Picture an enthusiastic proponent of social media in your head. Who comes to mind?
I’ll tell you who I am thinking about – Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe in charge of NATO military operations and planning and the highest-ranked US military official based outside of the US.
Surprised? I was too.
Admiral Stavridis was one of 3,800 people working in transatlantic security who participated in a 5-day online brainstorming exercise on topics ranging from peacekeeping and human rights, to China and climate change. I was lucky enough to work on the 2010 Security Jam which took place in February.
In practice, Jam Sessions look like a series of mini-blogs, where people can post short comments and comment on other’s ideas. Text-mining technology and expert moderators are used to keep track of who is talking about a given subject, what they are saying and give the unique opportunity to ask top officials why things are the way they are. All the information collected during the debate is then funneled into electronic reports organized by theme, affiliation, age and a range of other custom-selected criteria. The Security Jam organizers have used the tool to produce ten recommendations for the EU and NATO, who were strategic partners in the event.
The fact that the transatlantic defence and security communities committed to such a project should not be underestimated. Despite the fact that these crowds are typically hard sells when it comes to new forms of communication (think top secret clearance and national sovereignty), the military were some of the first participants to sign up. 192 military officials participated in the Jam, including 6 Generals and 5 Admirals.
NATO has already made some major efforts to boost the way it communicates and is taking advantage of the best the internet has to offer to do so. You can watch the Secretary General’s video blog, learn more about NATO operations and strategy in the online NATO Review magazine (if you have never looked at it, you should, you will learn things), and you can even search through de-classified documents from the NATO post-War period in a fun, interactive website.
It will be interesting to see if the EU follows suit in a post-Lisbon era. 56% of Jam participants felt the EU is not a credible security actor and a recommendation stemming from the Jam has been for the EU to use new media to consult European experts and citizens on security threats and policies.
It is precisely because of the sensitive and strategic issues involved that such communications exercises are important. Public engagement – and, more importantly, a demonstration by institutions that they are listening to that public – is essential.