I had the pleasure and privilege to attend yesterday’s meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors as a member of the public. The session featured two fascinating presentations and discussions. First, Voice of America Director David Ensor gave an inspirational presentation on the mission, goals, accomplishments, and challenges facing the Voice of America. Later, we listened to an insightful panel on Technology and Innovation that featured Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Coordinator for International Information Programs at the U.S. Department of State Macon Phillips, and Chief Technology Officer for the Atlantic Media Group Tom Cochran.
Among the many important issues raised in these discussions are a few key themes facing all of us who are engaged in the practice of public diplomacy. The dominant issue – as is often the case – is how to use our scarce resources most effectively. For the VOA, an organization with a multiplicity of missions (providing independent news, explaining U.S. policy, teaching English, training journalists, etc.) operating all around the world, this requires difficult choices on which audiences to target and which missions to prioritize. David Ensor pointed out, for example, that VOA recently cut the Croatian service after assessing that we have higher priorities elsewhere and that the audience there has ready access to other sources of independent news. Another way to make the most of limited resources would be for VOA to explore partnerships with like-minded media outlets and other organizations engaged in English teaching and journalism training (including the U.S. Department of State and USAID). Asked about the value of particular programs and broadcasts on American music, David Ensor gave a passionate and largely persuasive (in my view) defense of how these programs help Americans connect with foreign audiences around the world.
The VOA discussion featured a number of comparisons with broadcasting organizations of other countries like CCTV, Russia Today, and the BBC (usually to illustrate that VOA is relatively underfunded). BBG Governor Matt Armstrong highlighted a key point, however, when he remarked that unlike those organizations the VOA is not seeking to secure a permanent market share in each of its overseas areas of activity. Instead, the VOA is ultimately seeking to put itself out of business in each of these areas by encouraging the development of local, independent media sources (i.e., by “exporting the First Amendment”).
Unspoken but implied was the suggestion that we should be careful when we compare VOA and its sister broadcasting agencies with official foreign broadcasters. VOA Director David Ensor agreed, in part, but countered that we may ultimately decide that we should maintain at least some presence in order to explain U.S. policies. Personally speaking, I agree with Matt Armstrong and am inclined to believe that the U.S. Department of State can fulfill that function in said markets, while perhaps relying in part on VOA’s English-language resources available at the Washington headquarters and its online platforms.
The Innovation panel also proved exceptionally interesting, highlighting the significant challenges that technology poses for the BBG (and the State Department). Netflix CEO Reed Hastings emphasized the need to always keep the big picture of the future in mind if we hope to develop tools and programs that will be effective in the future. He noted, for example, that Netflix always believed that streaming video was the future of the company and that snail mail DVDs were always considered an interim measure. Likewise, we in public diplomacy should all keep in mind that in another 20 or 30 years the internet will be everywhere, even overseas (a remark that caused many in the audience to ponder a future when television and radio will simply be obsolete).
Another interesting theme was the benefits and dangers of “personalization” (using technology to deliver customized content to individuals as Netflix does) and “balkanization” (the development of virtual “gated communities” in which there are no longer public squares and water coolers where people are forced to debate issues of general interest).
Finally, IIP’s Macon Phillips, who recently joined the State Department after heading up the White House’s digital outreach efforts, described the challenges that he faces of leveraging technology and our public diplomacy personnel and platforms overseas to engage foreign publics in a meaningful way that not only communicates, but also helps advance our policies. He mentioned an initiative that he helped launch at the White House – “We The People” – that allows people to submit petitions and, if they gather enough signatures, receive a response from the White House. A possible model for a similar State Department initiative?
A couple of great discussions and a lot of food for thought!
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.
Tara Sonenshine, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and currently a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs will address the United Kingdom’s House of Lords “Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence” via videotape on Monday, December 16 at 5:15 p.m. London time (12:15 p.m. Washington time).
The live testimony will take place at the British Embassy in Washington. The evidence session is public and a verbatim transcript will be posted on the British Parliamentary website shortly after the oral evidence session at this link: http://www.parliament.uk/soft-power-and-uks-influence. The Select Committee was formed May 16, 2013 to examine how soft power reflects national interest.
Ms. Sonenshine will be addressing issues related to the use of “soft power,” “hard power” and “smart power” and how public diplomacy is utilized with respect to international policy. Questions will be posed by the Chairman and other members of the Committee who are all Member of the House of Lords.
Ms. Sonenshine has high level experience in both government and the media, having served in the White House, State Department, and as Executive Vice President at the United States Institute of Peace. In earlier years, she was Editorial Producer of ABC News Nightline and a Contributing Editor at Newsweek. At her current position at George Washington University, she writes on a variety of topics related to public diplomacy and international relations.
