By Max Entman
In a recent speech at the 2012 Institute for Cultural Diplomacy conference, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Trade Stockwell Day argues that cultural diplomacy can be used to advance certain broad principles that can help alleviate poverty around the world. Day posits that the existence of three essential freedoms – of enterprise, of religion, and of self-determined governance – can dramatically increase the likelihood that a given country will help its citizens out of poverty. Day suggests that the promotion of these principles by developed countries in developing countries is a cultural-diplomatic mechanism for sowing seeds of prosperity. Day’s assumption of consensus on these principles may be flawed, but it begs the question: is there a way for states to better coordinate cultural diplomatic efforts to achieve shared goals like poverty alleviation?
One answer to this question would be to create a new network of cultural diplomats that crosses national boundaries. Ideally, this “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a diverse, collaborative network with the primary goal of sharing best practices in channeling cultural diplomatic efforts toward helping people in need. Admittedly, foreign ministries of many countries might have concerns about sharing their approaches with diplomats from other nations. However, cultural diplomacy is not a zero sum game. The whole point of such an initiative would be to find ways that the cultural diplomacy efforts of multiple nations can have positive impacts that are mutually reinforcing, not undermining. Such a network would take years to build, and would likely require the financial and organizational backing of an existing NGO in order to get off the ground. The potential benefits would dramatically outweigh these costs.
In recent years, much has been said about the power of “network public diplomacy,” as enabled by the Internet and other information and communication technologies. However, even advocates for this more relational approach have begun to recognize that it is not a catchall solution for all of the problems facing public and cultural diplomats. Professor Rhonda Zaharna of American University recently identified four fallacies in the prevailing discussion of “network public diplomacy.” In essence, she argues that “network public diplomacy” as an overarching concept is not valuable when it lacks specificity, and further that the network model is not always the best approach in all scenarios. In this spirit, let me be clear about the specific type of network approach I am proposing. In Zaharna’s typology, the “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a “network of collaboration that strives to generate value-added information” for its members and the world at large. It would achieve this by leveraging the insights of its diverse membership. This network structure would not mean a dogmatic adherence to a “network communication” model of public diplomacy by members of the network.
In his 2002 book Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly argues that investment in the generation of knowledge has become especially valuable in the age of globalization, as knowledge is more likely than ever to leak from one person to another. These leaks can lead to “virtuous cycles,” which can dramatically speed economic development in poor countries. Cultural diplomats and the governments they represent are in a position to aid the creation of more of the “virtuous cycles” that Easterly discusses. Through networked collaboration, a “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” could amplify the effectiveness of existing cultural diplomacy efforts, while simultaneously spurring innovation. Moving beyond the zero sum cultural diplomacy paradigm will likely be difficult, but the rewards will be worth the trouble.
Max Entman is a graduate student at the George Washington University. His piece forms part of Take Five’s series of student reflections on aspects of cultural diplomacy as communication.
by Brad Gilligan
Last month, advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights deployed thousands of supporters to the grounds outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in two landmark cases. A Pew Research Center poll demonstrates the dominant frame being deployed by media to tell the story. “Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics,” the headline reads.
While the pro-equality campaign in the U.S. may represent a real sea change in our national public opinion, other countries’ perspectives vary by degrees. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department annually documented the status of LGBT people around the globe in its report on human rights practices. Memorably, Clinton said in a speech at the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights.” These remarks were coordinated with a memo from President Obama in the same week that detailed the first ever US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against LGBT citizens abroad.
In parts of the world, perils faced by LGBT citizens are well known: In Uganda, the parliament proposed a bill which would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. While in New York, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously commented “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” And in Russia, parliament is considering a nationwide ban on ‘gay propaganda’ to minors—in the same year that international attention was drawn to members of the feminist, pro-LGBT, punk-rock collective Pussy Riot after they were jailed by the Putin government.
When the State Department promotes gay rights abroad, cultural diplomacy acts as one of the primary drivers of that agenda. Cynthia P. Schneider describes the relationship: “Public diplomacy consists of all a nation does to explain itself to the world, and cultural diplomacy—the use of creative expression and exchanges of ideas, information, and people to increase mutual understanding—supplies much of its content.” Through partnerships with regional and local civil society groups, the Department engages communities in dialogue about the value Americans ascribe to all people, no matter who that person is or whom that person loves.
Not to say that the U.S. does not receive its own share of criticism for its domestic LGBT policy: an interactive display from The Guardian documents the variability of gay rights, state by state. Until a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. Today, others still prohibit adoptions by gay couples or permit dismissing workers on the basis of gender identification.
To focus on the theme of LGBT rights, and the practice of cultural diplomacy worldwide, I began with a small exercise in role reversal: How does one country (I selected Canada) work inside the U.S. to promote its foreign policy?
In 1995, a review of Canadian foreign policy granted culture new status, erecting it as a third pillar in the country’s diplomatic priorities, beside security and the economy. The report praises its culture as a potent force for the nation’s international reputation. “Our principles and values—our culture—are rooted in a commitment to tolerance; to democracy; to equality and to human rights”. Among the recommendations made in the document, it elevates the potential of mass media (e.g. television, film, and radio) in particular to reach audiences outside of Canada’s borders.
Like the BBC, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) operates as a public entity. The government approves and funds programming consistent with the mandate to, among other stipulations, focus on Canadian content. For instance, the broadcasting license for MTV Canada requires that a minimum of 68% of daytime and 71% of prime time programming be of Canadian origin. The network describes itself as offering a “distinctly Canadian interpretation of the MTV brand across multiple platforms,” in 171 territories around the world.
One such program, airing since 2009, is 1 girl 5 gays. The 30-minute talk show sees host Aliya-Jasmine Sovani asking 20 questions about love and sex to a rotating panel of gay men from the greater Toronto area. Toronto holds a reputation as a vibrant center of gay life in Ontario; Church Street, especially, has a rich cultural history and has been depicted before in popular media exported south of the border.
