In the previous sections I argued that policy drives all Public Diplomacy activities in the U.S. government and that it is possible and often desirable to couple short term policy objectives with long term relationship building. The following model describes a more fruitful way of viewing PD programs with different tools used for different purposes and contexts:
Rather than distinguishing between exchanges vs press or short term vs long term, perhaps we should focus on indirect vs direct programming and consider ways we can combine both. Both direct and indirect programming have distinct advantages depending on the goal and context but the most effective indirect programming should incorporate aspects of direct programming and vice versa. All PD programming must support policy. If a policy connection cannot be articulated, it is difficult to argue for funding. And all programs must develop as much as possible long term relationships with contacts, which of course cannot last without two-way (or more) communication.
Failing to take the long term relationship into consideration often thwarts short term goals. At one of my posts, a brilliant embassy officer easily won an argument on U.S. policy with a leading journalist, who left the conversation defeated and alienated. Had the conversation been framed as a teaching opportunity with a possible win-win outcome rather than as an argument, the journalist may have come back for future conversations on the topic that could have led to more informed articles and provided a future outlet to explain U.S. policy. In everything we do, developing the long term relationship must take priority over winning the moment (although it is possible to do both if done skillfully). Similarly any program, whether it be an interview or tweet on policy must have a two-way or more exchange of ideas. A tweet which has no reach is a failure. Even in the area of messaging, PD professionals must always keep potential and actual audience reactions in mind and learn what works in local contexts.
Indirect Programming reaches audiences and potential contacts who may not share our views. In other words, hard audiences can be reached with soft content. In many parts of the world, the Department of State has English ACCESS programs which teach English to underprivileged youth. Many participants in this program and their families resist association with the United States but do want a desired skill, the English language, which will advance their academic and professional future. Students in this program often progress from a simple desire for English proficiency to realizing that English is a window to the world and end up developing a curiosity about the United States. In one country I served in, we invited parents to observe the classes. We had to expand the program as word of mouth spread through the community of classrooms which were empowering their children. In another country I served in, the methodology used in an English Language Fellow program of student centered participation and development of critical thinking skills reshaped the teaching of the entire university as students in classes in other subjects pressed to be more involved in their own learning.
Soft culture programs have long term and often surprising payoffs. In support of American Studies, the U.S. Embassy in Germany gave grants to universities which often invited speakers who were skeptical of U.S. policy. My German staff member in charge of the portfolio made a convincing case that allowing universities to choose which speakers to invite gave us credibility and more access to higher education. On a daily basis the American studies professors we worked with functioned as honest brokers, criticizing policy when they disagreed but almost always explaining U.S. life and institutions and providing useful context. American studies professors were often involved in arranging speeches for our Ambassador in universities that won over hostile audiences by willingly engaging, taking criticism, and then making a convincing case for our policy.
Finally, press exchanges develop long term relationships with media while giving journalists skills and contacts to improve their reporting. In the regular interactions with journalists and other contacts over coffee, lunch, or in receptions, PD professionals learn about local concerns, explain U.S. policy and establish a relationship of trust which payoff every time a crisis arises or a high level visitor arrives.
Direct programming is easily understood. A large percentage of the speakers we brought to Germany came to explain and defend the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe which is a top U.S. priority. Although the agreement under negotiation is often demonized in Germany, those who heard the discussions came away with a more open mind. Journalists and other contacts came to hear a high level official even if they disagreed with the policy. They came not only to hear Washington’s point of view but to engage in a dialogue and debate. This holds true for interviews as well, which are always two-way communication.
Thinking about all Public Diplomacy as serving policy with more indirect and direct tools at our disposal is much more fruitful than walling off exchanges from policy and policy from relationship building. In short, PD professionals and academics need to focus less on the program itself and more on what the program is supposed to accomplish. End Part 5
Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.
There is a view within parts of the U.S. government that exchanges are soft and somehow do not advance U.S. policy goals. In a time of tight budgets and daily crises, focusing on building long term relationships with a distant and uncertain payoff is viewed as a luxury. Here I will focus on PD relations with contacts and the public – the part of PD which receives the bulk of scholarly attention – as critical programs to support policy. I will also describe how one can raise the odds that funding in support of these programs continues.
