… only darkness everyday (until someone gets confirmed, at least).
Rumors began to fly online on April 23rd, and today, April 24, The Washington Post politics blog said that Tara Sonenshine, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department, will be leaving her post in July. It has not been made public what her next position will be, although the Post noted she’s ”likely headed to an academic or media gig”.
Let’s recap the Under Secretaries in that position over the last 10 years:
In the last ten years, the United States has had only two presidents, but has had six Under Secretaries at the helm of what is increasingly regarded as a very important piece of U.S. foreign policy (public diplomacy). The shelf life of these people (not including Stephens) averages to less than a year and a half. In addition, approximately 29 months of the last decade, the seat has been empty, which is maybe the saddest fact of the entire situation. And likely, it will see many more months of vacancy after July, due to the incredible hassle of confirmation in today’s Congress.
So, my question is, “What exactly is driving these people away?”.
I understand that it has historically been an appointed position (which many say is a flaw in itself), but what is it about U.S. public diplomacy that makes it so we can’t even keep someone for a single Presidential term?
Is the job too difficult because one simply can’t easily defend U.S. foreign policy over the last decade? Are the appointees, many from the more efficient private sector (including Sonenshine) too bogged down by bureaucracy? Is promoting the image of the U.S. to foreign countries a lost cause?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, nor will I opine thoughts about them. But the current level of rotation of the top public diplomacy position in the U.S. surely is not helping our cause, for obvious reasons. Internationally, it reflects poorly that people keep quitting a job that our long-held American exceptionalist ideals would lead people to believe is virtuous and done with ease. Internally, State Department officials have to deal with every newly confirmed Under Secretary coming in and mixing things around–”making their mark” in structure and programming. And for the American people, it creates breaks in the links of the PD machine, which serve to promote understanding and create security for us at home.
It would be wise of President Obama to swiftly nominate someone who he thinks will stick around, at least until the end of his term. For everyone’s sake.
India: the world’s most populous democratic country with one of the largest economies. Africa: a largely developing continent attempting to work itself out of vast poverty and violent conflicts. Both have large youth populations, a desire to play a stronger role in international markets and, importantly, an interest in each other.
In early April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sponsored a two-day collaborative workshop in New Delhi known as “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future.” The purpose of the forum, held on April 4-5, was to bring together the youth (defined as those under 30 years old) of two populations that have a mutually growing interest in each other to fashion solutions to the many shared development challenges faced by India and Africa:
“The initiative [was] born in 2011 out of recognition of shared sensibilities, histories and intertwined cultures between India and the African continent. The connection between India and Africa, home to an over-two-million-strong Indian diaspora, has been ‘a continuous process of socio-cultural and economic exchange.’”
Given these similarities, why the targeted focus on youth? As previously mentioned, both India and Africa have considerable youth populations. According to statistics from the CIA World Factbook, the median age in India is 26.5 years, while the median age for countries in Africa ranges from 15.1 in Uganda and 18.9 in Zimbabwe to 25.3 in South Africa and 28.1 years in Algeria. The young populations, as Manoj Kohli, head of the International Business Group for Bharti Airtel, explains, are very attractive, especially when considering “the western world, Russia, China, Japan are all graying.” Navdeep Suri, joint secretary of public diplomacy in India’s MEA, said, “The driving vision of the program is to unleash the enormous energy of young people, to encourage their powerful creative ideas and to enable them to be facilitators of this process.”
As described on the website, “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future is a unique people-to-people initiative that aims at engaging multiple stakeholders in India and Africa through contests, fellowships, discussions, events, collaborative projects and cultural exchanges.” During this workshop, a total of 72 Indian and African youth (36 Indian and 36 African individuals), coming from a wide range of disciplines, pitch and debate “their views on challenges and opportunities in areas like energy, environment, healthcare, education, culture, creative exchanges, tourism, governance, food and nutrition in their respective regions…”
Public diplomacy, in the past few decades, “has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.” This—what one might call public diplomacy in the modern sense of the word—was put forth by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. The definition is useful in the sense that it is broad and fairly encompassing, but how does INDIAFRICA fit within it?