Logo TV, a US gay and lesbian-interest channel, picked up 1 girl 5 gays in 2010. The first season increased ratings in its time slot +55% compared to the network’s Q4 2010 average.
Pew’s poll, referenced earlier, found that roughly a third (32%) said their views changed because they know someone who is homosexual. Mass media may well be another variable at play, subbing for physical one-to-one contact. The show builds relationships on this principle, between the host and panelists (and the audience by proxy).
A rudimentary content analysis of episodes from 1 girl 5 gays’ first season begins to generate a map for how dialogue can be used to strategically shift opinion about LGBT rights. In any one episode, an average of five questions conjure pointed images of gay sexual experiences (“Do you have a gag reflex?”) while the remainder are interchangeable to hetero- or homosexual couples (“If your sex life was a colour, what colour would it be?). The majority have nothing to do with sex at all (“Whose autograph have you asked for?”).
Especially notable, the show frequently inserts a question in the final segment looking inward at the program or at common LGBT experiences: “How do you feel gay men are represented on this show?” “Does the pride parade reinforce stereotypes?” “If there was a pill to make you straight, would you take it?”
Statistical wizard Nate Silver points out how demographics and population density are likely indicators of support for same-sex marriage. It would be overdrawn to say 1 girl 5 gays answers this problem intentionally by increasing the opportunities for exposure to discussion of LGBT experiences; but, as a byproduct of capitalism (i.e. the proliferation of broadcasting in the U.S. via for-profit cable TV), the amplification of Canadian commitment to tolerance aids the cause of LGBT rights in the U.S., and represents one instance of successful cultural diplomacy in action.
Brad Gilligan is a graduate student in the Media and Public Affairs program at the George Washington University.
By Amelie Barratt
John Kerry’s first official tweet as the new Secretary of State will be interesting to keep in mind as we watch him navigate the Internet in his new role. Although Hillary Clinton did not tweet while holding the position, she is recognized for drastically enhancing the State Department’s commitment to outreach and public diplomacy in particular.
The ability to reach millions through social media makes Internet freedom a top priority for the United States, seen not only as a desirable policy, but as an extension of basic human rights. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor within the U.S. Department of State defines it specifically as “an aspect of the universal rights of freedom of expression and the free flow of information.”
Today and tomorrow, the State Department is hosting Tech@State, a convention with its theme this year focusing on the use of technology to enhance and expand Internet freedom. The event, held at the George Washington University in Washington DC, will consist of panel discussions among key thinkers in the realm of Internet and how its freedom can enhance diplomacy worldwide.
Also of note is the upcoming Fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum organized by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The three-day event from May 14 to 16, which will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, will create an environment where experts and policy makers can “exchange views on the key policy issues arising from today’s fast changing information and communication technology (ICT) environment.” Some hesitation among Internet freedom activists surrounds the event as many countries requested international regulation on Internet use at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), held in Dubai, UAE, leaving activists worried that regulatory measures could lead to government overreach.
With all these events lined up in the near future one can’t help but ask who exactly the audience is. Are policymakers truly the top tier and the only ones in need of inclusion? How could public, and more specifically, cultural diplomacy enhance these events? Cultural programs and student exchanges in the past have proven to be very effective in bridging gaps where nations are at odds, bringing publics together to work towards a common goal, in this case, Internet freedom. Perhaps this issue could use some help from public and cultural diplomacy practitioners to win the hearts and minds of those in need of convincing of the possibly great outcomes of Internet freedom.
The recently proposed Global Internet Freedom Act by Rep. Zoe Lofgren is interesting to take into account which would operate as a task force, monitoring “both the U.S. and other countries that deny market access to Internet goods and services or threaten the technical operation, security and free flow of communications on the Internet.” And although not specifically mentioned, conferences such as the WCIT would be among the types of events monitored by this proposed legislation.
Internet freedom is clearly a discussion that is recognized among many states but still remains a topic in need of much advancement. The overarching question of whether or not government should be involved in regulating the use of Internet seems to cause a visible divide between nations who perceive this freedom as a threat and those who associate it with positive growth. 2013 will be the year to watch as the discussion on Internet use continues on all levels.
Amelie Barratt is a graduate student at the George Washington University where she is working towards her degree in Global Communication with a focus on Public Diplomacy. She currently works at the U.S Department of State in the Office of Children’s Issues.
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, who delivered the annual Walter Roberts Lecture at George Washington University last Thursday, comes from a serious press and media background. She is the recipient of 10 News Emmy Awards and other awards in journalism for broadcast programs on domestic and international issues. She has also worked as strategic communications adviser to Internews and the International Women’s Media Foundation, among a number of other international organizations.
So it was all the more striking how prominently cultural diplomacy featured in her comments last Thursday, just as it does in many of her other communications — including the U.S. public diplomacy highlights she publishes every few weeks.
This is a reminder that the Under Secretary recognizes and embraces the fact that cultural programming IS communication. It is an essential diplomatic tool that enables the U.S. to persuade influential people to listen to us with an open mind; allows us to share knowledge and skills with potential international partners and allies; and helps us attract positive attention via mass media and digital media.
As Harvard scholar Joeph Nye has noted, the scarcest information resource in the 21st Century is likely to be the audience’s attention span. Here in the U.S., despite the plethora of contemporary media distractions, most citizens still pay some attention to what our own government says, because we know it might affect us directly, and also because we conceive of every citizen having a watchdog role. Certainly U.S. journalists see scrutiny of government as an obligation.
But it would be a mistake to think that official U.S. statements and policy explanations get even the modest automatic hearing abroad that they do at home. People are certainly interested in what the U.S. is up to, but they have a host of non-U.S. sources for that information that are more familiar to them, more trusted, and frequently more accommodating to their preconceptions.