A recent opinion piece in the Huffington Post raises some interesting issues about the Peace Corps and its relationship to official U.S. public diplomacy efforts overseas. I’d like to begin by professing my appreciation and admiration for the Peace Corps and the many thousands of volunteers who are serving or have served around the world. Although I am no development expert and cannot speak to their accomplishments in that regard, I have long appreciated the valuable contributions that Peace Corps volunteers make towards advancing our public diplomacy efforts.
For millions of foreigners around the world, a Peace Corps volunteer is, or was literally, the “face” of the United States, the only direct interaction they may have had with a U.S. citizen in their entire lives. Judging by my personal interaction over a career that has brought me into contact with hundreds of bright, enthusiastic, and dedicated volunteers, I am confident that those interactions are overwhelmingly positive and reflect favorably on the United States.
In addition to highlighting the Peace Corps’ public diplomacy mission in the article, Mr. Machado points out the considerable efforts expended to ensure that the Peace Corps remains an independent entity from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. military. While I can certainly appreciate the bureaucratic need to maintain such independence, I am also concerned that it comes at the cost of less-than-ideal cooperation and coordination of our shared public diplomacy objectives. Mr. Machado correctly points out that foreigners rarely draw a distinction between Peace Corps volunteers and other official U.S. representatives. Perhaps we should acknowledge that simple fact and develop better procedures to synchronize our efforts.
In many countries around the world, this is already happening. The Peace Corps, where it has an on-the-ground presence, is, of course, part of the Country Team led by the U.S. Ambassador. Working together on those teams, Peace Corps Country Directors and Public Affairs Officers have seen the compelling logic of close coordination. When I was the Public Affairs Officer at one of my overseas postings, for example, I worked closely with the Country Director to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps by profiling a few talented volunteers and on nationally televised news programs. The programs were viewed by hundreds of thousands of locals who marveled not only at the volunteers’ command of their language, but also of the dialects of the local communities where they worked. In a separate collaboration we partnered volunteers with local American Corners, invigorating those key public diplomacy platforms with English language clubs and other activities. I know that similar collaboration takes place in many other countries as well.
At the same time, I worry that the perceived need to maintain “distance” between the Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of State may lead us to miss such opportunities to leverage our respective investments in public diplomacy for maximum impact. The simple reality is that foreign perceptions and opinions of the United States cannot be compartmentalized, but will instead be shaped by a combination of factors, including opinions of U.S. policy and military interventions, American pop culture and American tourists abroad, consumption of U.S. products and services, as well as direct interaction with Peace Corps volunteers and official U.S. public diplomacy programs. Let’s recognize this and get on with maximizing opportunities to cooperate and collaborate not only between Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of State, but between all U.S. government agencies. In fact, to the extent that we share objectives – and I know that we often do – we should do the same with the private and non-governmental sectors as well.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. Government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.
This is the first in a series of posts on life, culture, and politics in the U.S. and E.U. by Robert Entman, who spent 2012 as a Humboldt Research Prize Scholar at Freie Universität in Berlin. He has also spent extended periods in Madrid and Paris.
This is an account not only of things done but of thoughts thought, especially those pertinent to my various pet peeves about US politics and life.
Bottom line: I did return with some small added appreciation of the US in some ways, after seeing the US more through European eyes. In particular, the notion they have that the US is freer and more flexible, more open to innovative, creative ideas, seems to have some validity. That’s the flip side of Europe’s possession of a long history—and Europeans’ deep appreciation of it.
It is their historical memory, the constant awareness of cultural heritage and connections that make Europe and Europeans so charming and fascinating to me. (Of course I’m generalizing in calling it “Europe” rather than individual countries but I think this is generally true throughout.). It is Americans’ maddening obliviousness to history of 10 or 20 years ago let alone 300 that drives me nuts, but the downside to Europeans’ quite opposite hyperawareness of history’s presence every day that also apparently makes them somewhat more rigid when asked to change a practice or think up a new solution.
I wouldn’t exaggerate this tendency toward caution about change, not at all, because there’s so much evidence that Europeans can and do accommodate change. Just think about the movement from crazy nationalism to the EU, from fear and distrust of the Iron Curtain to integration (albeit imperfect) of so many Eastern European countries into the West, or the adaptation of wind power and solar power.
Obviously the US has its own enormous prejudices and rigidities and especially ignorance (though I understand a bit better why Americans tend to be ignorant and indifferent to the perspectives of foreigners, at least compared to the average European). (More on that later.) But it did occur to me this year while seeing all the traces of the US everywhere in Europe, from IPhones (indeed all telephones) to Hollywood movies to laptops, and while hearing so many Europeans talk in glowing terms about their trips to New York or Washington or California, and while noting the Starbucks and the McDonald’s which market themselves as a kind of exotic luxury because they’re so American, all this tells me the US does have a degree of openness to innovation, especially commercial/business innovation, i.e. creativity that can earn money, that is unusual in the world. (Two different people in Paris—Paris!—told me DC is their very favorite city, as did somebody else in the enchanting city of Copenhagen, and several in Berlin told me how much more they like NYC.)
