The Project

The idea of a techdiplomacy playbook emerged during 2021, when the Australian Government launched its International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy and articulated ambitions ‘to increase efforts to shape global standards’ and ‘to engage with international partners and recognised standards development organisations’. Identifying a policy ambition is one thing; doing something to effectively fill that gap takes planning, coordination and resourcing.

Early work undertaken by ASPI on this issue, and engagement with relevant stakeholders in and outside of government, led to discussions about whether policymakers and civil-society representatives understood the sometimes opaque and complicated world of technical standards and standards-making well enough to engage with standards bodies effectively. At the same time, Australia and India intensified their discussions on cyber and critical technologies standards through the Quad, with a view to supporting technology maturity across the Indo-Pacific.

With those developments in mind, ASPI and CIS joined forces and developed this playbook as an accessible introduction to the complicated world of AI technical standards. Over the course of 2022 and 2023, ASPI and CIS consulted a diverse range of stakeholders in India and Australia on AI regulation, including government agencies, experts from standards-developing organisations (SDOs) and national standards bodies, academics, industry representatives and civil-society groups. Our consultations explored AI standards-development processes and the main players—particularly the evolving role of governments in standards setting.

Our consultations made clear that, despite growing engagement with standards and standards bodies, policymakers and technologists have only a partial understanding of how those entities and processes function, particularly in the emerging sphere of AI standards. Confusion remains about how AI standards fit into the range of global regulatory rules and principles being established to govern or regulate AI technologies.

Our mission was to take these complex AI standards-setting processes and present them in a manner that’s digestible and accessible. This playbook aims to bridge the divide between the world of diplomacy, negotiations and multilateral talks, and that of technologists, industry and standards bodies. It’s also intended to support policymakers and technologists from emerging Indo-Pacific economies. It’s essential that their interests and needs are as well represented in multilateral and multistakeholder governance arrangements as those of industrialised and technologically advanced nations.

Having read this playbook, you should be able to:

  • recognise the opportunities and gaps in the current patchwork of government-led and industry-driven initiatives that make up the current global system of AI governance

  • understand the foundational role of technical standards in establishing and implementing any form of governance, whether subnational, national, regional or global

  • understand the roles and responsibilities of national, regional and global standards-setting bodies and the principles and processes that underpin internationally recognised technical standards for emerging technologies

  • determine where and how governments are best placed to engage in international rules- and standards-making initiatives.

This publication is the result of a collaboration between ASPI and CIS and was made possible with a grant under the Australia–India Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). ASPI and CIS would like to thank DFAT, Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber and Critical Technology and the Australian High Commission in Delhi for their ongoing support.

This publication is ASPI’s work, it was researched and developed independently and underwent ASPI’s internal and external peer review processes. It does not necessarily reflect any policy positions of the Australian Government.

The authors would like to thank Geoff Clarke, Gurshabad Grover, Manoj Harjani, Alexandra Caples, Danielle Cave, Mercedes Page, Jacinta Keast, Bronte Munro, Antara Vats, Huon Curtis, Shweta Mohandas, Abhishek Raj and other colleagues at ASPI and CIS for their valuable feedback. We would also like to thank Peter Cihon for his valuable insights.

We are grateful to counterparts at the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Department of Industry, Science and Resources, and the Bureau of Indian Standards for their feedback and suggestions. We also like to thank the Joint Secretary for New, Emerging and Sensitive Technologies at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for their keynote address at the launch event in Delhi in October 2023.

The authors of this project are:

  • Bart Hogeveen is Deputy Director, Cyber, Technology and Security at ASPI.
  • Arindrajit Basu is a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), India, and a PhD candidate at Leiden University, the Netherlands.
  • Isha Suri is a Research Lead at the Centre for Internet and Society, India.
  • Baani Grewal is a former analyst at ASPI.

About ASPI

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute was formed in 2001 as an independent, non‑partisan think tank. Its core aim is to provide the Australian Government with fresh ideas on Australia’s defence, security and strategic policy choices. ASPI is responsible for informing the public on a range of strategic issues, generating new thinking for government and harnessing strategic thinking internationally.

Analysts in ASPI’s Cyber, Technology and Security (CTS) aim to inform and influence policy debates in the Indo-Pacific through original, rigorous and data-driven research. CTS is a leading voice in global debates on cyber, emerging and critical technologies, foreign interference and issues related to information operations and disinformation. CTS has a growing mixture of expertise and skills with teams of researchers who concentrate on policy, technical analysis, information operations and disinformation, critical and emerging technologies, cyber capacity building and Internet safety, satellite analysis, surveillance and China-related issues.

To develop capability in Australia and across the Indo-Pacific region, CTS has a capacity building team that conducts workshops, training programs and large-scale exercises for the public, private and civil society sectors. Current projects are focusing on capacity building in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands region, across a wide range of topics. CTS enriches regional debate by collaborating with civil society groups from around the world and by bringing leading global experts to Australia through our international fellowship program. We thank all of those who support and contribute to CTS with their time, intellect and passion for the topics we work on.

About the Centre for Internet and Society

The Centre for Internet and Society is a non-profit organisation, based in India, that undertakes interdisciplinary research on internet and digital technologies from policy and academic perspectives.

Areas of focus include access to knowledge, intellectual property rights, openness (including open data, free and open-source software, open standards, open access, open educational resources, and open video), internet governance, telecommunication reform, digital privacy, and cybersecurity.

Research at CIS seeks to understand the reconfiguration of social processes and structures through the internet and digital media technologies.

Back to top