Overseas, it takes creativity and insight to increase the chances that people will listen to U.S. officials with an open mind, and be prepared to respond accordingly.
This is why public diplomacy practitioners know that cultural programming is increasingly vital to the achievement of foreign policy goals. Some cultural programs serve as the proverbial “picture worth a thousand words,” projecting the essence of American policies, principles, and values via local mass media and fast-growing new digital media. Some cultural programming works as a powerful teaching tool to help influential people abroad understand (if not necessarily accept) both U.S. foreign affairs priorities and fundamental American principles.
More fundamentally, cultural programming fosters relationships and understanding between foreign officials and U.S. diplomats who will be called on, sooner or later, to work on contentious issues across the table from one other. It helps sustain generalized affinities even as individuals come and go in the diplomatic service. And it helps connect the real global communicators of the 21st century: journalists, activists, scholars, researchers, teachers, writers, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs, as well as young people just joining the conversation.
The following recent U.S. public diplomacy highlights show the variety of ways in which cultural programming communicates. These highlights, published in January by the Office of the Under Secretary, are here sorted into three categories: Talking, Teaching, and Spreading the Word.
1) Talking – recognizing the people who are (or are likely to become) influential, and bringing them together across borders for focused and purposeful exchange of ideas.
2) Teaching – transferring knowledge and skills that are essential in civic life, political life, and international relations. Cultural programming promotes retention and “useability” of new knowledge through dialogue, debate, and learning-by-doing. Two-way knowledge transfer and “paying know-how forward” are frequent outcomes of cultural programming.
3) Spreading the word - via local media coverage or on digital media. While the previous two genres of cultural programming are designed to make a significant impact on the immediate participants, the purpose of this third type is to spark positive interest among the many.
All the above constitute just a few of the highlights shared by the Under Secretary’s office for January alone. January’s highlights in turn constitute a tiny sliver of the cultural programming that takes place week in, week out at every U.S. Embassy and Consulate around the world. Most of it is targeted to advance specific foreign policy goals, and just about all of it is conceptualized strategically.
Each example is also a reminder that cultural diplomacy IS communication. The U.S. can only benefit from greater use of cultural programming to advance U.S. foreign affairs priorities.
An early Christmas present arrived in the mail today – a new book called Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism (Meg McLagan and Yates McKee, eds., Zone Books, 2012.)
The “visual culture of nongovernmental activism” seems like an important topic for U.S. public diplomacy practitioners to consider. Even though public diplomacy isn’t exactly nongovernmental, neither does it represent the prevailing governing power of the countries in which public diplomats work. And in “making the case for America” in those foreign lands, we are very much activist, vying for attention along with non-governmental (and other-governmental) efforts of every stripe. We may ally ourselves enthusiastically with some causes, for example women’s empowerment. We may argue against others, for example restrictions on free speech deemed blasphemous. But we are always one voice among many, without the authority (however defined or felt) that a government body carries in its own country.
And of course, one of public diplomacy’s key resources is visual culture. From the first great expansion of U.S. public diplomacy during the Cold War period, the U.S. looked for ways to make visual our ideas, our values, our culture. Jazz Ambassadors did not tour just so people could hear their music; these mega-stars were sent abroad so that their photos would be on the front page of every newspaper, perhaps shaking the hand of a prime minister or jamming with local musicians. Jeeps and trucks carried USIS officers to remote areas with movies and portable generator-run projectors. Every month USIS distributed glossy color-photo magazines in Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, and other languages. U.S. cultural centers were and are full of posters, photographs – even décor – supporting our particular “cause,” i.e., America itself. With the advent of satellite television in the 1980’s, USIA under Charles Wick eagerly embraced the opportunity to engage via this new medium. Interestingly, the first and most prominent use of USIA’s “Worldnet” television was to bring together multi-country audiences in mutual discussion and debate.
In the past couple of decades, non-governmental and civil society organizations have proliferated across the globe. In wealthier countries, philanthropy and sometimes government grants provided support. In the developing world, international donors channeled development assistance funds to and through such groups. Even before the Internet became widely accessible, NGOs expressed their activism visually, via photography, posters, videos, theater. Some development agencies ventured deep into visual culture territory, funding local NGO partners to produce films and television programs designed to promote positive actions such as conflict resolution or combating HIV/AIDS. Non-governmental organizations around the world became sophisticated in working with visual culture. Under-funded public diplomacy organizations have felt the pressure.
Today, we all continue to be amazed at the impact and promise of digital media. Digital and social media most certainly multiply our ability to communicate, but they expand the opportunity exponentially to those who may not have much in the way of funds, but who do have the passion, energy, and creativity to produce powerful images that draw us to their message. In this significantly more crowded visual-culture landscape, the U.S. will likely continue to focus on innovative ways to maintain our profile and to partner with other visual-culture organizations to tell America’s story. But this new book is a reminder that in the 21st century, communicating “who we are” is losing ground to communicating “what must change” — with real implications for public diplomacy.
In any case, it’s exciting when a book provokes so much thought via the title alone. And now I see that already on p. 14 there’s a discussion of Walter Benjamin on the “’aestheticizing of politics’ by fascism” in the 1930’s, which somehow got me thinking about the global reach of U.S. consumer culture and how this also shapes the landscape in which we public diplomacy practitioners work. Sounds like a topic for a future blog post!
When the recent Diplopundit post and related news items came out about State Department revising its external communication clearance rules, a lot of people reacted with concern that State was either deliberately or merely blind-bureaucratically limiting its ability to communicate by imposing a new delay on digital communication, even on tweets. Colleagues here at GWU quizzed me with “State Department rules might impose a 48-hour review period on employees tweets. Because that’s the best way to communicate in the era of instant communication?”