At its core, INDIAFRICA is an initiative that might be defined as “little c” cultural diplomacy, a narrower subcategory of public diplomacy. Using Dr. Emil Constantinescu’s definition, cultural diplomacy can be defined as “a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity…” INDIAFRICA fits perfectly within this characterization and has the added element of youth involvement. Rather than convening a forum for business and government officials, INDIAFRICA brings together two youth populations in the name of building positive first impressions and tapping on the energy, creativity and enthusiasm–rather than the demonstrated expertise–these groups have the potential to generate.
INDIAFRICA lumps different categories, such as business and culture, together in the same package. The initiatives taken on by this enterprise include building democratic developmental institutions; establishing governance networks in areas such as agriculture, micro-finance, entrepreneurship development and healthcare; generating employment; creating “profitable partnerships”; funding the future through Indian soft loans to its African partners; and finally “building trust and mutual respect and building relationships.” And participants tackle these strategies in a number of ways—not simply the two-day workshop. INDIAFRICA promotes India-Africa collaboration through a series of contests: 1) Business Venture, 2) Poster Design, 3) Photography, and 4) Essay Writing, each attributing to a cultural diplomacy niche.
Each of the four contests has a theme that aligns with some larger cultural phenomenon. In the 2012-2013 contests for instance, the theme for Business Venture Contest was “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Address Developmental Challenges,” the Poster Design Contest’s was “What does Freedom mean to you?” the Photography Contest’s was “Communities in India and Africa” and the Essay Writing Contest’s was “How can India and Africa collaborate to co-create a brighter future?” These themes align well with the ‘universal norms’ of democracy and innovation, while suiting INDIAFRICA’s aim to help shape the future of these two geographies through their respective youths. They emphasize the culture of both India and Africa while still moving them toward more global political and developmental environments. Suri surmised this point by noting that the multidisciplinary contest series help “create a platform for talented and young Indians and Africans to exchange ideas about emergent realities, successes and challenges and explore future collaborations in business, design and culture.”
The beauty of INDIAFRICA lies within its configuration, which includes strategic as well as shared considerations. The Indian government has increasingly viewed Africa as a realm of opportunity for furthering its commercial interests, and the “leadership of Indian and African nations have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015.” Kohli said that his company alone has invested $13 billion in Africa, plans to invest more and has already recruited about 7,000 employees in the continent. Although cultural diplomacy is rarely conducted in the name of self-interest, it is worth noting that India’s interest in Africa extends beyond purely strategic self-interest and that the country considers this initiative as a means for achieving shared policy goals. Both geographies (both the governments and national companies) “work jointly to help in capacity building, knowledge sharing, job creation and other areas.” The similar and shared foreign policy goals lends INDIAFRICA to being seen as a joint collaboration, benefiting all involved.
“A large workforce with fewer children to support creates a window of opportunity to save money on health care and other social services; improve the quality of education; increase economic output because of more people working; invest more in technology and skills to strengthen the economy; and create the wealth needed to cope with the future aging of the population.”
This window, known as the demographic dividend, can be addressed through initiatives such as INDIAFRICA that bring together the young people in the name of a better future. For young participants, who may or may not be true opinion leaders in their home societies yet, this forum provides the ultimate learning model as well as a safe venue for the sharing of ideas. Further, this particular program not only allows youth to address development challenges and think of solutions early on, but it is also acts as the foundation for the future relationship between the two geographies.
by Anna-Lena Tepper
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea came to many as a surprise. Along with an entourage of fellow basketball players from the performance group Harlem Globetrotters, Rodman went to visit the most oppressive country in the world, but his intentions weren’t politically motivated. His mission was simply to share the joy of basketball with the North Korean people. In his few days there he did not only initiate several friendly games between American players and North Korean teams, but he also had several friendly encounters with the country’s dictator Kim Jong Un. He left with a great impression of the country and its people and they also seemed to have enjoyed his visit. Upon his return to the States, Rodman’s advice to the President was that he should just call his Communist counterpart to sort things out. This sounds almost too good to be true and very easily done. The question arises, if maybe this approach might yield better results than the ones initiated – or in the case of US-North Korean relationship “non-initiated” – by the international community. After all, Rodman managed to have friendly encounters with one of the US’s biggest enemies.
