Using apps…

October 20, 2009

With more than 85,000 applications available for the iPhone and iTouch from Apple’s App Store, and over 2 billion total downloads so far, shouldn’t every international organization be asking themselves whether they need one too?

The idea has been batted around inside the UN for a while, but as far as I know, no one yet within the Organization has actually started the process of developing one. And, anyway, it seems as though the UN might have been beaten to the punch – you can now download an application with the Charter of the United Nations for $1.99, or download the United Nations News Reader for $0.99.

The fact that both have been created by people outside the UN should not dissuade the Organization from exploring the idea further. The scope and diversity of the UN’s work should provide plenty of depth for a UN app, which would be able to call on an endless source of information and news. I would also recommend thinking about interactive features for such an app, but only if there were the requisite mechanisms internally to sustain engagement in the form of ongoing dialogue. This is part of a larger discussion and does not really exist as yet, but should, in my view, form part the UN’s future communications infrastructure so that it is properly placed to fully utilize the changing dynamics of communication, especially with regard to social media.



Late to SEO

October 20, 2009

To what extent does your organization use search engine optimization and web analytics? As far as I can make out, the record in international organizations is mixed. However, colleagues of mine who are in the process of updating the UN peacekeeping website are, as far as we know, for the first time using Google analytics to find out more about how people reach and navigate the site. This, we hope, will inform us as to how to structure and improve the site as we go forward. So far, the results have been revealing, and a bit embarrassing, with the discovery of very dated orphaned pages turning up as search results. These we have corrected and are now trying to do all we can to optimize searches for ‘peacekeeping’ and other related terms. It has also led us to other hitherto neglected areas, such as the UN peacekeeping page on Wikipedia, which was linking to outdated pages as well. We will be making sure that there is at least a link in the first few lines to the updated site. All a bit late in the day, but better late than never, and hopefully it will put us in a position to build from there – I’ll keep you posted.


UN Radio in the digital age

October 20, 2009

In the 60+ years its history, the UN has relied on radio as a means of communicating its work and ideals. Today, UN Radio is still going strong and has adapted to the digital age. Its website, says the following about its work:

UN Radio covers the activities of the United Nations from its headquarters in New York and from around the world. Issues of peace and security, development and human rights are our concern, so stories on conflict resolution, elections, health, poverty, education and climate change are high on our list of topics to cover.

UN Radio not only offers news and feature stories but also provides raw audio materials (UN Audio Library website), from ongoing meetings and events to audio stored in our archives, all free of charge. Broadcast-quality MP3 files can be downloaded from our websites.

As part of the English UN Radio, the News Service is an English-language information service offering both short news and features and unedited audio for use by journalists in newsrooms in the US and around the world. The service offers 30- to 60-second news segments throughout the day every weekday. The unedited audio includes coverage of meetings, news conferences, media stakeouts and interviews, provided for journalists to edit the material themselves to produce programming covering the United Nations from a local perspective.

The service produces daily news content in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Kiswahili, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and weekly programmes in French Creole, Bangla, Hindi, Urdu and Indonesian. It updates its news throughout the day. UN Radio provides RSS feeds and podcasts on a variety of subjects, including daily news; women, children and population; the environment; culture and education; the work of the Security Council and General Assembly; related peace and security issues; health issues; economic development; humanitarian affairs; human rights; and justice and rule of law issues.

The importance of radio as a means of communication for key UN audiences is underscored by a number of radio stations set up by UN peacekeeping operations in the field, where affected communities often have low literacy levels, but are used to getting information via radio. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – MONUC – is a good example, with its Radio Okapi, run in cooperation with Swiss Fondation Hirondelle, as its central communications pillar for the operation, which spans an area the size of western Europe that is mostly inaccessible. Audio clips from the radio station are also carried on the MONUC website.


Moving towards UN 2.0?

October 19, 2009

 Here’s a piece from the BBC’s online technology site that illustrates the difficulty many formal entities – in this instance the UK government – are having moving from a recognition that social media offers useful tools to communicate to stakeholders, to actually systematically including them in communications efforts.

 In the piece, Andy Williamson of political research group The Hansard Society says that he believes it will take more than a few Twitter accounts to make any radical difference to the way the UK Government deals with citizens.

 “In order to effectively engage citizens, an organisation needs to believe that the voice of citizens matters and there is still a culture of ‘I’d rather not’,” he is quoted as saying, adding, “Web 2.0 is, by its nature, user driven and government isn’t.”

 Mr. Williamson singles out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) blog, which he says he is a fan of. “It is written from a variety of points of view from the minister down to ambassadors and other staff and shows off the work they do in a very candid way,” he said.

 Interestingly, I recently had the chance to meet someone associated with that blog, Jon Greenway, the current Head of Content and former Global Web Manager for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

 As such, he has been intimately involved in developing social media plans for the UK FCO. As Head of Content with an editorial focus, he is very active in terms of digital campaigning and social media (to see more on his department, click here). In addition, as Global Web Manager he delivered a digital web platform for all of the FCO’s 150 embassy and country websites around the world.

 In an email exchange following our meeting, he sent a link to the ‘Us Now’ website. This describes itself as “A film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet,” and is well worth a browse for those interested in how social media fits into large organizations that have many stakeholders spanning the globe.

 In my view, there is much in the approach of the FCO and the voices from the ‘Us Now’ project to inform the UN and other large international organizations as to how they could and should approach new media tools, especially in the approach to blogging.


To update my earlier post on September 27, 2009, the results from the “Citizen Ambassadors to the United Nations” competition are in.

The campaign was another effort by the UN to engage citizens from around the world in the work of the UN General Assembly using digital platforms, in this case YouTube.

Videos featuring among others UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Messenger of Peace George Clooney asked the question “If you had the opportunity to speak to world leaders, what would you say?” In other words, tell world leaders what you think needs to be done to make this world a better and safer place.

There were more than 400 videos submitted to the competition in the relatively short competition window, and following a rigorous judging process by a panel of experts from across the Organization, the winners were announced in a YouTube video posted on 15 October.

It is clear from viewing the winners’ short videos are that the standard was high and that the judges did not steer away from entries that criticized the UN.

I  have posted winning entries and announcement video below.


October 17, 2009

October 17, 2009