I will argue here that the PD officer’s duty is not just to package and promote our message to key contacts but to convince policy makers of the value of traditional exchanges work. Exchanges and other seemingly non-policy efforts support USG policy more subtly and often more effectively than direct advocacy. Senator Fulbright, whose legislation introduced many of the exchanges which make public diplomacy possible, stated that mutual understanding is a worthy goal because it promotes peace. He was making a direct appeal to the core policy goal of promoting peace that every American can understand.
PD professionals within the Department of State who work in exchanges need to focus on policy like a laser and make the case to their superiors that the program is worth the investment in time and resources. The dichotomy between long term cultural relationships and short term press and policy work is a false one. The bureaucratic divisions within the Department of State, with Education and Cultural Exchanges (ECA) housed in a separate building and cultural sections literally walled off in most embassies from information sections can conceal interaction between press and cultural work and the crucial policy work carried out by cultural programs. Furthermore, one simply cannot support short term policy needs without calling on long term contacts. This is the reason I label the traditional view of exchanges on one side of the equation vs press and information on the other side as misleading and in fact harmful to effective public diplomacy work.
Time and time again PAOs leverage long term relationships developed over time to further short term policy goals. In fact, without the close cooperation with individuals and local institutions, one cannot even gather an audience for delivering policy. When Secretary Kerry made his first public diplomacy appearance abroad, Embassy Berlin worked with long-term contacts to gather a diverse and dynamic audience. The Embassy mined its vast group of alumni to assemble an audience for an in-depth exchange on foreign policy issues. The whole event was filmed and broadcast by Facebook https://storify.com/usbotschaft/john-kerry-visits-berlin at no cost to the USG, once again thanks to the long term relations that had been established with cultural contacts and institutions.
Even in the press side of public diplomacy, it is the long term relations which ensure that a high level USG visitor is quoted accurately and gets a fair hearing. Because of the excellent relations many press officers enjoy with the media, it is very common after press events involving USG officials for the Information Officer to correct misquotes or misleading interpretations before articles reach the press. Both sides want to maintain the relationship to ensure future access and journalistic standards.
Most State Department officials come to realize that public diplomacy programming is often the best way to reach out to potential contacts who would never be seen entering an embassy. Whether through English teaching or concerts, opponents of our policy will participate in programs which they view are in their own interest, initiating the all-important dialogue necessary to effective PD. In fact as Undersecretary Stengel and others have argued, the best approach to reach hard audiences is through soft diplomacy.
Finally alumni of long term exchanges are often the most credible messengers for US policy. On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Germans, it was a French historian, who had participated in long term exchanges to the US, who most credibly argued for the important US role in liberating the city. The same message emanating from the U.S. Embassy would have appeared self serving or defensive.
The PD officer needs to explain to headquarters on a daily basis how seemingly neutral PD programming support policy goals. This entails making the explicit link between a program and policy in reports back to headquarters and ensuring that PD activities support policy in some way. To ensure an effective program, one of my colleagues would write the highlight of the program before it began. The highlight then became an effective guidepost in planning and executing the program. This helped him and his staff ensure that the program supported policy goals, that press covered the event when appropriate, that the right participants attended the program, and that follow up was built into the design of the event. The next post will show how policy support connects all aspects of PD work and erases divisions between long and short term goals. End of Part 4
The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.
Equally important to the relationship with Washington is the relationship within the Embassy, primarily because different sections are privy to specific policy developments emanating from headquarters that PAOs are not.
Many PAOs start each day in the embassy with meetings in the Front Office with heads of other sections to review Washington developments which will affect the embassy’s work and to discuss local developments which may inform U.S. decision making. The PAO’s job then is to convey this to the entire PD staff so that all work is aligned to the latest guidelines. This may involve what messages to convey, what terms to use or avoid, or what the reasons are for policy direction. Once again, for the PAO much of the work within the Embassy is to ensure that public outreach conforms to policy. Before the PD section posts something in social media related to a trade agreement, the economic section has to weigh in. A public statement on Russia must pass muster with the political section, which may alert the PAO to Washington sensitivities regarding wording or content. By far the most important internal relationship is between the PAO and the Ambassador, who is the public face of the Embassy. Although the PAO often plays a critical coordinating role in crafting the Ambassador’s public persona, in most embassies it is the Ambassador who deals with the press, delivers the public speeches, and personifies policy.
