007 at 7:32 pm #

    FACTUAL MISTAKES IN YOUR BLOG-POST ON VIRTUAL DIPLOMACY

    Quote: “Virtual Diplomacy Workshop at GKP GK III: A missed opportunity – December 22, 2007

    I attended Diplomacy Goes Virtual: Opportunities and Limitation of Virtual Diplomacy, a worshop at the recently held Global Knowledge Partnership GK III conference in the hope that I would learn more than I knew and had already done using tools, mechanisms and platforms such as blogs, Skype, mobile communications, the XO laptop and Second Life, to further inter-cultural understanding, reconciliation and peacebuilding.

    I was very, very wrong.

    The panel was, by far, not just the worst I attended at GK III, it was one of the worst and most ill-informed I have ever attended in my life.

    Perhaps it was on account of the gross mismatch between what the audience expected from reading the description of the workshop in the official GK III brochure (as reflected here) and what the panel turned out to be, which as noted here concentrated exclusively on Second Life.”

    COMMENT: The background on SL for the audience was available at the beginning of the session (the description for the GKP-publication was provided two months before the event). In order to properly address the audience, the session was moderated to provide basic information on Second Life and the list of main, mainly development-related, aspects of SL.

    Quote: “I could have even endured a discussion on Second Life if it was anchored in the socio-political and cultural dynamics of countries and regions outside of North America and Western Europe – for example, those with repressive regimes that clamp down on fundamental freedoms, or those that were embroiled in Complex Political Emergencies (CPEs) and protracted ethno-political conflict. It was not to be.”

    COMMENT: This was not the theme of the session; see the above mentioned descriptions of the session.

    Quote: “The panel, that did not have a single Asian on it or anyone with experience in using MMORPG’s / virtual worlds / Second Life for real world complex political negotiations, focussed entirely on the simplistic uses of Second Life to bring people together for genetic research and other mundane and relatively uncomplicated tasks. The unique and extremely challenging demands of virtual diplomacy shaped by and responding to violent conflict or where not at all covered.”

    COMMENT: This was not the theme of the session; see the above mentioned descriptions of the session.

    Quote: “The panel repeatedly pointed to the existence of Embassies of countries such as the Maldives in Second Life as proof of the coming of age of virtual diplomacy. My challenge to the panel was to map out how long the Maldivian Embassy on Second Life would last if there was a concerted effort to demonstrate against the essential dictatorship of the Gayoom regime in its virtual space.
    It was a question they could not answer.”

    COMMENT: This question was never asked. See recording of the session (next posting).

    Quote: “Even with Second Life, they did not cover at all the potential of conflict within sims, real world conflict spilling over into virtual interactions (or vice versa), alternative dispute resolution mechanisms within Second Life (such as the E-Justice Centre in Second Life), evolving notions of justice and peace within Second Life, how media reporting within and on Second Life influence the manner in which avatars interact or how sims in Second Life could be used for future scenario model based simulations in support of conflict transformation processes.”

    COMMENT: This was not the theme of the session; see the above mentioned descriptions of the session.

    Quote: “Further, the panel did not address the challenges posed by new media, such as blogs, to diplomacy and diplomats, as brought out in my post Diplomacy and blogs (on Jan Pronk’s behaviour in Sudan) or critical discussions on how the United States State Department is now using blogs to further international relations.”

    COMMENT: This was not the theme of the session; see the above mentioned descriptions of the session.

    Quote: “The panel also scoffed at the environmental impact of using Second Life, even though there’s no agreement that using Second Life is as environmentally friendly as it is often made out to be.
    In fact, the panel did not address even a single point on the potential and challenges of using Second Life for dispute resolution, collaboration and civic participation I had made earlier at the 5th International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution in Liverpool, England.”

    COMMENT: This was not the theme of the session; see the above mentioned descriptions of the session.

    Quote: “On the positive side, the panel did discuss the urgent need for and developments towards interoperability of virtual worlds and the need for open standards and open source based access to and development of various sims and MMORPG’s. A representative of Linden Labs who connected virtually made the exciting announcement that Second Life would be connected to (and perhaps even accessible from) mobile devices.
    Regrettably, the constitution of and terrain covered by this workshop was the anti-thesis of what was expected from a global knowledge exchange as envisioned by GK III. Not only was the knowledge imparted through this workshop US and Western Europe centric, dated, passe and extremely blinkered, it was also at at times, dangerously naive.
    To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy said Will Durant, the American writer and historian. In light of the overwhelming insignificance of this workshop’s presentations, one can compliment them all on mastering half the art of diplomacy.
    I sincerely wish however that GKP invites, the next time around, non-diplomats who would invariably make for more meaningful and interesting discussions!”

    COMMENT: There were no diplomats in the panel.

  6. vd_gk3_organiser
    December 28, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

    YOUTUBE LINKS – “DIPLOMACY GOES VIRTUAL” PANEL – GK3 CONFERENCE

    1/6

    2/6

    3/6
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpVwugsXZoA

    4/6
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UgkhEyJKzI&feature=user

    5/6
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uty6XpYSxvs&feature=user

    6/6

  7. vd_gk3_organiser
    December 28, 2007 at 8:34 pm #

    DIPLOMACY ISLAND WEBSITE

    http://www.diplomacy.edu/DiplomacyIsland/Events/past.asp

  8. Eva Chan Tanner
    December 28, 2007 at 9:56 pm #

    It is evident from your blog that you came to the session with preconceived ideas, convictions and conclusions. No matter what was said by the panelists, you wanted to make your point rather than to listen to the overriding message by all. The prospect of using the virtual environment to build communities, to promote actual constructive dialogue and, hopefully to lessen the social and physical barriers that so often overshadow any real efforts diplomatically and in our daily lives was what was actually said. Yes, we did concentrate on Second Life as an example in the session, but we also said that as users become more accustomed to the use of the 3D world, there will be multiple virtual environments. The potential is limitless and we are just at the beginning, which the panel emphasised repeatedly. There was no place in this session to politicise or promote a cause. Instead, the aim was to showcase the use of emerging technology such as Second Life in a traditional world such as diplomacy. More importantly, the session showed how different governments are using it as part of their way of reaching out to the world. Isn’t this better than nothing at all?

    Far from scoffing at the environmental benefits from using virtual environments, one panelist specifically said that ‘the use of virtual environments is sustainable because it leaves less carbon footprint. Second Life can not get one and one on physical presence, but it has potential.’

    I highly recommend that you revisit your notes from the session. Perhaps for the next GKP event, it would be wise to submit a proposal to do a session on ‘the use of Blogs, the beauty of it and the beast within it’.

  9. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    December 29, 2007 at 2:58 am #

    I’ve responded in detail to the comments above by the Diplo Foundation here – http://ict4peace.wordpress.com/2007/12/29/critique-of-virtual-diplomacy-workshop-at-gkp-touches-a-raw-nerve/

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Critique of “Virtual Diplomacy” workshop at GKP touches a raw nerve « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - December 29, 2007

    [...] 29, 2007 My earlier post on the workshop on Virtual Diplomacy at GKP seems to have touched a raw nerve with, strangely yet tellingly, the folks from Diplo Foundation [...]

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