Diplomacy in your carry-on

Setting up an emergency diplomatic post used to take a couple of weeks and a chartered plane. Could it be done quicker, smaller and smarter?
Photo of someone’s carry-on bag contents

DFAT designed a diplomatic post that fits into two carry-on suitcases which can now be deployed in under 24 hours. Photo by STIL on Unsplash.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had a problem: how do you set up a diplomatic post quickly? And how do you work out what you need? (Spoilers: you experiment!)  

The Australian High Commission in London is both Australia's first diplomatic mission and the longest continuously occupied diplomatic mission in the UK. And it took five years to build.  

If you're trying to help Australians in urgent need of support in a country experiencing natural disasters or conflict, or even just setting up for a Ministerial visit, you don't want to have to wait five years to set up a diplomatic post… 

Or even weeks. Which is how long the previous process could take. The urgent request would come in, equipment would be packed onto a number of pallets and loaded onto a chartered aircraft, flown to its destination and then set up in a large space at the other end.  

But surely this could be done quicker, smaller and smarter? 

A DFAT team took on this challenge. They joined up with technology partners and used a rapid capability methodology. This methodology puts a focus on short development cycles, experimenting with the actual people who need to use it.

Their solution: Post-in-a-Box. 

Post-in-a-Box is exactly as it sounds. The team designed a diplomatic post that fits into two carry-on suitcases which can now be deployed in under 24 hours (depending on flights) – a fraction of the size and time it used to take. The new system can connect to any network, satellite, cable or wireless. It can support up to 100 users and be up and running in hours.

As part of the development process, the team challenged existing ideas and thought about ways to get ahead of potential problems with the new system.

For example, the old system had a lot of redundancy built in – such as back up equipment - which contributed to size and complexity. The modern tech rarely fails, but if it did, another Post-in-a-Box could be on site in hours because it’s so small.

So far, the Post-in-a-Box has been deployed in Rabat, Tehran, Abuja, Kolkata and Funafuti.  

In fact, the idea's been so influential (don't just take our word for it; the idea won a Public Sector Innovation Award), it's started to inspire new thinking about how diplomatic posts should be run in general.

That big old building in London is very pretty, but it would be a real trick to fit it in the overhead lockers.

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Learn about the Public Sector Innovation Awards

See also

The Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN) was an Australian government network helping public servants understand and apply innovation in their daily work. PSIN ceased on 8 January 2021.

See more PSIN resources or read about PSIN on the National Library of Australia Trove archive.