Explanatory notes on figures presented in 2022 Annual Report
The Academy for International Relations looks back on a satisfying year in learning and development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BZ). Every year we provide a concise annual report, containing explanatory notes on the figures and links to the highlights. Below, we describe developments in 2022 in relation to the Academy’s three roles as a Provider, Platform and Compass.
The Academy as a Provider: online learning is inclusive learning
In 2022 we continued working according to the principle of ‘working online, learning online’. The past two years have taught us that online learning is highly inclusive, as it allows all BZ staff – at the embassies, consulates, consulates-general and permanent representations – at 150 locations worldwide to participate in our learning activities. However, we need to take better account of the different time zones in which BZ staff work, so we are now experimenting with learning activities scheduled at different times of the day, in consultation with our course suppliers.
While online learning has many advantages, we also greatly enjoyed meeting course participants in person again. And for certain learning activities – like networking, brainstorming or intensive peer consultation – being physically present definitely adds value. Finally, we also experimented with hybrid learning and discovered that this form of learning demands extra focus and effort, from the organisation and speakers as well as the participants. It is a challenge to provide a learning experience that is just as effective online as it is in-person.
Learning activity highlights
As shown in the facts and figures section , the number of people taking part in our learning activities increased by 15% in 2022. We conduct regular surveys to assess participants’ learning needs and adapt our learning activities accordingly. For example, in 2022 we organised an extra edition of the international policy officer training programme (IBBZ) for existing BZ staff members who want to continue their career as international policy officers. In the next section we highlight a number of learning activities and themes.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)
In collaboration with departments, in-house experts and external partners we offered learning activities (including online) on sensitive and sometimes confrontational subjects such as prejudice and integrity. On the webpage Inclusion Plaza, launched in 2020, the Academy presents all its learning activities on this theme, as well as an overview of information and tools available across central government. Our aim with this is to emphasise the importance of ‘1BZ’, which stands for: BZ wants to be an organisation where everyone can be themselves and that makes full use of the positive energy generated by diversity.
The report ‘Racism at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – an exploratory study’ published in December 2022 underscores the need for basic knowledge and practical guidelines on D&I. In 2022 we organised a pilot version of the workshop ‘Speaking Up!’ about how to intervene when you witness misconduct or discrimination at work. The pilot was well received and there will be a follow-up in 2023. In 2023 we will add extra editions of existing training courses to the curriculum, as well as new forms of learning such as ‘microlearnings’. We are also researching options for specific courses for teams and ways of incorporating D&I into other learning activities.
Regional policy courses
Our courses on specific regions are geared to the needs of BZ staff. The course on ‘Eastern Europe and Russia’ coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Dutch diplomats being expelled from Russia. For the course participants it was valuable to be doing the course during this period of uncertainty. The course on Central Europe and the Western Balkans received good ratings because of the clear link between strategy and everyday practice. In 2022 we made preparations for a new course on Sub-Saharan Africa, which will be offered in 2023.
Mediation, negotiation and coordination
In 2022 we developed the training course ‘Mediation skills in diplomatic practice’. It is special because it is the result of an individual initiative, not that of a ministry department. A former BZ staff member who is part of the EU’s ‘mediation pool’ approached the Academy with the idea. In view of the considerable interest in the course and the positive feedback received from the participants, we expect to offer it again in 2023. A similar form of co-creation previously took place with the ‘Multilateral Negotiation’ course, which will run for the third time in 2023. There was considerable take-up for the ‘Effective Coordination’ course in 2022. It has been expanded from two to three groups and is fast becoming a mainstay of the BZ curriculum.
Our lectures in 2022 focused on current events abroad, leadership and civil service professionalism. Colleagues all over the world discussed a wide variety of topics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate diplomacy, the Sustainable Development Goals and digitalisation. We look back proudly on the series ‘Conversations with senior diplomats’, in which BZ diplomats such as Margriet Vonno and Yoka Brandt talked about BZ’s work and civil service professionalism.
The Academy as a Platform
Our role as a platform is less easy to illustrate with concrete examples because it is an integral part of everything we do. Learning from and with each other is key. In every learning activity organised in 2021 and every conversation with other colleagues, course suppliers or fellow professionals in our field, we tried wherever possible to acquire, share and manage knowledge. Wherever we saw opportunities, we worked to enlarge the BZ learning network.