Allied to this are such obvious characteristics as the huge size, which makes Europeans marvel at how far you can go and still be in the same country speaking the same language: the big cars, the big houses, the skyscrapers. So that, whereas I come to Europe and love the narrow streets and center cities with their height restricted-buildings, and especially the way everything is smaller from the apartments to the washing machines, waste baskets and cars, Europeans look at the wide open US and its room for everything big and see a kind of dynamic, youthful optimism and openness to just about anything.
It’s not really a contradiction to note at the same time that the Europeans adore America’s open culture and landscapes, they tend to puzzle at the Americans’ political choices. The more politically interested people do have a lot of hostility to the US. At my Buddhist retreat—where everyone is above average in leftist sympathies—outside Lockerbie, Scotland, several people told me they were surprised I am an American because I’m nice and fairly unassuming, rather than arrogant and loud.
But I’d say more dominant is bewilderment at how inanities like denial of climate change and evolution, or scandals over political leaders’ private sex lives, or refusal of gun control, or election/selection for high office of the obviously mediocre like George W. Bush or Sarah Palin, can happen in a place otherwise so seemingly overflowing with intelligence and talent. I guess the hostility comes more from US foreign policy than anything else, whereas the puzzlement comes over the strength, extremity and dogmatism of America’s right wing and its religious conservatives. More on that in a later entry.
On Saturday, Olympic Committee delegates chose Tokyo (over Istanbul and Madrid) to host the 2020 Summer Olympic games. Meanwhile, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit recently announced that they will spearhead an effort to support Washington as the host of the 2024 games (Washington Post article here).
Competitions to host the Olympic games inevitably generate considerable controversy and criticism about the merits (or lack thereof) of hosting the games. Most of the debate focuses on the economic costs and benefits involved.
Little attention is paid, however, to listing the intangible benefits of hosting such a major event. Public diplomacy should be high on any such list. Hosting the Olympics is a unique opportunity to attract international attention – not only hundreds of thousands of tourists, but also many millions of television viewers – and to shape a powerful and positive narrative of the host country, city, and its people. Recent hosts, most notably China, worked hard to capitalize on this very opportunity.
There are obvious risks for the host, of course, including the possibility of a man-made or natural disaster, as well as the potential for groups to use the event to highlight particular political agendas. Russia, for example, currently faces precisely such a challenge with regard to its record on LGBT issues and the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi. That said, perhaps no other event has quite the same potential for national rebranding and polishing of a country’s image than the feel-good vibes of the peaceful competition, international camaraderie, and mutual understanding epitomized by the Olympic Games.
While the nay-sayers will have their say, I have no doubt that leaders in Japan, Turkey, and Spain all had this in mind as they lobbied for the 2020 games. Congratulations to Japan (and good luck to Turkey and Spain in their future bids) for securing this incredible public diplomacy opportunity!
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.
Take Five’s blog post series on Public Diplomacy in the Field — Part Two
Background: As a State Department Fellow at GWU’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), I’ve observed 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.
As noted last week, the series showcases current field reporting highlights in U.S. public diplomacy work – through the lens of key PD principles and themes. Today’s theme is Building Relationships. Last week’s was Opinion Leaders. Future topics will include: Messaging Creatively; Crisis Zones; Arts as Communication; and more.
As always, readers, I welcome your interest and feedback.
New Wine in Old Bottles: Relationships in Public Diplomacy
Academic proponents of the “new public diplomacy” emphasize relationship building over the one-way messaging approach perceived to have dominated public diplomacy in the past. “The new public diplomacy moves away from — to put it crudely — peddling information to foreigners and keeping the foreign press at bay, towards engaging with foreign audiences” notes Jan Melissen (p. 13). RS Zaharna, in “Mapping Out a Spectrum of Public Diplomacy Initiatives” (here, p. xx) argues that “within [a] relationship framework, education and cultural exchange programs, cultural institutes and cultural relations represent a category of initiatives that use culture as a vehicle for building relationships.”
Meanwhile, Mette Lending (Section I) takes the broad view that “cultural exchange is not only ‘art’ and ‘culture’ but also communicating a country’s thinking, research, journalism and national debate,” and “the traditional areas of cultural exchange become part of a new type of international communication and the growth of ‘public diplomacy’ becomes a reaction to the close connection between cultural, press and information activities, as a result of new social, economic and political realities.” Finally, from Melissen again (p 22), “…the new emphasis on public diplomacy confirms the fact that the familiar divide between cultural and information activities is being eradicated.”
