I am a “frustrated” optimist!

Last week I was part of a web 2.0 workshop at NATO. Together with the communication department of NATO I am working on the launch of the website we_NATO.org which doesn’t aim to replace the traditional NATO.int website but much more to become a valuable add-on.

The concept is easy and simply. Technical wise it will be a blog and a wiki.
Contentwise it will offer a more diverse perspective on NATO’s topics. We shall move away from the current practice sending out PR messages to a more conversational style. This will include formats such as

  • live video chats between NATO senior staff and people from outside NATO’s world such as Joi Ito, Peter Kruse, hopefully Don Tapscott and David Weinberger
  • (video) interviews with peers from outside NATO who can discuss more openly topics such as smart defence, missile defence
  • blogposts from activists from the Arab world discussing new partnerships with NATO
  • narratives from Afghan women who have been working with NATO to improve a better cultural understanding between the locals and the allies
  • online discussions brought up by people like you and me
  • connecting peers which usually don’t speak to each other

And these is a huge challenge. For the people working on it and for NATO the institution itsself. We are experiencing this in every step we make.

For the people itsself – especially NATO staff – the new platform is challenging because they have

  • to step out of their comfort zone
  • to question what they’ve been taking for granted for many years
  • to learn that “crisis” might be helpful to drive change
  • to learn that being disruptive can be inspring
  • to deal with a huge amount of scepticism among their colleagues
  • to learn that failing is an option
  • to become more open to what is new
  • to learn that sharing means loosing the gatekeeper authority
  • to realize that there are much better things than email to communicate
  • to adjust to the different speed in communication and operation on the web
  • to learn that small steps smartly made are much more efficient than running a master plan
  • to allow that agenda setting is (at least partially) coming from the outside world and that this can be a good thing

On the institutional level  the challenges are even bigger – I think. Even though the team members are committed to the project – the institutional reality might not. NATO is a very very hierarchical system. They are only “special” people who are allowed to speak in public about NATO. Only a few can give NATO a voice. PR-polished voices, in many cases compromises, always with the goal to please everybody, to demonstrate agreement and not to hurt or contradict any allies’ position – always feeding their “masters”. Indeed our project is backed up by top management. But the big question is: is the system ready to adjust? Is the institution NATO able to shift between the hierarchy-modus to the network-modus – as presentetd in this video –  if needed?

So to a huge degree the goal of the workshop was to give the team members a better understanding in which ways the project is challenging the current system NATO and then in a next step to gain greater support for the new formats and the way to move forward.

For the first part we invited Peter Kruse. His presentation (see below) clearly aimed for this better understanding. He pointed out 3 major challenges:

  • Power shift enforced by network architecture
  • Expectations provoked by network experience
  • Cultural change necessary for network success

This one hour presentation really set ground for a much better understanding of what we are planning to do with we_NATO and it was an easy next step to gain support for the new formats and our step-by-step approach to proceed.

So why did I title this post: I am a “frustrated” optimist?
I am very optimistic that these new forms of communication and collaboration will succeed – but I am over and over again frustrated by the hurdles, restrictions and ignorance companies and institutions come up with – and I am not only talking about NATO – to resist change and NOT to adapt to the outside world.