Learning & development and digital infrastructure
We worked hard to improve our digital infrastructure and data-driven working methods, so that we can develop and offer our curriculum in a more targeted way to staff and managers. A longstanding wish is to have a learning portal that provides easy access to relevant learning activities and which also provides the organisation with useful information for data-driven management of learning and development. At the end of 2022 we drafted an extensive programme of requirements and wishes for a new Learning Management System (LMS), which we will start building in spring 2023. We are also determined to develop a secure, low-threshold online classroom using Webex. Security is a top priority and we are taking this project forward, slowly but surely, in partnership with the Information and Digital Innovation Department (IDI), the central government shared service centre for IT (SSC-ICT) and Cisco.
Linking professional practice at BZ with the world of research
The Academy is also represented on the Policy & Science Committee by its head, Mirella van de Noort. This leads to contacts with universities, which helps us find speakers for lectures. A number of universities also offer learning activities for BZ staff and there are exchange programmes for trainees. There are also opportunities for combining work at BZ with doctoral research. Anyone already working on a PhD thesis can apply for research leave and anyone considering doing doctoral research can apply for ‘seed time’.
The Academy as a Compass: achieving more together
It is our ongoing ambition to enlarge BZ’s learning capacity. But building a learning organisation is not something one can do alone – it’s a shared responsibility. All our internal and external partners and course suppliers are building with us. They are indispensable in finetuning our curriculum and services to the organisation’s requirements. Ministry departments often approach us with requests to set up targeted learning activities. We’re also pleased that last year we strengthened our partnership with the Locally Employed Staff Council (LESC) so as to more clearly receive their signals about learning and development worldwide and to inform them about learning opportunities and facilities. Also, in partnership with the Strategic Policy Unit (ESA), we linked our learning activities more effectively to BZ’s strategic goals.
Collaboration with other ministries in the Netherlands and beyond
We already work closely with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality on a range of topics, including interministerial exchanges and secondments. This has resulted in a guide to international economic roles. In 2022 we strengthened our collaboration with the Ministry of Defence in order to make better use of one another’s learning activities. And in 2023 we will be looking at partnerships with, for instance, the directors of other countries’ foreign policy academies through the European Diplomatic Programme and at collaboration with other Dutch ministries through the ‘Rijkscampus’, joint procurement schemes and interministerial topics such as language policy.
Collaboration with our course suppliers
In developing and implementing our learning activities we work closely with a wide variety of commercial parties, from content experts to organisational management consultants. They are valued partners and play an important part in achieving BZ’s learning and development ambitions. In 2022 we set out to deepen and professionalise our relationship with existing and new collaborative partners. The focus was on strategy, sharing experiences and best practices and adapting to the new generic principles. Learn more about our principles.
See how many suppliers we contracted in the 2022 facts and figures.
Shaping and managing learning and development
In November 2022 the Board of Deputy Directors-General approved the Academy’s proposal to use more management tools for learning and development. In collaboration with the various organisational units and missions abroad, we focused on issues related to strengthening BZ as a learning organisation. Learning pathways will play a more prominent role in steering the development of staff within their own job group, and foreign language learning will be linked more strongly to the organisation’s needs. The Board of Deputy Directors-General approved our plan to run a pilot on language policy. We aim to identify a maximum of 20 roles where knowledge of the local language is key. Another way to promote learning and development is to designate certain learning activities as compulsory for all staff members. Examples include digital skills, D&I and personal vitality. We also worked on integrating learning and development (such as learning pathways and learning activities) into HR tools, such as staff interviews and analyses of strategic personnel planning.
The Advisory Council as the Academy’s sparring partner
Our Advisory Council was launched in December 2021 and officially started work in 2022. The Council consists of BZ staff members and two civil servants from other parts of central government. The Council convened three times in 2022 to discuss the following learning and development issues at BZ:
- Key developments in the professionalisation of civil servants in international roles, in terms of their knowledge, skills and attitudes.
- Making learning and development more effective and less optional.
- Inviting dissenting opinions.
We greatly value the Council’s recommendations. They help us to determine our course and focus, they show us where we need to tighten up our curriculum, and help us to scrutinise our working methods. Their recommendations also challenge us to keep looking at our learning and development policy, tools and methods in new ways.
If you have any questions about our annual report or would like additional information, please contact us. We will be happy to provide additional information or figures where possible.