There is much to consider in the above concepts, and even more so in the detailed elaboration of these ideas that all three scholars and many others have brought to discussions of the “new” public diplomacy.
One caveat, however, is that these ideas are presented as new prescriptions for action, whereas the U.S. — perhaps unlike most European states — has long intermeshed its international information programs with cultural diplomacy, its messaging efforts with relationship building, and its arts exchanges with an emphasis on civil society development. Thus, at least to this veteran PD officer, the “new public diplomacy” seems perhaps more like a fully-developed ‘Platonic Ideal’ of what we have long practiced, rather than something qualitatively new.
Nevertheless, it is certainly true that the 21st Century has intensified the importance of bringing a relational, interactive, mutually productive approach to international affairs, and specifically to public diplomacy. As Joseph Nye explains in his seminal 2004 work Soft Power (p. 4-5), “[On the level of] transnational issues like terrorism, international crime, climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases, power is widely distributed and chaotically organized among state and nonstate actors. … [This is the set of issues that is now intruding into the world of grand strategy." And Brian Hocking (in Melissen 1999, p 31) had previously characterized the "growing symbiosis between state and non-state activities as 'catalytic diplomacy' in which political entities act in coalitions rather than relying on their individual resources."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also cites such developments, noting that “we are living in what I call the Age of Participation. Economic, political, and technological changes have empowered people everywhere to shape their own destinies in ways previous generations could never have imagined.” And the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft plan elaborates, explaining that “the U.S. is responding to shifts in international relations by … complementing traditional foreign policy tools with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft that fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world."
It is in this context that Take Five continues our series on U.S. public diplomacy in the field, with the following examples from recent months – highlights distributed by the Office of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine (noted with *).
They are grouped according to specific concepts drawn from the scholarly works mentioned above, with the goal not only of showing how “new public diplomacy” principles are already being put into practice, but also of generating thinking on how PD could be even better informed by academia's powerful and insightful ideas.
In other words, how the “new wine” of relational thinking can fill up the “old bottles” of long-valued program tools to create 21st Century public diplomacy with an exceptional bouquet.
1) "Public diplomacy builds on trust and credibility, and it often works best with a long horizon. It is, however, realistic to aspire to influencing the milieu factors that constitute the psychological and political environment in which attitudes and policies towards other countries are debated." (Melissen 2007, p. 15)
* Ambassador Eisen Marches in Prague Pride Parade and Delivers Remarks: Ambassador Eisen and a group from the U.S. Embassy marched in the 2nd annual Pride Parade in Prague on August 18, 2012. Parade participants walked from Wenceslas Square to Střelecký Island accompanied by floats with music and dancers. This event supported Embassy Prague's goals to promote tolerance and protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights. Ambassador Eisen took the opportunity to emphasize that “one of the many reasons why relations between the Czech Republic and the United States have flourished over the past century is because of our countries’ shared values regarding human rights.”
* Historic Encounter between Indigenous Peoples of the USA and Paraguay: Public Affairs Section Asuncion hosted a Native American dance group from Arizona, the Yellow Bird Apache Dance Productions. The group met with Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) alumni and their indigenous communities in Paraguay. In partnership with the Ministry of Education's Indigenous Schools Department, the group traveled across Paraguay to meet, sing and dance with the Enxlet, Nivacle, Western Guarani and Pai-Tavytera communities. They also met with the governors of two provinces who welcomed their presence and encouraged more outreach to their indigenous populations. The visit provided some moving encounters between the Original Peoples of North and South America that broke down barriers, built bridges and encouraged development initiatives.
* Art Without Artificial Boundaries: Embassy Celebrates Freedom of Artistic Expression: More than 300 musicians, filmmakers, photographers, artists, designers, actors and other guests gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on July 11 to celebrate freedom of artistic expression. This annual Embassy music festival provides talented Belarusian musicians an opportunity to perform despite restrictions imposed due to their political views or social activism. This year's event featured, in addition to musical groups of various genres, several artistic exhibitions and showcased a documentary about the challenges that Belarusian musicians and other artistic personalities continue to face. Such restrictions are "incomprehensible for a country in the center of Europe in the third millennium," noted Chargé d’Affaires Michael Scanlan.
* Positive Coverage of Cairo 'Open Mic' Event: At least five television stations and newspapers covered an 'Open Mic' sexual harassment awareness event at the U.S. Embassy Information Resource Center in Egypt last week. More than 80 people from different backgrounds and ages discussed harassment on Cairo's streets and at the work place, as well as solutions. Both women and men spoke courageously, giving personal context to the growing problem and demonstrating the need for change. Participants expressed an interest in future cooperation with the embassy on the issue, and the Facebook event page became a discussion board on which the dialogue continued.