But my experience with the State Department tells me this is not what the new draft clearance rules are about — and here is why:
Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that. And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.
(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).
So I don’t see the new rules having any restrictive effect on on-the-job communication via digital media, either overseas or at reasonably senior levels in Washington.
To me (and again, this is just from looking at Diplopundit and the spinoff media articles from it), the new draft rules appear to do two things:
Up until now, there’s been a blanket maximum time of 30 days for clearance of such quasi-official communication, via any media. But according to the new draft rules, the very small subset of employees’ social media content that might be subject to review through this formal Department process would be guaranteed a much shorter maximum (not target) deadline for clearance.
But it’s good that journalists and the general public are interested in this. (Government always works better when the citizens are paying attention and can give sensible advice if insider-thinking shows signs of going off the rails!)
On November 13, IPDGC had the privilege of sponsoring Public Diplomacy: the Next Four Years, a terrific “insiders” discussion featuring two former Under Secretaries of State for Public Diplomacy (James Glassman and Judith McHale), a key Senate senior committee staffer (Paul Foldi), and a former State Department Assistant Secretary / spokesperson (Philip “PJ” Crowley). These are all people who not only have a vision of what America’s public diplomacy can and should do, they also know a lot about what it actually does.
Panel members enthusiastically debated the role and strengths of contemporary U.S. public diplomacy. One area of complete agreement: two-way engagement is a big priority over one-way messaging. Another consensus: information technology is a game-changer in diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Key Takeaway: Signficant discussion revolved around how diplomacy itself – not just public diplomacy – is changing. The implication was clear that diplomacy must change even more in this modern world of globally shared challenges and exponentially more information networks.
Here is one blogger’s observations on key points and highlights from this IPDGC-sponsored panel:
McHale: The world has changed [and] we will not be able to move our foreign policy goals and objectives forward without having a better relationship, better understanding and engagement with people all over the world. We simply can’t do it.
Crowley: [re: tweeting with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez] By doing that, the folks in [the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau] will go, why are you doing that? I’d say, it is generating a debate within Venezuela. And one of my colleagues said, when you wrestle with a pig you get dirty. I go yes, but this is a debate that we will ultimately win. [We] have to be willing to let our diplomats engage in this debate and quite honestly that’s a phenomenon that will happen.
Foldi: Sometimes I think the department falls into this trap of, “well we put all things out on a web and then we let people comment on them.” Well that’s not what they really want, they want to engage in a conversation
Glassman: You look for those avenues where you can pursue those conversations, where you can build relationships even in very difficult and challenging parts of the world for us.
But at least one voice made the case for “messaging” — when it is done in new, relational contexts:
Glassman: I realized that simply standing up and preaching at people… is not a very effective way to communicate. [Foreign audiences] don’t want to listen to you, to Americans preaching at them. But rather a better way to communicate is to use American authority, such as it is, to convene a large, broad and deep conversation in which American messages are … injected [or] distributed among other messages
So the emphasis is on relationships and engagement. And whether focused on advancing foreign policy goals or debating policies and ideologies at the head of state level, the panelists are not just talking about public diplomacy, they’re talking about all of diplomacy.
2) Another area of agreement: Information technology as a game-changer:
McHale: The world has changed so dramatically and so fundamentally with … technology and with information and power now being widely dispersed. We have got to find better ways of influencing foreign populations or we simply can’t go forward. [For example], right now in this room there is nobody here who can raise their hand and say ‘I can identify who was the leader of the Egyptian revolution.’ Because there wasn’t one; it was coalitions, ever changing coalitions of interests.
Glassman: And second, it’s just amazing, we … have lucked into this world — and we haven’t “lucked” into it, but the tools are there, tools that did not exist ten years ago. The tools for communicating in a public diplomacy 2.0 way.
3) Defining the core goal of public diplomacy: is it “Benefit of the Doubt?”
Paul Foldi and PJ Crowley both focus on the perceived gap between words and deeds as a major challenge for public diplomacy. Foldi describes how a country that builds up its soft power can get over specific policy hurdles:
Foldi: It can take years to get what I call ‘benefit of the doubt,’ which I believe is the goal of public diplomacy. So that when your country does something or has a policy that seems counterintuitive to the rest of the world, they’ll go “oh, but they are the United States — so maybe they’re doing this [thing we don’t like], but for the most part we agree with them.” And to me … it’s a question of can we get back into the ‘benefit of the doubt’ category for many of these countries?
(Note: Foldi’s view – creating the benefit of the doubt – strikes me as something a lot of public diplomacy practitioners would agree with. I think many of us would see this is as an achievable goal in many overseas contexts, and we would consider the public diplomacy ‘toolkit’ useful in pursuing this goal.)
By contrast, PJ Crowley focuses not on helping contextualize policies that are unappreciated abroad as being inconsistent with shared values, but rather on trying to eliminate them:
Crowley: Ultimately the best public diplomacy is … policies that reflect your interests and your values and [when] the gap between what we say and what we do is as narrow as it can be. … [One] of the great challenges for public diplomacy is to bridge the gap between words and deeds, to narrow that to the extent possible. … [Polling trends] should inform what our short term and mid term actions are.
Meanwhile, Glassman and McHale reject a polling-driven “popularity contest” approach, maintaining that targeted PD efforts can and should be used to further specific U.S. foreign policy goals.
Glassman: I don’t think that favorability ratings in the Pew survey are evidence of whether we are doing something wrong or right. [I tried] to disabuse people of that notion and rather to focus attention on what public diplomacy can do to achieve specific ends that are part of [our] goals in foreign policy and national security policy; that’s what public diplomacy is supposed to do.
McHale: I’m certainly in agreement with Jim on this issue, it’s not a popularity contest … that is absolutely the wrong focus.
