Can we upgrade our foreign policy toolbox by gathering the views of involved citizens, technological innovators and experts from other disciplines? Can ideas that come out of their everyday experience influence foreign-policy-makers? How can we convey the complexities of German foreign policy? The Open Situation Room (OSR) is a pilot project for exploring these questions.
The OSR can be understood as a contemporary interpretation of the ‘Situation Room’ that US President John F. Kennedy created for discussing acute crisis situations – in 1962. While that situation room was used for gathering government experts, our Open Situation Room brings together experts and practitioners who may come from other fields. In this way, the OSR supplements the classical crisis meeting by providing representatives of other disciplines and viewpoints with a forum to discuss German foreign policy challenges.
The OSR is all about participation: 30 people with the broadest possible personal and professional backgrounds are invited to each session. Participants may be neighbourhood social workers or professors emeriti, craftspeople or software developers. Added to them is a high-ranking representative of the German Federal Foreign Office (AA) who presents a challenge to be solved. In a moderated brainstorming session that makes use of various discussion formats, participants freely make suggestions about how to resolve foreign policy dilemmas. Nicola Forster and Annkatrin Kaiser moderate the session. As many solutions as possible are generated in about three hours, and ideas are pooled, filtered and prioritized. Finally, the participants and the AA representative discuss their reasons for and thoughts about the feasibility of the proposals.
The first OSR – ‘Flight and Migration: Challenges for German Foreign Policy’ – addressing the current refugee crisis and efforts to find foreign policy solutions, was held in Essen on 16 November 2015. New ways to improve the situation of refugees in transit countries were discussed with Beate Grzeski, the AA Commissioner for Refugees and Migration.
The second OSR took place on 12 February 2016 in the context of the Munich Security Conference (MSC). Around 45 citizens and MSC experts discussed ‘Syria: What Contribution Can Germany Make to a Political Solution? ’ Dr Thomas Bagger, Head of Policy Planning at the German Federal Foreign Office and Dr Stefanie Babst, Head of Strategic Analysis for the NATO Secretary General and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee provided input and appraised the proposals in a lively and constructive discussion.
The third OSR was held at Impact Hub München on 3 April 2016. With Walter Lindner, the German Ambassador to South Africa, we discussed Africa, ‘A Continent on the Move: The Causes and Consequences of Global Migration’. Many ideas emerged in a lively discussion about German foreign and development policy involvement in the region, with particular regard to combating the consequences of climate change and urbanization.
The application period for the next OSR will be announced soon.