2) An intermediate-advanced “second tier” approach involves programs that "encompass social groupings such as institutions, communities, or societies. … The benefit of integrating foreign participants at this level is that not only do they take partial ownership of the program, but they can provide valuable cultural knowledge and indigenous connections." (Zaharna, p. 94)
* Smithsonian Spark!Lab Opens in Ukraine: On September 5 Ambassador John T. Tefft opened the Smithsonian-Lemelson Center's Spark!Lab, a month-long exhibit at the Art Arsenal Museum (Mystetskyi Arsenal) in Kyiv supported by a Public Affairs Section grant. Smithsonian-Lemelson Center Deputy Director Jeff Brody and Ukrainian Ombudsman for Children's Rights Yuri Pavlenko also participated in the opening. This is the first international exhibit of Spark!Lab, which encourages kids to conceive, design, build and develop their inventions in an interactive laboratory. Over 200 educators, students and young volunteers were on hand for the opening, which was covered by major television stations. Thousands of students are expected to visit the exhibit, which is staffed by volunteers from local universities who are trained by Lemelson Center education specialists. Spark! Lab is the Public Diplomacy contribution to the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission's Science and Technology Working Group.
* Consulate Istanbul Hosts Iftar for the Neighborhood: Approximately 500 people joined the U.S. Consul General, the Sarıyer Mayor, several Sarıyer City Council members, neighborhood muftis and imams, and American Consulate families for an Iftar on August 15. The dinner received praise in local media and by Mission Turkey leadership as one of its best public diplomacy events, demonstrating U.S. respect for Turkish culture and thanks to the Consulate's neighbors.
* Ambassador and American Rabbi Meet Young Muslims in Cameroon: Ambassador Jackson addressed members of the Cameroon Muslim Students Union (CAMSU), the most influential Muslim youth organization in the country, at their annual conference in Douala. … [T]he Embassy has had relations with CAMSU for over a decade and its president is a recent International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alum. The Embassy also supported the visit of Rabbi Abraham Ingber, Founding Director of Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University in Cincinnati, as a speaker at the conference. Rabbi Ingber was invited to the conference by CAMSU president Ismail Boyomo, who met Ingber during his participation in the 2012 IVLP program on Religious Tolerance and Interfaith Dialogue.
3) “[C]ulture does not appear to be the only vehicle nor do cultural programs constitute the most sophisticated relationship-building strategies.” (Zaharna, p. 86)
* TechWomen Mentorship Program Commences in San Francisco: From across the Middle East and North Africa, 41 women leaders in technology arrived in California on September 5, to begin a five-week professional mentorship program with their American counterparts. Professional mentors come from over thirty technology companies in Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco area including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Oracle, which hosted an orientation for the group.
* TechCamp Launches in Senegal: Embassy Dakar Public Affairs and Economic Sections helped launch the first-ever global TechCamp in Africa. After an opening reception with remarks by Ambassador Lukens and tech guru Marieme Jamme, TechCamp took off for two packed days of interactive sessions around mobile agriculture, or “mAgriculture.” Participants interacted with 71 different agricultural non-governmental organizations (NGO) and learned from 20 “technologists,” including 10 international trainers. Agriculture is crucial to Senegal’s development. 87% of the population owns a mobile device, while only 20% have direct access to the Internet. Getting the NGOs to learn about and engage in mAgriculture can propel Senegal’s agricultural development. TechCamp gave the Public Affairs Section the opportunity to engage with new groups of young entrepreneurs and to showcase Senegal as a leading partner with the U.S. in high tech solutions to economic development.
* U.S. Embassy Brings Google Scientists to Brasilia: Proving that science is the international language of cool, young computer scientists from Google pulled in a crowd of 400 students at Brasilia’s Marista High School for an interactive presentation entitled “You Can Do Computer Science!” U.S. Embassy Brasilia and its IIP-supported Information Resource Center sponsored both programs. Just a few years out of college themselves, the Google scientists provided students with a great example of opportunities available to youth while demonstrating the role science can play in public diplomacy outreach. The scientists also spoke at the Brasilia Science Corner, a joint project between U.S. Embassy Brasilia and the Brazilian National Council for Technological and Scientific Development.
4) Such programs also include “non-political networking schemes” — in which “PD officers in essence become network weavers. Non-political networking schemes build relationships between like-minded individuals or institutions working on a variety of areas such as science, health, environment, or literacy promotion.” (Zaharna, p. 95)
* Jerusalem Conference Connects Israeli Musicians with American Experts: Embassy Tel Aviv connected Israeli musicians to the dynamic U.S. music market by bringing U.S. music industry experts to participate in various panels at the multi-day Jerusalem Music Conference. Local and foreign professionals and artists enjoyed an interactive panel on the U.S. music industry and trends moderated by Cultural Affairs Officer Michele Dastin-van Rijn. The conference, modeled on Austin’s SXSW, created a unique platform for networking and collaboration between Jewish and Arab musicians.
