One of the highlights of last week was the opening of our new Digital Studio, located in what was the Embassy’s library for the past 40 years. Fully outfitted with alternate sets, full-wall green screen, and high-grade digital equipment, the space will now be used for content creation for our social media platforms, taping or broadcast of interviews and features for local media, livestreaming, multilocation hangouts and collaborations, audio/video podcasts, and more.

To celebrate the opening of the studio, we invited a group of our traditional and digital media friends and several of my student advisers to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Chancery keynoted by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine, live from Washington via some of our new equipment. The Under Secretary talked about innovation and engagement, and then “virtually” cut the ribbon to officially open the studio.

 

The facility is the latest manifestation of our commitment to developing and employing new diplomatic tools and approaches. We have positioned Embassy Wellington as a bit of a 21st Century Statecraft idea lab because embracing change allows us to engage with Kiwis, Samoans, and others in a more expansive way and to be more effective in our work. As has been the case with certain of our other experiments, we hope that the studio project will be replicated elsewhere in the State Department.

We have an aggressive capture/broadcast plan already in place for the studio, including livestream discussions among students here and in the United States and a series of talks with Kiwi and American experts in fields of particular current interest. Each month will also feature programming tailored to special commemorations, starting next week with our Deputy Chief of Mission Marie Damour hosting a Women’s History Month presentation on women in diplomacy.

In April we will celebrate International Jazz Day with a livestream concert by a jazz ensemble. That month’s programming will also include a conversation with Peter Griffin about his Fulbright-sponsored tour of U.S. centers of excellence in public-integrity journalism. During his trip Peter studied current media developments and trends, and his presentation should be of interest to anyone who creates, sponsors, gets swept up in, or consumes media reporting.

Embassy Digital Engagement Specialist Mike Cousins chats with our guests.

Chatting in the studio during the opening.

But, I digress from the ribbon cutting. We offered up tea, food, and short speeches by the Under Secretary, my digi-guru colleague Mike Cousins, and me. I quoted Charles Darwin, Lord Palmerston, and Secretaries Kerry and Clinton. I thanked the Under Secretary and her team for their generous support of our efforts, and I praised Mike and my other colleague Ola Thorsen for their extraordinary work in converting the idea into reality. And then we all experimented a bit with green-screen photography.

Our guests included New Zealand-based Welsh blogger DK (who is the Wellington licensee for TEDx), global top-10 tech blog Read Write Web founder Richard McManus, Voyages in America blogger James Robinson, scoop.co.nz General Manger Alastair Thompson (just off a plane from San Francisco), Reed Fleming, Guy Ryan, Janine Fenwick, Nicola Kean, Callum Valentine, Laura McQuillan, Jackson Wood, Peter Griffin, Philippa Bowron, Aidan Gnoth, Ian Walsh, Arorangi Maehe, and other Wellington cybernauts.

Testing the green screen with Wellington socialite and political reporter Laura McQuillan.

Taking Wellington socialite and political reporter Laura McQuillan on a visit to the South Pole after the studio opening.

Conversation continued well past the conclusion of the formal proceedings. I enjoyed catching up with old friends, making new ones, brainstorming about how to put the studio to best use, and watching various pieces of equipment in action. My digital engagement colleagues clearly relished showing off their new tools of trade.

All in all, it was a great day. I thoroughly enjoy being part of a team that routinely turns crazy thinking into productive, impactful reality. And I find few things as gratifying as making our work more inclusive, more interactive, and more accessible to increasingly large numbers of folks who would otherwise never engage with diplomats.

So, stay tuned on our Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, blogs, and other platforms for the product generated in our spanking new digital studio. If you have programming ideas or other suggestions, please be sure to contact Mike or me. We would very much like to get you involved.