The average PAO spends much of his or her energy aligning agencies and sections with different missions and priorities and resolving the inevitable conflicts between representatives of US government agencies with different cultures and missions. When I was PAO in Cyprus during the evacuation of more than 14,000 Americans from Lebanon, my primary interest was to help the press get a good story. The Defense Attache had an exclusive focus on the evacuation mission with the legitimate concern that media could negatively impact that mission. In such circumstances the PAO must work with the relevant section and with the Front Office (Deputy Chief of Mission, the #2 person in the embassy especially) to balance competing needs. In this case we decided to respond to journalists’ questions of arrival time of ships from Lebanon and helped them gain access to the secure part of the port and on board ships carrying evacuees from Lebanon to Cyprus while ensuring that the media did not interfere with the arrival of the evacuees. With our help, the journalists got their story of a US government-wide effort we could be proud of and the mission continued unimpeded.
Following the old saying that amateurs think tactics but professionals think logistics, the PAO also must coordinate with other embassy offices that are part of the State Department to ensure successful exchange programs. One of the first things a PAO needs to do upon arriving at post is to develop good relations with the Admin Counselor, the General Service Officer, and the Budget and Financial manager to ensure that the administration and money side of the Embassy understands exchange programs, how the money will be used, how the programs will be organized, and how program success will be evaluated. The PAO also learns from the Admin Counselor staff what rules and deadlines need to be followed to ensure timely service and support. In Germany, for example, to prepare for large programs where hundreds of participants needed access to the embassy, the PD and Admin sections had regular meetings at all levels so that smooth logistics led to successful programs. For example, long lines or bottlenecks at the entry to programs can reveal the lack of good planning and preparation. When participants in a PD program are unaware of the logistics behind the program, one can consider that aspect a success.
One of a PAO’s main jobs is to ensure that his or her supervisors up the chain are never blindsided and that they have enough information to make decisions appropriate to the context. The PAO and/or IO spends most of the day ensuring that the Front Office knows the latest guidance from Washington, that Washington knows of potentially problematic stories emanating from the field, that USG officials are armed for potential press questions , and that the Ambassador’s speeches conform to policy. The PAO must ensure that the Ambassador and Washington learn about a developing or a bad story before they read it in the press. This gives the bureaucracy time to draft a thoughtful response. Drafting guidance often requires input from other sections to ensure that the embassy is providing a united front. In short, the average PAO must manage government internal relations (including much e-mail), manage the resources supporting exchange programs, and look inward to ensure the success of the outward face of the embassy.
We need to be reminded of Nicholas Cull’s admonition that public diplomacy must be connected to policy. It would be useful to see more scholarly writing on the internal dynamics of PAOs and other players in embassies as they cooperate to implement programs. As described above, this internal coordination in support of policy dominates a PAO’s day. Much excellent scholarly work describes managing exchange relationships with contacts in the field, but the public event is built on a foundation of internal coordination and consultation. (End Blog 3)
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.
The successful Public Affairs Officer (PAO) must skillfully balance and successfully navigate three relationships: a. the Washington bureaucracy, b. other sections of the embassy, c. contacts abroad. The following diagram outlines the key relationships that PAOs juggle on a daily basis (I have highlighted the internal relationship in blue):
Here I will briefly describe the internal relationships which dominate an average PAO’s day, how one tries to get different offices in the embassy and Washington on the same page (often literally), and how a PD officer can deal with the inevitable case of competing priorities.
The PAO Washington relationship is key to success in public diplomacy. Effective PAOs and Information Officers (IO’s), whose focus is the press, generally spend the largest portion of their days aligning themselves with Washington. From the minute s/he wakes up usually very early in the
morning, the PAO (and of course IO) monitors the local press to identify new items which headquarters needs to see. These range from highlighting a story which may require USG comment to giving Washington a feel for stories which affect its interest. The PAO and the staff must always keep US policy in mind in order to determine what to include in the daily press summary and how prominently to place it. The story featured most prominently in the local press may not be included at all or may be placed in the background of the press summary sent to headquarters. Locally Employed Staff, who do the bulk of the monitoring, become highly attuned to USG priorities so that they can highlight appropriate articles. The PAO and IO may also clear on speeches from Washington or guidance for appropriateness to local context to assure that the host government and populace will read the message as intended.