* South Asian Alumni Discuss Climate Change: On August 29, Embassy Islamabad hosted a multi-country digital video conference for alumni of U.S. government exchange programs in order to engage across borders on environmental issues. Alumni from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal discussed drought, solid waste, and potable drinking water. There was a consensus that the younger generation should promote regional cooperation on environmental problems, and that alumni should work to raise awareness among youth. Other suggestions included sharing data and technology, updating regional cooperation documents, increased dialogue among environmental professionals, the mobilization of civil society, promoting policy on climate change, and the participation of Afghanistan as a full member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation rather than in an observer capacity.
* Making a Difference for Women Entrepreneurs: When IIP recently promoted non-governmental organization Ashoka’s “She Will Innovate” competition, a small business owner in Colombia connected with an Ecuadorian university’s entrepreneur club, which offered its web design and social media expertise for free. Now the owner will soon have a website, thanks to IIP’s Spanish-language Facebook community for aspiring entrepreneurs, Iniciativa Emprende.
* YAL Alumnus Spreads the Word on Youth Entrepreneurship: Zimbabwean Young African Leader (YAL) Limbikani Makani, who participated in the recent Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., led a region-wide CO.NX-facilitated discussion on July 18. Makani, Founder and managing editor of TechZim, shared what he learned from his Mentoring Partnership with BlueKai, and urged African youth on-line to become leaders and leverage their innovative skills to boost the region’s economies. More than 240 online viewers from 17 countries tuned in to the live program. Embassies Accra and Zimbabwe and Information Resources Center Abidjan hosted viewing parties.
5) “[C]ultural relations as a wider concept now also include new priorities, such as the promotion of human rights and the spread of democratic values, notions such as good governance, and the role of the media in civil society.” (Melissen p. 22)
* Embassy Sana’a brings “In Happy Yemen” Cartoon Series to Thousands of Children: Embassy Sana’a finalized plans with the Yemeni children’s rights non-governmental organization the Shawthab Foundation for the distribution of 50,000 DVD copies of the cartoon series “In Happy Yemen” to schools and youth groups throughout Yemen, and for broadcast on Yemeni TV. The series focuses on civic education themes including resolving conflict through peaceful means, with the objective of enabling vulnerable youth in Yemen to make informed, practical, and positive life choices. Public Affairs Section Sana’a is also working with Shawthab to distribute Embassy-donated backpacks and school supplies to needy children.
* Building a Network of Change-makers in Nepal: More than 40 young leaders participated in “Generation Change” programs sponsored by the Office of the Special Representative for Muslim Communities in Kathmandu and Nepalgunj (once the hub of the Maoist insurgency). The program unites a global network of young Muslims working on community-based service projects, building bridges between people of different backgrounds and faiths, and countering extremist narratives. Pakistani-American trainer Wajahat Ali guided participants in developing leadership, public speaking, goal-setting, and teamwork skills. Participants developed ideas to combat educational inequity, pollution and climate change, drug abuse, corruption, and unemployment. Selected participants will receive Public Affairs Section grants to make their projects a reality.
* Consulate General Jerusalem’s “Wise Leader Summer Camp” Graduates 24 Youth: On July 24, Public Affairs Section Jerusalem held a graduation ceremony for 24 participants in “The Wise Leader Summer Camp.” The camp guided participants through the process of creating a youth government, writing a youth-based constitution, and representing the needs of young people without being directly involved in any party. The concept of the camp was developed by ACCESS [English language] and Yes [youth exchange] Program alumnus Abdallah Khalifah, who presented his idea at the Alumni Networking and Engagement Seminar in Jericho last April. The Royal Industrial Trading Company in Hebron hosted the ceremony.
* Caucasus Youth Council Seeks to Influence Policy Debate: An ECA alumni grant enabled forty Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) alumni and young leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to gather in Bazaleti, Georgia for a four-day workshop. The alumni established the Caucasus Youth Council (CYC) to lay the foundation for future cooperation based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. The resolutions adopted at the CYC General Assembly will be sent to the South Caucasus governments to be considered when developing policy.
* ECA Arts Envoy Encourages Women’s Empowerment in Nepal: Arts Envoy and mural artist James Burns of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program visited Kathmandu, from August 5-14, and conducted workshops and lectures on mural-making for over 200 local artists. Also, 80-plus local residents participated in two days of “open painting” to help complete a public mural connected to Tewa, a philanthropic organization dedicated to empowering young Nepali women.
