It is time to explore new approaches for allowing for more engagement with expertise required in certain fields (Image for illustrative purposes only) Image Credit: Supplied

More than 5,000 sq feet of rooms on the ground floor of the White House West Wing — known for its stunning, mahogany walls and state of art sound proofing — is where the President of the United States, national security advisers, and diplomats gather to connect with intelligence agencies to make foreign policy decisions.

One of the most important of these is known as the “Situation Room”. The Situation Room’s existence dates back to 1961, when President Robert F. Kennedy directed the creation of such a place amid his frustration of a failed landing operation on the southwestern coast of Cuba.

President Kennedy ordered that every department of the defence sector feed the Situation Room staff with up to date information, around the clock. President Kennedy then heavily used the Situation Room during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The famous room

The famous photo of 2011, in which then US President Barack Obama and his team watched the tense moments of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, affords a stunning, more modern glimpse into the room’s dynamics.

Moving forward into the 21st century, a time facing multiple ambiguous challenges, we must ask this question: are traditional models of making foreign policy decisions effective?

Can an isolated room boasting a limited circle of security advisers, defence intelligence and diplomats meet the needs of modern times? One concern is whether this narrow approach creates blind spots when it comes to developing foreign policy. Are such results credible, and further, are they rectifiable in instances of failure?

Do governments have the courage to adopt the Open Situation Room model, or must we face another crisis to pursue a policy-making solution more befitting of modern times?

- Ruqayya Alblooshi, Emirati writer

Successful foreign policies are evaluated based on available, relevant knowledge to both make rational decisions and to select the proper instruments pertaining to goals and targets.

With new fields emerging at breathtaking speeds, it is imperative that diplomats and foreign ministers have expedient access to the knowledge needed to make critical decisions, particularly because governments cannot afford to spend years understanding and analysing new fields.

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Given these constraints, it is time for governments to explore new, more suitable approaches for co-designing foreign policies, allowing for more engagement with the expertise required in certain fields.

A novel concept of the “Open Situation Room” has emerged, in which ideas are developed in a collective, participative format that allows for diversity of opinion and better aggregation of expertise.

The original concept of the Open Situation Room was invented in 2014 by Nicola Forster, co-founder of an international, Swiss-based think tank, as part of an overall review of German Foreign Policy.

Expanding on the traditional template of closed meetings attended by a limited number of national security experts to a more open, the creative problem-solving approach has great potential to meet the needs of modern times.

The participants will include a wide range of innovators, social entrepreneurs, policymakers, civil engineers, medical doctors, designers, software builders and NGOs who work elbow to elbow with top decision makers and diplomats to generate brisker, creative solutions for challenges facing foreign policy.

This unique, robust dynamic allows 30 strangers to connect in an interactive group during the period of 3 hours to spawn fresh ideas. Based on the areas of challenge, members are divided into groups to co-create systems and strategies, focusing on a unified mission and desired goal.

Generating ideas for policymakers

The outcomes of these sessions are made available to the public in an aspiration to build bridges and to generate ideas for policymakers and international stakeholders who share interest in related topics.

One of the more recent examples of this experiment was held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany for the purpose of enhancing relations between the post-sanction era of Germany and Iran. It tapped on Iranian youth eager to shape the post-sanction era in its own way.

The participants included a diverse group of German high school students and Iranian media and designers, with the presence of the Counsellor at the German Embassy in Tehran, in the pursuit of new insight into opportunities and challenges.

This same mechanism can be employed in various fields of foreign policy, including humanitarian missions, by engaging NGOs, refugees, volunteers, and entrepreneurs.

The threat-landscape of cybersecurity will benefit widely from the team-concept, employing software designers and professional hackers at various stages to prevent blind spots that often limit sound foreign policy creation.

As expected, this novel approach is jarring to those who rely on the traditional Situation Room approach. Challenges are many, including how to securely afford various channels access to sensitive, proprietary information that relies on discretion. These are serious questions.

National security is paramount and typically, only the governmental head and a small team of advisers, including intelligence agencies, discuss and determine foreign policy. Could this new model better address modern times, in which an “all-hands-on-deck” approach might enable innovative, quick policy design?

Do governments have the courage to adopt the Open Situation Room model, or must we face another crisis to pursue a policy-making solution more befitting of modern times?

— Ruqayya Alblooshi is an Emirati columnist. Twitter: @ruqayya82