Similarly, the PAO and in concert with the Cultural Affairs Officer ensures that all exchange programs support U.S. policy and that the allocation of resources reflects Department priorities. By example, this meant programming more speakers in Germany to support our economic agenda such as T-TIP and in Pakistan developing programs to reach a more diversified young audience. The PAO and CAO are in frequent contact with Washington to learn of Washington priorities and models of effective programming. All these efforts are to bring Washington and the post on the same page.
But it is a headquarters oriented relationship, which why the line from Washington on the chart above is thicker than that from post to headquarters. The Public Affairs Office in the field receives its funding from Washington with a mandate of explaining and supporting US policy abroad. Often there is a competition among other embassies for resources with the proposal that best supports policy in an innovative manner garnering extra resources. While PAOs may inform policy and provide ‘ground truth’ to Washington with daily press summaries and other reporting, and may backchannel to warn of directives from Washington that could harm U.S. interests, once the policy is set the PAO must enact it to the best of his or her abilities.
Mastering USG policy requires reading the daily Department of State (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/) and White House (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings) Press Briefings, a careful reading of all speeches by the President https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-and-remarks, the Secretary of State http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/speeches/ and other high level officials as well as daily Department guidance and suggested social media content. The PAO must be aware of all high level visitors from Washington to the post and the content of phone conversations between the President or Secretary of State and in-country counterparts. A fine reading of these texts provides PAOs and IOs with an up to date understanding of USG policy to use in daily interactions with press and other contacts. I would argue that the public interaction of PD officers, which receive much of the scholarly attention, is just the tip of the iceberg for the more important task of aligning the officer with Washington views. With this knowledge, the PAO or IO can reply to press queries, correct misconceptions may which may arise in conversations with contacts and ensure that all outreach, including social media supports USG policy. By the same token, the spokesperson in Washington is able to anticipate and prepare for questions using information provided by the field.
To garner extra funds for exchange programs, the PAO must know how to connect proposals to Washington priorities and how to make the case that a program that might on the surface lack connection to policy actually has a direct link. Many of my American and German staff had copies of the strategic goals placed in a prominent position in their offices to underpin any request for funding and other support. End Part 2
The views expressed in the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.
Balancing Relationship Based and Policy Based PD Programming
Public diplomacy activities are traditionally divided between exchanges, which are seen as policy neutral, and short term messaging, which pushes out the latest policy (see: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/241430.pdf.) This division, in fact is reflected in the organization of U.S. public diplomacy sections abroad, which divide broadly into information and cultural sections. The general view is that cultural sections focus on developing lasting relationships through participation in exchanges often with a long-term payoff as contacts rise over a lifetime into positions of influence. The press side of the house does the heavy policy lifting, conveying U.S. policy to broad audiences and reacting quickly to short term developments.
Long Term Short Term
Field Oriented Headquarters Oriented
Relationship Oriented Message Oriented
Largely Two (or more) Way Largely one way
With a vast literature on building collaborative networks, the balance in scholarly literature on PD weighs heavily in favor of the cultural/exchange part of PD and developing relationships with contacts. As Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel noted in an address at the U.S. Institute for Peace (http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/event/cpd-forum-global-leadership-public-diplomacy), when public diplomacy in the US was created, there was a scarcity of information. This provided fertile ground for institutions such as VOA to broadcast news and other programming to information hungry audiences. We have now moved to an infinite supply of information where the real problem is scarcity of attention and ability to process.
David Ronfeldt and others remind us that technological developments such as ubiquitous cell phones, the Internet and social media have hastened the trend. They elevate many-to-many communication over traditional one-to many modes of the broadcast media. Dialogue is valued over messaging, which is viewed as close to propaganda. Thomas Keene, chair of the 9/11 Commission and chair Lee Hamilton emphasized that, “The U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for,” but also concluded, “Public diplomacy is not a one-way street. It is not delivering a message: It is communication … a process of engagement and developing relationships.” There are simply too many players able to convey their message for a government to have a monopoly of information. Although Americans in general have a particular talent for sitting down and having a conversation according to Undersecretary Stengel, he acknowledged that the State Department is much better at one way than two way communication.