* ECA’s Institute for Women’s Leadership Broadens Horizons: Nineteen undergraduate women from Egypt, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan shared their impressions of the United States and the role of women in a democracy with Assistant Secretary Stock on July 27. The women just concluded five weeks in the U.S as part of a Study in the U.S. Institute on women’s leadership. The students outlined their plans to become leaders in their communities after they return home.
* Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders Feature New Media in Journalism: On July 20, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock addressed student leader participants in the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on New Media in Journalism. These student leaders came from Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Palestinian Territories, and Yemen, and participated in a program at Washington State University. SUSI programs span 5-6 weeks and include academic study, leaderships development, and community engagement.
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.
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
~ Mark Twain (attributed)
Like many others, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks absorbed by Middle East events and wrestling with the many complex and difficult questions raised by journalists, analysts, and scholars: How much of the tragic violence in Benghazi and elsewhere was a genuine reaction to that now-notorious anti-Muslim video, and how much is being promoted by specific actors for their own political aims? Were Embassy walls breached in Cairo, Tunisia and elsewhere because the protests were uniquely powerful and emotional, or because some host-country governments, newly brought to power by the Arab Spring, hadn’t yet fully assumed the responsibility of protecting them?
As a public diplomacy practitioner, I’ve also been thinking about the people in the Muslim world who are most genuinely and deeply disturbed by the perceived insult — and am wondering, yet again, how best we can try to bridge the apparently yawning gap between their perceptions and those of Americans, for whom the positive value of free speech self-evidently outweighs the risks from insult.
It was through this lens that I took another look at “You Talkin’ To Me?,” Ralph Begleiter’s still-invigorating 2006 article about international perception. Begleiter describes a video dialogue between Lebanese and American university students in which a “common base of popular culture…did not mask notable differences in the way students at both ends of the videoconference saw charged political issues [such as] the publication of political cartoons lampooning the Muslim prophet Muhammad, including significant gaps in understanding of how the news media in each region relate to governments. In fact, understanding that media-government relationship proved to be a pervasive theme reflecting differences between the U.S. and Middle Eastern cultures [emphasis added].”
What does this tell us (beyond the fact that some things have definitely not changed since Begleiter first penned these words)?
For one thing, it is a reminder that dense thickets of factual misinformation currently impede mutual understanding on this issue of media-government relationships, and it suggests that more work on clearing away such thickets is needed before debates about principles can take place in a productively open field.
What do I mean by this? What is an example?
Again and again in commentary from the Arab world about the current anti-Muslim controversy, including in comments posted by young people on U.S. Embassy Facebook pages, the point is made that America is being hypocritical because “the West” prohibits Holocaust denial and similar speech related to protection of certain religious groups.
For example, a recent New York Times article quoted a “spiritual leader of Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, [declaring] that ‘the West’ had imposed laws against ‘those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not [even] a sacred doctrine.’”
American readers may impatiently skip over such comments, thinking “that’s not true, our laws protect speech even as condemnable as denying the Holocaust!” We might also fail to see any legitimacy in the error, because many of us are unfamiliar with the fact that in Europe there are indeed laws prohibiting Holocaust denial.
And we may also fail to realize that such seemingly minor, in-the-weeds misunderstandings can have a big impact, for as Begleiter also notes, “‘double standards’ is one of the biggest reasons foreigners give for resenting the United States.”
Of course it’s not true that the U.S. free speech laws are applied selectively to different religions, but if people in the Muslim world widely believe that to be true, based on actual knowledge of certain European laws misapplied to the U.S. context, then our power to persuade people of the legitimacy of our free-speech position will be dramatically weakened.
Here is another example: public commentary on the current crisis reveals a mutual misunderstanding about numbers of people involved: earnest young peace-makers in the Arab world explain on Facebook that “only” 10% of Americans even saw the film in question, while bridge-building Americans comment online to the effect that “only” 10% of Muslims are violent extremists. If both sides knew the figures were perhaps closer to .0000001% in both cases, how much of the super-structure of blame, fear, and anger might dissipate?
So, returning to the public diplomacy challenge, what can we do?
First of all, we should accept that there will be no overnight transformations. The work of countless experts in communications tells us it is difficult to change peoples’ minds about what they think they know. Innovative thinkers from Walter Lippman onwards have shown how human beings are programmed to filter out information that doesn’t fit with our preconceptions, and furthermore that the source of new information is a powerful factor in whether or not we listen and accept it.
Therefore, secondly, we need to remind ourselves of what public diplomacy practitioners and scholars have long emphasized, which is that how we present information, and how we establish ourselves as trusted voices, is enormously important. Facts and statements by themselves, no matter how often repeated or at what level, won’t make nearly as much difference if we have not built two-way relationships through which to share them, and if we haven’t built credibility over time through our consistency in conveying – and accepting — reliable information.