As the panelists fleshed out their ideas, however, I heard each one suggest support for Foldi’s “benefit of the doubt” role for public diplomacy:
Crowley: we will always be challenged …for example Indians have expectations in terms of the US policy towards Pakistan or Pakistan has expectations towards the US policy towards India, and those two… do not easily coexist. And when… you sit in between those two long time antagonists, you are going to end up disappointing both of them to some degree or another.
McHale: There were many areas where … we do find areas of common interest, science, technology, education, all of those areas. … [N]aturally you are going to encounter a lot of resistance and what have you but that’s no reason to give up. And you look for those avenues where you can pursue those conversations, where you can build relationships even in very difficult and challenging parts of the world for us.
Glassman: [A]s Senator Fulbright said, the Fulbright programs teach empathy, standing in somebody else’s shoes. I’m a huge believer in that and I think that is valuable. (But should two thirds of the money be spent on that?)
Glassman (again): [A]s president Obama said right in the beginning … we need to focus on mutual interest and mutual respect and there are many things that we can get done in that fashion.
All of these comments reflect the idea that some U.S. policies will inevitably be viewed by some other countries as inimical, unfair, and/or a betrayal of U.S. stated values — so concentrating on other interests and values that we do share, as well as working to promote mutual empathy and understanding, is essential.
4) This is really about “all of diplomacy”:
It is worth repeating Judith McHale’s observation about the Egyptian revolution: “right now in this room there is nobody here who can raise their hand and say ‘I can identify who was the leader of the Egyptian revolution.’ Because there wasn’t one, it was coalitions, ever changing collations of interests.”
Pair this with Crowley’s discussion of high-level public communications, for example those tweets with Hugo Chavez. He makes clear that informal and globally available public communication by heads of state and top diplomats (not to mention powerful business leaders and highly influential NGO advocates) is here to stay.
These panelists emphasized, in other words, that understanding and responding to events such as the Egyptian revolution or debating Hugo Chavez in his domestic political arena is not only the work of public diplomacy, it’s at the center of diplomacy and foreign policy. And engaging in this public sphere has to be a focus of the whole State Department, not just its public diplomacy bureaus.
Glassman makes the case that, in this new environment, using the tools of public diplomacy is a notably low cost / high impact strategy and should be expanded: ”There are ways to move money within the State Department budget that would make the Department as a whole more effective by putting more emphasis on public diplomacy. … One of the reasons that I strongly believe that we need more public diplomacy … is because at a time of tight budgets, it’s the most cost effective way to achieve those national interest goals that I talked about.”
He takes that idea further to suggest that Embassies themselves may be obsolete.
Glassman: And the other thing that I would just throw out to you is whether in an era of social media and very, very fast communications, whether we should be spending as much money as we are in general at the State Department on things called embassies. Okay it made a lot of sense 100 years ago, but does it make sense today to have this edifice and this very complicated kind of arrangement where people go for a few years and live there, as though they couldn’t possibly influence people in those countries if they didn’t live there?
No doubt many would find controversial the idea that one can influence people whom one has never met face to face, much less grown to know better over time. But on closer examination, is Glassman really saying that diplomats don’t need to go abroad and meet people? Is it possible to envision an engaged diplomacy involving both face to face and online interactions that does not involve the traditional Embassy model?
I’m not sure. (What do TakeFive blog readers think?)
Advocates of ‘new approaches to public diplomacy’ often end up by proposing new approaches to diplomacy itself. As these excerpts from last week’s expert panel discussion show, our panelists at the IPDGC event were no exception. (And there was much more rich discussion that can be found on the event video or in the transcript.)
Yes, they were unanimous on the importance of existing public diplomacy efforts, and there was little disagreement on the impact of valued public diplomacy tools (exchanges, social media).
At the same time, these experienced public diplomacy experts expressed a range of ideas – some quite provocative – about how approaches rooted in public diplomacy are particularly appropriate for the 21st century challenges of U.S. diplomacy overall.
It will be great for IPDGC and other groups interested in the theory and practice of public diplomacy to get more such debates launched in the wider arena of foreign affairs / diplomacy.
While many State Department officers have worked closely with Smithsonian experts over the years, the creation of a detail assignment for a Foreign Service Officer at the Smithsonian Institution has opened new opportunities for both organizations.
As the world’s largest museum and research complex, the Smithsonian is increasingly engaging with broader world audiences, particularly non-elites and youths. The State Department, meanwhile, is eager to use the Smithsonian’s expertise and collections in art, culture, history and science to enhance its own engagement with overseas individuals and institutions, and increase dissemination of information about the United States abroad.
Every week brings new possibilities for greater interaction. Whether advising museums in Oman or promoting interest in tree banding by students around the world, the Smithsonian’s international work helps put a face on the State Department’s commitment to education, culture, the environment and scientific cooperation. For instance, the two institutions’ collaborative planning for International Jazz Day in April offered U.S. Embassies access to the Smithsonian’s extensive jazz collections, recordings, websites and activities.
Recent cooperative ventures include Smithsonian help in designing American Spaces, the “Amazing Ocean” mobile app using National Museum of Natural History content, and a poster show based on a photography exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Meanwhile, Smithsonian experts traveling internationally have served as speakers at events organized by U.S. missions. For example, students at a science center in the West Bank met with a National Air and Space Museum historian while, in Chile, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science spoke with students at the embassy’s science-focused American Corner.
In another collaboration, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv partnered with the National Museum of American History’s Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation to create a Spark!Lab at the Ukranian Art Arsenal in Kyiv during the month of September 2012 (mentioned in Take Five’s recent piece on building relationships in public diplomacy.) With the success of this Kyiv pilot, the Lemelson Center hopes the project will be a model for future international collaborations promoting interactive science learning.