Yet arguments can be made for a focus on the right hand side of the diagram as well. The power in the Department of State and US government resides with those who make policy, not those who carry out exchanges. In an era where one expects immediate results in domains from business to diplomacy and the rationale for PD funding is regularly called into question, one must build in some short term results in order to protect long term programs.
An effective senior PD officer, one must live, eat, and breathe US policy. The typical Public Affairs Officer (PAO) will start the day perusing and watching local media to gauge how issues that touch US policy interests are covered. A focus on US policy dominates the entire day from internal meetings to coffees or lunches with contacts such as journalists to representational events in the evening when PAOs may try to explain or defend US policy in multiple conversations. Even in the area of exchanges (the left-hand side of the cline), Washington ties programs closely to headquarter priorities as posts compete for a dwindling resources. Senior PAOs may spend just as much time and energy managing the Washington and internal Embassy relationships as those with their contacts.
In the next six blogs, I will try to argue that the view of cultural and information programs occupying different worlds is a false one which blinds us to areas of overlap and synergy. I will show that money spent on long term exchanges is not a wasted resource that could better be spent supporting short term goals as some argue. I will also show that it is possible to tie exchanges to short term goals without sacrificing program integrity. The biggest payoff should still remain the long term benefit as alumni of our programs often become the most credible interpreters if not advocates for our policy. Meanwhile academics studying public diplomacy often forget that the underlying rationale for public diplomacy is to support policy objectives.
I will attempt to bridge the gap with suggestions for making exchanges more policy oriented and messaging more dialogic. I will recommend that scholars of PD devote more time and attention to activities that support policy and that are key to how government measures the success of PD programming. I will also recommend that headquarters review the importance of establishing and maintaining long term relationships.
In the next two blogs I will focus on internal relationships within the Department of State bureaucracy and maintain that the most important public diplomacy is often internal to the organization. Blog four will focus on the exchange side of the equation with suggestions for garnering more short term payoffs. Entry five will include a model which eliminates the exchange policy gap altogether with a focus on policy with indirect and direct goals. Entry six will include recommendations for both scholars of PD and practitioners within the government for bridging the gap between long term exchanges and short term policy PD. The final entry will describe pedagogical implications of a more policy-focused approach. (End of Part 1)
Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.
Speaking in both Spanish and English, Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University Frank Sesno described in his introductory remarks the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba as the threshold of a new era. Hosted at George Washington University on September 9, the program— a collaboration with GWU’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Affairs, the Department of State, and Sister Cities International–brought together approximately 200 representatives of NGOs, universities, think tanks, government, and the private sector to discuss academic and citizen exchanges with Cuba. Sesno emphasized the importance of building bridges through exchanges and GWU’s intention to strengthen relations further between the peoples of the United States and Cuba. Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan described the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba as a historic moment that comes along once in a lifetime. She noted that “the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the easing of some restrictions on trade and travel open a door to exploring a new relationship and creating a new paradigm to define relations between the United States and Cuba and between the American people and the Cuban people.” She added that ”people-to-people exchanges play a unique and critical role, helping people to build bridges where gaps exist, breaking down barriers that separate people of goodwill, building connections that engage and empower people, motivating them to become leaders and thinkers, and helping participants use their skills and develop new ones, which improves their communities.”
Mary Kane, President and CEO of Sister Cities International, informed the audience that nine Sister City members have already built relationships with Cuban cities, which include cultural and educational exchanges as well as humanitarian relief. Sister city relationships develop citizen diplomats who learn from each other and form relationships of trust which lay the foundations for peace and prosperity.
