Information gathering has been widely perceived as one of the main tasks of diplomats. In fact, diplomats are not only required to gather information but, more than that, also sort, manage, and analyse the information before submitting it to their respective governments. This task is imperative because the quality of information gathered by diplomats will affect the quality of decisions taken by their respective governments.
The enormous amount of information – one impact of globalization and the advancement of information technology – has been affecting the ways diplomats fulfill the said task. In the past one of the main obstacle for diplomats for being knowledgeable in was the scarcity of information due to limited access. Nowadays, quite the reverse, diplomats are dealing with the information abundance. The main challenge now is not ‘how to find information’ but ‘how to find valid information.’ This is a huge challenge as the incapability to manage information in this digital age can make diplomats misinformed instead of well-informed.
There are at least four aspects diplomats should consider when coping with the information abundance. The first aspect is source. Knowledge on the source – including credibility, competence, and authority to produce such information – is essential. Information from unknown and incredible sources should not be taken as consideration in making decision.
The second aspect is time. The validity of an information can diminish in a matter of seconds. Diplomats should be knowledgeable about the time the information was published or revealed. Obsolete information can lead to erroneous decision. It is also inappropriate for diplomats to send information that has been widely quoted by the media.
The third aspect is the ability to distinguish fact and opinion. While both can be used as consideration in decision making process, diplomats should be able to recognize their significance. Diplomats should also aware that opinion has the element of subjectivity. Moreover, when using opinion as the source of information, diplomats should have knowledge on the credibility of the source of information.
The last aspect is the importance of check and re-check mechanism. Some people intentionally produce hoaxes aimed to give false information based on different motives. It is important for diplomats to check and re-check suspicious information they get and use common sense in making a judgement.
The advancement of information technology poses challenges to diplomats as information gatherer. On the one side diplomats should be able to cope with the superiority of internet in spreading information by collecting unpublished information or information that has not revealed by the media. On the other hand, diplomats should be able to submit information with high degree of validity in timely manner. From this point of view, it is understandable that some scholars argue that the advancement of information technology brings both advantages and disadvantages to diplomats.
Finally, the failure to consider those four aspects in sorting out the information will lead to misinformation. This will not only make diplomats irrelevant but also lead to wrong decision making. In this digital age with the information abundance diplomats should be able to gather not merely information but ‘reliable and relevant information.’