In a March 22 ceremony to sign a Memorandum of Understanding making the State Department’s partnership with the Smithsonian Institution official, Under Secretary of the Smithsonian for History, Art and Culture Richard Kurin noted the benefits of having a senior State Department foreign service officer at the Smithsonian. “After the earthquake in Haiti when we wanted to provide our expertise to help with cultural relief and recovery, we were very grateful to have the recently appointed State Department liaison on our staff as we worked with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and other partners to preserve Haiti’s rich cultural heritage,” he said. “Since then, the advice, expertise and contacts provided by each of these officers have helped us develop closer collaboration here in Washington and better access to embassy resources overseas.”
Science and technology projects offer additional areas for cooperation, with Smithsonian research, facilities and programs under way in nearly 100 countries. A great deal of this research is in developing nations, with projects in countries such as Gabon, Papua New Guinea, and Peru. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama, conducts research on biodiversity around the world. The State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environmental and Science Affairs regularly partners with the Smithsonian on projects such as the Global Tiger Initiative, while the National Zoo’s pandas are a matter of high-level diplomatic and public interest. Embassy officers and locally employed staff in environment, science, technology and health (ESTH) positions overseas usually spend a half day at the National Museum of Natural History as part of their training, going behind the scenes to view some of the museum’s 127 million objects.
As Senior Advisor for International Affairs to the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, I work in the complex linking the Freer and Sackler Galleries and National Museum of African Art. This location within the suite housing the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations provides access to people who know the Department well from years of hosting participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program, cooperating on cultural heritage issues, briefing Foreign Service Institute classes and assisting foreign embassies. The office’s director, Francine Berkowitz, is known to generations of Department cultural officers who have turned to her for assistance through the years.
After serving as consul general in Shanghai and at posts in Thailand, Hungary and Sweden, the Smithsonian assignment is a new experience for me; with a season pass to one of America’s greatest treasures, I can apply my public diplomacy experience to help posts take advantage of an institution that is highly regarded by foreign visitors, embassies, scientists, museums, educators and tourists. The Smithsonian is, in the words of Secretary Wayne Clough, “a lens on the world for America, and a lens on America for the world.” The detail makes the Smithsonian’s amazing resources more accessible to the Department while supporting the Smithsonian’s goal of engaging a greater percentage of the world.
Note: First in a new Take Five blog post series
The Office of U.S. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine began several months ago to distribute summary PD activity highlights to interested members of the U.S. public. In a series of blog posts starting today, I’d like to showcase some of these highlights, and use them to illustrate key facets of ongoing U.S. public diplomacy work.
Last year, after diving into the world of public diplomacy scholarship as a Fellow at GWU’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), I began to realize that a frequently missing piece of the academic puzzle is concrete discussion and analysis of what public diplomats actually do in the field. And considering that U.S. public diplomacy remains significantly field-driven, this feels like a major gap. Thus a blog series is born.
Each piece will begin with a few thoughts on what the selected programs and activities have in common, and what is significant about that common theme. The highlights speak for themselves.
Today’s theme is Opinion Leaders. Future topics will include: Not Always Setting the Agenda; Messaging Creatively; Arts Programs as Communication; and more. As always, readers, I welcome your interest, your feedback, and your additional thoughts.
Focus: Opinion Leaders
Over the years, debates have raged within U.S. Public Diplomacy about how much energy and resources to direct towards “opinion leaders” (journalists, professors, artists, political and social movement leaders) and how much towards the broad general public (e.g. via youth outreach.)
Rhetoric in these debates tended to confuse “opinion leaders” and “elites.” Practically no one objected to the idea of going far beyond elites, but most public diplomacy practitioners recognized that opinion leaders come in all shapes, sizes, ages, classes, genders, and income levels. Acutely aware that there were only so many PD dollars to go around, they hesitated to abandon working with opinion leaders (sometimes termed audience multipliers) in order to concentrate on engaging ordinary citizens directly.
Fortunately, among the many benefits of digital technology and social media are two that have helped lay to rest the elites vs. opinion leader debate. First, digital media has expanded the communication power and resources of non-elites to the point where no one any longer can doubt their ability to shape public opinion; and second, digital communication means field diplomats can now reach the general public (in a more interactive and targeted way than broadcasting allows) with much less expenditure of funds and time resources.
The following recent State Department highlights are selected to showcase the variety of ways that U.S. public diplomacy continues to work with opinion leaders — journalists, teachers, professors, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, and selected youth leaders, and to communicate – through them – with their own respective networks and audiences. (Text from State Department highlights is marked with *)
Journalists are opinion leaders par excellence.
* VOA Program Connects US and Pakistan: Viewers in Pakistan can now experience a slice of life in America, with the premiere of a dynamic new VOA program called “Sana, A Pakistani,” that follows show host Sana Mirza — one of Pakistan’s most popular television newscasters — as she gets to know this country. “I just moved here, so I’m seeing things with fresh eyes,” says Sana. “I want the program to a picture of what life is really like in the United States.” The first program focused on Washington D.C. and included a visit to a mosque, the White House, and an aid organization that provides free meals to the homeless. Sana says she plans to travel around the country so she can show viewers how people really live, including the many Pakistani-Americans that have moved to the United States.
* Alumna’s Recognition Marks Fulbright’s 20th Anniversary in Vietnam: July’s State Alumni Member of the Month is Do Minh Thuy, a Fulbright Program alumna from Vietnam dedicated to raising the professional and ethical standards of Vietnamese journalism. The honor coincided with Fulbright’s 20th anniversary in Vietnam.