Edward R. Murrow knew this when he famously said, “It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or 10,000 miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face to face conversation.”
It is in this last three feet that a big portion of the public diplomacy toolkit is usefully and productively employed. For example, convincing influential local journalists (or religious leaders, or influential think-tankers) is easier if we take time to develop a track record of providing useful information targeted to their particular interests and cultural outlook. If we have also invited the journalist (or religious leader or think-tanker) to the U.S. on a study tour, she or he may have a clearer understanding of what our policy statements mean in context, and also some genuine appreciation for the travel opportunity.
The fact that most such discussions now take place online does not change the equation, with an important caveat: If the interlocutors know each other, then email, Facebook and now Twitter communications certainly qualify as contemporary “face to face conversation.”
And thirdly, creativity in opening minds to new ideas is essential. Ambassador Cynthia Schneider makes great points about promoting cultural understanding via the “Oh I Didn’t Know That” Factor – where presenting something eye-catchingly different from what the viewer expected opens the door to a reconsideration of many cross-cultural assumptions.
Finally, a very thoughtful perspective from Cristina Archetti (a U.K. scholar and former visiting lecturer at GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs) in her 2010 piece, “Was Murrow Right About the Last Three Feet?” Archetti asks,
“Given that interpersonal communication is normally regarded as far more persuasive than other modes of communication, is this really the hard part? I’d be tempted to argue that the hard part is actually closing the distance to the last three feet, figuring out who you should be talking to, finding them and getting them into the same room. Alternatively it could be that finding the money to hire the people to do the talking is really the hard part [or, your blogger would add, finding the money to create sufficient exchanges and other collaborative opportunities for you to find the right people and ensure that they are in the room and are open to listening]. Or it could be trying to ensure that you are not forced to defend the indefensible.”
All excellent points.
Who more powerfully shapes foreign public opinion of a country: a public diplomacy staff member in government or a tourist from that country?
It’s probably impossible to say, but a case can be made for the latter if one thinks of the massive difference in scale between tourism and public diplomacy. International tourism is a trillion dollar industry. In 2011, there were an estimated 982 million international tourist arrivals. Public diplomacy activities can only pale in comparison.
There may also be a qualitative difference in terms of influencing views. After all, the government and its representatives are inherently assumed to be strategic communicators, trying to show the country’s best face. Doesn’t that diminish the power of the message — or make interactions seem instrumental and contrived? Tourists, on the other hand, are non-strategic, at least to the extent of acting in the nation’s interests, and would seem – in terms of perceptions — to offer the more authentic representation of the country and its people.
If a country’s tourists are engaged in bad behavior frequently — for example, tourism for the purpose of criminal behavior or even widely disdained, yet legal activities, e.g. the sex industry — it could easily result in a widespread belief that the country itself, and its people, are generally immoral or dangerous. I cannot imagine a country’s public diplomacy efforts surmounting that sort of common sentiment easily — even if its foreign policy is received positively.
Robin Brown wrote a short blog post saying:
we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of tourism within the public diplomacy field.
He argued it matters for three reasons. The first is essentially the point above, that tourism shapes perceptions of “others.” Second, states’ perception management activities are often aimed at boosting tourism. And the tourism industry of each state tries to impact public diplomacy and nation branding efforts to attract foreign visitors.
It seems that tourism, though richly studied as a sub-field on its own (see academic journals), presents a challenge for public diplomacy scholarship. Thinking of PD in institutional terms, centering on the coordinated activities of governments and officials addressing foreign publics, has its advantages. It gives the primary actors a mailing address — a “who” — and presumes some level of control over messaging and actions. This means we can speak of “programs” such as “exchanges,” and other formalized activities intended to convey ideas, further relations, change perceptions and so on. This focus constitutes, and therefore constrains, much of the research.
There are methodological challenges, as well. Tourism, in terms of interpersonal communication, is at the ethnographic level, making it much more difficult to research. Its messiness calls on deeper research to really understand. Interviews with officials in countries capitals simply won’t provide the insight needed. For PD scholars, it is tempting to toss tourism into the category of “noise” that makes delivering the signal of government communications so difficult.
A case could be made that tourism is the real public diplomacy and government programs are marginal.
Given that international tourism is growing, especially with emerging powers, e.g. the BRICs, and also in places not known as tourist attractions, it makes sense to heed Brown’s call.
I wonder to what extent states’ foreign ministries might start to consider tourists as ambassadors, and whether programs educating or even training them might be carried out — whether in the form of leaflets for departing citizens, airport signage, domestic media campaigns or through embassies. Should governments spread the notion of tourists as bearing an obligation to represent positively their country overseas?