The first panel was moderated by professor at GWU and former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, P. J. Crowley. Crowley stated that in contrast to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took place almost 26 yearsago, the Cold War in this hemisphere ended just a few months ago. As the United States seeks to build bridges, people around the world pay particular attention to what we do, not just what we say–and there is no more powerful statement than President Obama fundamentally changing the U.S. policy approach on Cuba. The State Department’s Deputy Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, Joan Perkins, described the new policy approach of engagement as unchartered territory. She noted that while the re-establishment of diplomatic relations is a milestone, our goal with respect to Cuba remains the same — to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. She described normalization as a long and complicated process that will take time and involve continuous dialogue by both countries. Perkins expressed the hope that the easing of travel restrictions will continue to facilitate exchanges because as President Obama has stated, our citizens are our best ambassadors. Jeff Braunger of the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control noted that the relaxation in the travel regulations can facilitate exchanges but emphasized that tourism to Cuba is still not allowed. Alan Christian of the Department of Commerce Bureau for Industry and Security explained regulatory changes that support the Cuban people such as the easing of restrictions on gifts to Cubans and of exports supporting the private sector. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Private Sector Exchange Robin Lerner described the privately funded J-1 program, which brings approximately 280,000 visitors from overseas to the United States annually for work and study based exchanges supported by private organizations. Last year, 49 exchange visitors from Cuba came to the United States on J-1 programs, mostly as short-term scholars conducting joint research at research institutions, museums, or libraries. With time, she noted that there could be an increase in the number of J-1 exchanges with Cuba.
The second panel, moderated by U.S. Embassy Havana’s Deputy Public Affairs Officer Lydia Barraza, offered a glimpse into existing private collaboration between Cubans and Americans. Jennifer Attal Allen, President and Executive Director of Academic Programs International, provided facts and figures on the educational system and outlined the procedure for entering into educational exchanges and acquiring visas. Michael Eizenberg, President of the Educational Travel Alliance, who has traveled to Cuba more than 60 times in the last 15 years, stressed the similarities between Americans and Cubans and the easily established rapport both sides enjoy. Eizenberg described all participants as winners and underscored the need for exchanges to go in both directions. Cynthia Vidaurri of the National Museum of the American Indian and Curator of Smithsonian Folklife Festival on Cuba described the incredible sophistication of the Cuban scholars and recommended deep engagement and reciprocity in establishing long-term programs in Cuba. Finally, Adam Kaplan, Vice President of Sister Cities International, described activities by the nine current Sister Cities members with relationships with Cuban cities and advocated for the development of long-term, multi-sector partnerships by communities under the sister cities model.
In his closing remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Gonzalo Gallegos described the remarkable evolution in Cuba-U.S. relations since he was posted there 12 years ago, stating that during his assignment in Cuba, his job was to highlight differences between our two governments, whereas today it is important to emphasize similarities between the two peoples. Gallegos urged participants to be creative and collaborate with citizens, universities, and NGOs in developing programs that can advance what the President started and foster mutual understanding. GWU Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Affairs Sean Aday described GWU’s commitment to supporting further relations between theU.S. and Cuba and underlined some themes running through the conference, including that developing exchanges demands time and patience as one overcomes issues of protocol and paperwork and as one listens to partners to understand their needs. He noted that peer–to-peer exchanges can be the most powerful, whether it be military to military or artist to artist.
Lively question and answer sessions followed each panel. Some questions that could not be addressed during the program will be answered in follow-up e-mail messages. In networking sessions, participants exchanged experiences (and business cards) among themselves and with the panelists, exploring areas of future collaboration. The most common piece of feedback seemed to be that we host more events like these.
Other resources on the symposium:
Digital diplomacy is a complement to traditional diplomacy because it can reach specific audiences in a more timely, relevant, and flexible way. Jed Shein, co-founder of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, said that digital diplomacy is “about recognizing where people are spending time today, where they are the most active, and how they receive that information.”
In fact, the fundamentals of public diplomacy can be found at the basis of digital diplomacy. It’s equally important for the State Department to recognize a target audience, identify the appropriate medium of information and choose the correct information platform when presenting a public diplomacy initiative online as it is in person.
The true essence of digital diplomacy is flexibility. Digital diplomacy efforts can be enacted across different online platforms including official blogs, social media pages, and websites, with relative ease. However, the savants are those who show a demonstrated ability to differentiate between content type and online platform type. Many have not strengthened their online presence as much as they would like because they follow the common misconception that all digital platforms are created equal. While there is a place for official policy documents on official websites, social media pages are not the right place. Foreign ministries should post content that engages the local audiences and creates dialogue through videos, images, and text on social media networks.