* Embassy Seoul Hosts Student Journalism Seminar: In a first-ever collaboration with the Korea
Association of International Educators (KAIE), Embassy Seoul arranged the 2012 Student Journalism Seminar, inviting 34 top student journalists from 17 university newspapers and broadcasting stations across eight cities in Korea. Under the theme of “Journalism and the Changing Media Environment,” participants enjoyed remarks from U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, journalism workshops, visits to major media outlets, and meetings with U.S. and Korean journalists.
* Partnering with VOA in South Sudan: Voice of America’s (VOA) South Sudan Project held a reporting training workshop in Juba, South Sudan for 19 journalists, including reporters from VOA’s radio program, South Sudan in Focus, as well as reporters and announcers from the Voice of the People, Radio Miraya, and South Sudan Radio.
* IIP’s eLibraryUSA Wows Influential Ghana TV Station: The Accra Information Resource Center (IRC) hosted staff from one of Ghana’s most influential TV stations; showing them how to locate documentaries and books, podcasts, videos, articles and reference sources via the collection of 30 commercial databases available to audiences worldwide. Following the two hour session, TV3′s lead producer said they would extend training invitations to the most prominent people in Ghana’s media landscape.
* Libyan Civil Society Organizations Produce First Public Service Announcements: Four civil society organizations from the cities of Misrata, Tripoli, and Sebha completed technical training in video production and public messaging with a grant from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The organizations produced twelve public service announcements (PSAs) on electoral education, voter participation, rule of law, and mine risk awareness.
People listen to business leaders too (even those not profiled in major newspapers!)
*Russian Business Leader Credits FLEX Year in the United States for Success: Leading Russian businesswoman Marina Malykhina was featured in a July 27 article in The Moscow Times, where she attributed much of her success to the entrepreneurial values learned as a teenager on ECA’s Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program. Malykhina is the cofounder and CEO of one of Russia’s largest market research firms.
* Fortune Alum Pays it Forward with Mentoring Challenge in Nigeria: Consulate General Lagos partnered with Idea Builders Initiative, a non-governmental organization run by an alumna of the Fortune/State Department Mentoring program, to conduct a three-day orientation and training program for 35 young women. These 35 women accepted a “Mentoring Challenge” to reach out to 100 female students in area high schools over the next 12 months. They learned about public speaking, confidence building, goal setting, conflict resolution, money and time management, career planning, and handling peer pressure.
* Coca-Cola Scholars: The State Department’s Bureau of Near East / North African Affairs hosted 100 young leaders from the region on July 13 to mark the completion of their month-long entrepreneurship education program sponsored by the State Department and the Coca-Cola Company in partnership with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University (IU.) The young leaders showcased community-based initiative proposals they developed during their program at IU. Under Secretary Sonenshine and White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes addressed the scholars and NEA Spokesperson Aaron Snipe took extensive questions from the group.
All posts aspire to engage future government and political leaders:
* ECA Alumni To Play Key Role in Yemen Transition: Yemen’s President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi has appointed five ECA alumni (from International Visitor Leadership Program and Fulbright) to serve on the Preparatory Committee for the National Dialogue. Committee outcomes will set the stage for the anticipated constitution-drafting process.
* First Mongolian Fulbrighter Joins Parliament: Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, a Fulbright and Eisenhower program alumna and a board member of the Embassy Alumni Association, was recently elected to the Mongolian parliament. She is the first Fulbright and the third Eisenhower alumna to become a Mongolian parliament member. She is one of only nine women parliamentarians serving alongside 67 men.
At the local government level, ensuring that at least one or two people know the U.S. can have a big impact:
* International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Transforms Iraqi Views of Muslim Life in America: A member of the Anbar (Iraq) Provincial Council shared his views of Muslim life in America, after participating in the “Transparency in Federal, State, and Local Government” IVLP. He said his colleagues thought it was “impossible to be a Muslim in the United States, since the Americans all hate Muslims and kick them out of the country.” He said, “I immediately corrected my friends’ misunderstanding and told them about the vibrant community of Muslims that I met in Miami. I knew what they were saying was wrong, and I couldn’t stay silent.”
Teachers and scholars spread knowledge and shape opinions for a living.
* A Record Number of Fulbrighters Prepare for Departure: 180 new Fulbright Masters and PhD scholars from every province in Pakistan, the largest group of Pakistani Fulbrighters ever, prepared in June / July to head off for universities throughout the United States.
Exchange and public affairs reach current and future influential Americans too:
* ECA Teacher Alumnus Is Connecticut Teacher of the Year: ECA’s Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) alumnus David Bosso was honored by President Obama as the 2012 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year for his passion for learning and teaching about the world. The TEA program provides outstanding secondary school teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), social studies, math and science with unique opportunities to develop expertise in their subject areas. One student wrote: “Mr. Bosso has taken what he has learned from classrooms across the globe and shared his insights with us. When he learns something new, so do we.”
* USUN Panel on Media in a Changing World: Nearly 100 [U.S.] students interning at news outlets in New York City came to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) on July 23 to discuss “Media in a Changing World” with peers and media veterans. The program began with a panel, moderated by Deputy Spokesperson Kurtis Cooper, featuring Richard Roth of CNN, Marcelle Hopkins of Al-Jazeera, Sylvan Solloway from the New York University Curtis Institute of Journalism, and Koda Mike Wang of the Huffington Post. The convergence of media and tech, social media, changing business models for news outlets, and many other aspects of covering international affairs were part of a lively discussion.
Yale’s Keith Darden and The George Washington University’s Harris Mylonas have an interesting piece in the current issue of Ethnopolitics (currently ungated) proposing a new way of thinking about nation- and state-building, and, by extension, counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. They argue that third-party powers (think: the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan) face a “Promethean Dilemma”: “How can they transfer coercive and organizational capacity to the local population without such capabilities being used to undermine the occupiers’ efforts to establish stable governance of the territory?”
