Virtual Worlds and Public Diplomacy in the Digital Age

18 November 2009 - A Best Practice Forum on Other in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt


Virtual worlds offer exciting, unprecedented and economically important opportunities for mass participation and collaboration for citizens and businesses across the globe. Already there are hundreds of millions of users of virtual worlds including: children, adults, businesses, academic institutions, local and national governments, and international bodies.

This ground-breaking session will be the first time the IGF has discussed virtual worlds. The session will explore the types of virtual world and why they matter, particularly in the context of public diplomacy. It will look at the public policy benefits and challenges of virtual worlds and the need for international discussion. Central to this will be virtual worlds ’ unique trans-national yet ‘ place like ’ nature.

International discourse about virtual worlds began in earnest with the OECD’s 2008 Seoul Declaration for the Future of the Internet Economy in which Ministers asked the OECD to investigate “the economic, social and cultural impacts of emerging Internet technologies, including virtual worlds”. It continued in March 2009 through a UK/OECD ICCP workshop, and also the Council of Europe’s recent “Human Rights Guidelines for Online Games Providers”.

The expansion of access to the internet and emergence of innovative applications have presented new opportunities and challenges for public diplomacy. The internet provides unparalleled opportunities for citizens to access news and entertainment, to create and distribute their own content, and to interact with nation states.

Many states have taken advantage of the internet to provide information and other services to citizens through a variety of techniques that have become known as e-Government. States are now exploring more expansive uses of internet technology that go beyond transactional services or information provision. These include more discursive and interactive uses of the internet, sometimes referred to as “Government 2.0”.

These emerging techniques cover a range of uses from more direct conversations and consultations with citizens and on-line citizen communities to diplomatic outreach across multiple platforms including twitter and virtual worlds. Virtual worlds provide a unique opportunity to deepen engagement between citizens and governments. This is due to their ability to generate a sense of 'place' and 'event' which multiple stakeholder groups from globally distributed locations can access. Direct interaction with civil society groups is thus enabled. Virtual worlds can also incorporate the use of other “co-presence” tools such as video-conferencing to permit even wider stakeholder group involvement.

This workshop will explore the merits of virtual worlds as a new form of public diplomacy; the application of virtual worlds in public consultations and in direct trans-national interaction. The workshop will also explore the unique aspects of virtual worlds which can enhance public diplomacy; and the barriers to wider adoption. Such barriers would include the policy challenges created by the borderless nature of virtual spaces and the pressures put on an expansion of capacity around the globe.

An IGF workshop is an important next step for the inclusion of a wider set of governments, civil society institutions in this important discourse.

Proposed outline 

1. Welcome to the workshop
Dr. Sue Baxter– Deputy Director, EU and International Competitiveness Unit, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, UK.

2. Introduction Virtual Worlds and Public Diplomacy
This brief introduction will cover the scale, scope and variety of uses of virtual worlds. The introduction will also provide a context to the term ‘public diplomacy’ as explored during the workshop.

Ren Reynolds - the Virtual Policy Network

3. Communication, Diplomacy and technology
This section will provide an insight how communication and diplomacy have developed with technology, and how governments and brands are adapting to make the most new forms of interaction with customers and citizens.

Dr Jovan Kurbalija - DiploFoundation
Dr Nagwa El Gazzar - Professor of Communication, Misr International University

4. Learning, Accessibility and Technology
In this session speakers focus on public / private initiatives that use innovative technologies, including virtual spaces, to support projects include learning based applications. The session will provide an insight into some of the unique and solutions being deployed within the developing world and with individuals with accessibility challenges.

Michael Thatcher - Regional Technology Officer, Microsoft Middle East & Africa
Professor Lizbeth Goodman - Research Director, Futurelab

5. Innovative applications and governance of virtual worlds
The case studies in this session will focus on innovative uses of virtual worlds. Two main case studies will be presented – Virtual Africa and Second Health. Both case studies engage individuals in unique ways using the medium of virtual worlds. The the session will look at innovative governance models that are being developed within virtual worlds by groups of their users.

Dorette Steenkamp – Executive Director Uthango Social Investments / Virtual Africa
Dave Taylor - Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine 

6. Closing Panel
An open discussion with all the speakers, including audience Q&A, covering emerging opportunity and channels raised by virtual worlds for the IGF community. 

Which of the five broad IGF Themes or the Cross-Cutting Priorities does your workshop fall under?

Have you organized an IGF workshop before? No 
If so, please provide the link to the report:

No link to this report

Would you be the Workshop organizer? Yes
If so, who would you approach as co-organizers? If not, who do you think should organize it?

Mark Carvell can also be contacted at or Tel +44 20 7215 1803

The Workshop is proposed on behalf of: UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

Contact Person: Mark Carvell

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