It is encouraging to see the international diplomatic community embracing digital diplomacy. On January 30, the United Nations organized the inaugural Social Media Day at its headquarters in New York City. The event was a collaborative effort between the United Nations, Digital Diplomacy Coalition and a number of international countries. This one-day event involved panel discussions, briefings from social media experts, as well a hashtag campaign using #socialUN.
The event also allowed anyone online to livestream the event on YouTube. This effort on the UN’s part showed the flexibility and relevance of digital diplomacy. For instance, the #socialUN campaign connected diplomats at the same event while the online video stream attracted foreign publics that were unable to attend the event in person. Furthermore, UN Social Media Day showed that digital diplomacy can strengthen multilateral efforts between nations and collaborate alongside new civil society partners.
The Digital Diplomacy Coalition is a new partner from civil society that is taking entirely new approaches to building connections within the diplomatic community using technology. While they don’t conduct diplomacy on behalf of a particular nation, the Digital Diplomacy Coalition is an “international, independent, volunteer-based organization,” that fosters a collaborative environment for members of the diplomatic, international and technology communities “to leverage digital technologies for diplomacy.”
Originally founded by Scott Nolan Smith, Roos Kouwenhoven, Jed Shein and Floris Winters in 2012, the organization has collaborated alongside the likes of tech titans such as Google, Fosterly, Tumblr, universities such as Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University and Georgetown University as well as the foreign ministries of Canada, Jordan, Peru, Kosovo, and Italy among many other nations. By bringing influential people from tech, government and international spheres, The Digital Diplomacy coalition is creating an environment that is realizing the potential of digital diplomacy challenges and best practices.
The U.S. government is also looking for innovative ways to drive digital diplomacy efforts. In 2013, the State Department announced the launch of the Collaboratory, an effort to use technology to drive public diplomacy efforts. Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, explained that the program would serve as a “platform to collaborate, incubate and pilot new ideas that amplify people to people exchanges and connect people using technologies.” The Collaboratory will provide additional opportunities for public-private partnership as well as new programming ideas that are both timely and relevant for local audiences.
However, innovation in the digital diplomacy space cannot simply result in the recycling of old content. Innovation must be driven by entirely new forms of content that engage local populations in a personal manner. The efforts of New York artist Amir Bakshi is the type of innovation needed in digital diplomacy. In late 2014, Bakshi launched “Portals”, a contemporary art project that brings people together from opposite corners of the world through videoconference and a recycled shipping container. The first Portal connected New Yorkers with Iranian citizens who could see the life-size projection of their counterpart as they discussed issues related to daily life.
Bakshi’s New York exhibit also captured the attention of journalist, Fareed Zakaria and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock who signed up to participate in the cultural exchange. The Collaboratory could use a similar citizen-driven approach to create a digital diplomacy initiative that provides Americans and foreign citizens with the opportunities to become 21st century pen-pals. This type of initiative could also be more sustainable because local and foreign citizens have a hand in the diplomacy making process by driving the content themselves.
As the international arena moves further into the 21st century, which countries will adopt digital diplomacy as part of the status quo? What challenges will they face? Comment below.
Continuing our series in highlighting the interviews Walter Roberts conducted with former fellow Mark Taplin, this week’s installment features Walter discussing how Yugoslavia got a Fulbright program in the 1960s:
The New York Times also published an article in 1964 that discussed Senator J.W. Fulbright and former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, William R. Tyler, pending visit to Belgrade the following November to sign the agreement.
By Mark Taplin, Former Public Diplomacy Fellow, George Washington University
In 2010, while I was assigned to George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs as a State Department Public Diplomacy Fellow, I had the good fortune to conduct an on-camera interview with Dr. Walter R. Roberts – a U.S. diplomat, broadcaster and scholar who lived a long, extraordinary life in public diplomacy.
The interview, which took place over two sessions in February and April of that year, was done under the auspices of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), with the support of the university’s Documentary Center. The interview clips are now available on IPDGC’s YouTube channel.