Darden and Mylonas argue that current thinking emphasizes quickly building out the indigenous security forces (e.g., army and police). “When it comes to putting guns in the hands of the indigenous population, sooner is better,” from the mindset of those tasked with restructuring the country.
Darden and Mylonas recommend doing just the opposite, in two respects. First, the focus should be on building loyalty through cultural institutions, especially schools and religious organizations. “Coercive” institutions such as the police should come last. Second, external powers need to be willing to commit to a long-term, generational effort rather than looking for ways to extricate themselves as quickly as possible. Hence, they argue, nation-building comes before state-building, not vice versa.
I think the culture-specific focus of Darden and Mylonas’ argument has merit, though as made clear by the two most recent examples they raise, Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s impossible to imagine a reconstruction effort that doesn’t simultaneously build up the security apparatus while developing cultural institutions.
The point, however, seems to be more that external actors such as the United States can’t neglect – and indeed, must prioritize – education and other institutional modes of “indoctrination,” and also need to embrace long-term efforts rather than quick fixes (which never seem to be quick, at any rate).
It is always interesting to me, however, that discussions of state- and/or nation-building, and indeed COIN, tend to treat as an afterthought a society’s communication system, particularly its progress toward a liberal press-state system. Granted, millions of dollars are spent on development projects and other efforts related to communication, especially journalism training, but the theorizing of state-building and COIN typically give it merely a passing mention.
I would argue that the development of a responsible, independent, and professional media alongside an effective and equally responsible and professional government communication apparatus should be seen as key pillars in a post-conflict reconstruction effort. Indeed, doing so can be integral to improving security and defeating insurgents and terrorists.
Afghanistan offers a good example. Simplifying somewhat, a key component of the insurgents’ argument to the Afghan people is essentially this: “The government is corrupt and can’t provide security and services to you, but we can.” Now, this is admittedly a perverse argument given that another way of putting it would be “The government can’t protect you from us,” but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that if the people believe it to be true, and then believe its corollary argument that the insurgents can provide security and services, then the bad guys may eventually win over the people.
Furthermore, in this scenario a security-first approach is doomed because the enemy will be gradually gaining recruits and a corresponding ability to outgun the host government and its allies.
Given this, the insurgent propaganda needs to be met head on and effectively. This is, principally, the government’s job rather than the media’s. Let’s say, hypothetically, that the insurgents are wrong and in fact the government is doing a good job, or at least an increasingly effective job, of improving services, security, and infrastructure. How will the people know? One important way would be through government spokespeople and other officials communicating this progress to the local population. But this is impossible if government spokespeople aren’t trained to be effective communicators, if the communication bureaucracy is not well-established, or if there are not proper channels of communication.
A major problem for government communicators in these situations, however, is credibility. Whether it is because of sectarianism, other cultural or linguistic divides, or association with past (or present) government corruption, fledgling democracies are often fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously by their constituents. Of course, to some extent simply becoming more responsive and effective at providing for the people can alleviate this problem. If the government isn’t actually credible, then neither will be its communication.
But another important determinant of government credibility can be a professional and independent media. I say “professional” because people in any society can spot amateurish journalism. Sensationalist and partisan or sectarian media are the prime offenders here, and they alienate audiences. (These concerns have always been the primary ones raised by government officials and journalists alike during the trainings I’ve led in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last few years.)
On the other hand, a professional media that are seen as independent from the government are more likely to be seen as credible. And if the messenger is credible, so to is the message.
So in our hypothetical, the best antidote to the insurgent argument that the government is corrupt and incompetent can be a free press reporting on a government’s successes.
Of course, an independent media is also going to be reporting on the government’s failures. But doing so is precisely what proves its independence and, if it’s done responsibly, its professionalism. By extension, it’s what will make the stories of progress more credible.
This is important for third-party and host governments, as well as occupying military forces, to understand. Too often, however, these folks fall into the trap of expecting nothing but good news from the local media, and assuming negative stories are a sign of bias or worse. This is counterproductive. Effective communication from government and military spokespeople does not begin by treating the media as your enemy.
Similarly, contemporary COIN strategy (if one can say there is such a thing), with its emphasis on a population-centric approach, could use a deeper understanding of the role of communication in building security. I was surprised, for instance, when I attended a multi-day COIN training hosted by ISAF for, primarily, NATO officers at a base outside Kabul in 2010, that literally nothing was mentioned about this. The only way in which communication was discussed was in terms of information operations (IO), which is decidedly not what I’m talking about.
I was, however, encouraged that several officers (mostly Australians) raised this problem in our feedback session on the final day. They had seen first-hand the importance of strengthening the institutions of communication, as well as learning themselves how to work with those institutions, during their time in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other COIN environments.
To return to Darden and Mylonas, who emphasize schools as a cog in nation-building, a key long-term approach to strengthening local communication systems is getting beyond Beltway Bandit approaches that simply pay NGOs (and professors) lots of money (well, not to the professors…) to do short-term trainings. Instead, those resources should be put into helping universities (and secondary schools when appropriate) develop journalism and public affairs curricula and programs. Too often, even when these projects are funded it is only on the journalism side. But many of the same skills that make one a good journalist make one an effective spokesperson: Both are, at the end of the day, about communicating effectively to the people.
These programs would include basic writing, reporting, and public speaking skills, as well as using inexpensive modern video and radio reporting. They would also include the development of internship programs that placed students in local and international media, and government agencies, thus giving students professional experience while simultaneously staffing the incipient communications infrastructure.
These programs have another benefit: They create a self-sustaining solution to the communication aspect of a successful nation-building (or state-building, depending on one’s emphasis) effort.
The State Department has begun such efforts at several Afghan universities over the last couple of years in an effort to seed future generations of communicators in that fledgling democracy. (Though these initiatives focus mostly on journalism education.) It will be interesting to see what blooms from these programs, assuming they are given a chance to succeed.