Dr. Roberts first came to the U.S. in 1939 as a graduate student and refugee from his native Austria. He began his career at the Voice of America, at the very outset of the U.S. government’s wartime information effort. At the end of World War II, Walter transferred to the State Department’s Austria desk before joining the newly organized U.S. Information Agency in 1953. He served at USIA with distinction over two decades, occupying a number of senior posts in Washington as well as in Yugoslavia where he worked as U.S. Ambassador George F. Kennan’s public affairs counselor.
After his retirement from federal service, Dr. Roberts taught public diplomacy at George Washington University’s Elliott School, in what was certainly one of the first U.S. university courses devoted to the study of international information programs. He was a prolific writer throughout his life – on international broadcasting, on diplomacy, on Yugoslavia and on many other topics – and created a fund that supports the study of public diplomacy, the Walter R. Roberts Endowment.
Dr. Roberts passed away in June 2014, at 97, remarkably lucid and insightful to the very end. His seventy-some years of professional involvement in the field of public diplomacy were unprecedented; accordingly, his recollections and observations are particularly valuable to scholars and practitioners alike.
In the introduction to his article, “The Paradoxes of Propaganda,” John Brown discusses a rather famous Nazi-era film—widely considered to be propaganda—called Triumph of the Will. Propaganda is one of those terms that often get lumped in with public diplomacy, but in fact there are key differences, both in their purpose and practice.
Today, propaganda is nearly used as a pejorative, a one-sided tool to persuade publics through manipulation, symbols and tricky language. Public diplomacy, on the other hand, is a means of explanation (without necessarily feeding conclusions), and can involve not only an output, but a listening and responding component as well (Melissen, The New Public Diplomacy, 2005).
Triumph of the Will was largely a domestic success, but was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response outside of Germany; Brown explains that such blatant and obvious propaganda could create “deep popular hostility toward the propagandists who are seen as the perpetrators of lies.” The lesson of Triumph? Sometimes, the best propaganda doesn’t look like propaganda.
Nonetheless, this type of propaganda could—and would—have serious historical consequences. This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and this year will mark similar anniversaries for concentration camps all over Europe. It marks the anniversary of when the world was first beginning to truly uncover the extent of Nazi crimes against humanity, document them and vow ‘Never Again.’ When General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his troops discovered Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchchenwald, in April 1945, he radioed back to Washington:
In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda’ (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Ohrdruf”, 2014)
Eisenhower also requested to bring journalists over to document what he found and bring it to public attention. The resulting reporting and photographs, while not specifically intended to be propaganda, do in fact represent yet another example of Brown’s paradoxes of propaganda: The photographs of liberated concentration camp survivors were certainly not meant to propagandize in the style of Triumph of the Will, but that may be what made them most powerful and effective.
Normally, propaganda is one of those words that leave a nasty taste in peoples’ mouths, but as J. Michael Sproule notes in Channels of Propaganda, “society exempts propaganda from condemnation when social influence is perceived to be in the general interest” (1994). There were no agendas with these photographs—that’s part of their effectiveness as not necessarily anti-Nazi, but pro-humanity.
It is important to be aware of the difference between propaganda and public diplomacy; one involves listening, communicating and explaining policies, while the other involves forcing a message. As the photos and film of concentration camps show, propaganda can influence a society to dangerous ends. While propaganda may have helped spur the events that would lead to the Holocaust, good public diplomacy can perhaps help ensure it never does again.
With increasing anti-Semitic sentiments and physical attacks toward Jews making a comeback in Europe, as well as an ongoing undercurrent of Holocaust denial in the Middle East, this is a relevant topic more than ever. A timely Holocaust documentary, Night Will Fall, is finally seeing the light of day this year almost seven decades after it was originally commissioned by the British government, then shelved due to Cold War politics.
Unlike with public diplomacy, one of Brown’s paradoxes about propaganda was that one must hate it to do it well; filming the aftermath of a state-sanctioned attempt at genocide was certainly no easy task. Documentation like this may not work like propaganda in the traditional sense, but that’s part of its paradoxical beauty.
Miriam Smallman is a junior studying journalism at The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.