The field of public or cultural diplomacy has received major academic attention over the last few years. People are not just studying public diplomacy, they also try to analyze, standardize, optimize, generalize, and define it. In an attempt to engage foreign audiences and develop a deeper relationship with them, based on shared interests and common ideas, governments spend millions of dollars each year to implement programs that can facilitate these engagements. However, despite countless highly sophisticated programs – ranging from student and leadership exchanges to a variety of cultural events – that are tailored to different audiences, too often neither scholars, nor policy makers can determine a cause-effect relationship between the programs they implemented and approval rates abroad.
And then there is Dennis Rodman, who travels to North Korea without a plan and manages to leave the country a few days later and everyone, including the country’s communist leader that hasn’t had any friendly encounters with an American in as long as anyone can remember, is all smiley faces. No science behind it, just what seems like intuition, and it worked – apparently. However, some argue that Rodman’s visit was actually counterproductive, as his approval of Kim Jong Un directly legitimized his questionable leadership.
Still, the question arises if maybe American scholars are sometimes overanalyzing public diplomacy and therefore, often miss their set goals (or can’t detect it). Many argue that Dennis Rodman’s visit was just staged and now that he has gone nothing has changed. Those people have a point. Kim Jong Un has just threatened the United States with a nuclear war again. Politically, Rodman’s visit hasn’t changed anything. However, he still managed to open North Korea to an American visitor for a friendly encounter with the leader for first time in decades, and that is something neither politicians nor scholars have been able to achieve.
Fact is, public diplomacy needs to be very targeted in order to be successful, but at the same time, PD scholars and practitioners should also keep in mind that sometimes intuition is a good indicator of what is a good approach and what is not. Especially in the case of North Korea, maybe a mix of intuitive steps and targeted PD programs is going to lead to a change in the near, or not so near future.
Anna-Lena Tepper is a graduate student at the George Washington University, and is posting as part of Take Five’s ongoing Student Perspective series.
by Brad Gilligan
Last month, advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights deployed thousands of supporters to the grounds outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in two landmark cases. A Pew Research Center poll demonstrates the dominant frame being deployed by media to tell the story. “Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics,” the headline reads.
While the pro-equality campaign in the U.S. may represent a real sea change in our national public opinion, other countries’ perspectives vary by degrees. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department annually documented the status of LGBT people around the globe in its report on human rights practices. Memorably, Clinton said in a speech at the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights.” These remarks were coordinated with a memo from President Obama in the same week that detailed the first ever US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against LGBT citizens abroad.
In parts of the world, perils faced by LGBT citizens are well known: In Uganda, the parliament proposed a bill which would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. While in New York, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously commented “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” And in Russia, parliament is considering a nationwide ban on ‘gay propaganda’ to minors—in the same year that international attention was drawn to members of the feminist, pro-LGBT, punk-rock collective Pussy Riot after they were jailed by the Putin government.
When the State Department promotes gay rights abroad, cultural diplomacy acts as one of the primary drivers of that agenda. Cynthia P. Schneider describes the relationship: “Public diplomacy consists of all a nation does to explain itself to the world, and cultural diplomacy—the use of creative expression and exchanges of ideas, information, and people to increase mutual understanding—supplies much of its content.” Through partnerships with regional and local civil society groups, the Department engages communities in dialogue about the value Americans ascribe to all people, no matter who that person is or whom that person loves.
Not to say that the U.S. does not receive its own share of criticism for its domestic LGBT policy: an interactive display from The Guardian documents the variability of gay rights, state by state. Until a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. Today, others still prohibit adoptions by gay couples or permit dismissing workers on the basis of gender identification.
To focus on the theme of LGBT rights, and the practice of cultural diplomacy worldwide, I began with a small exercise in role reversal: How does one country (I selected Canada) work inside the U.S. to promote its foreign policy?
In 1995, a review of Canadian foreign policy granted culture new status, erecting it as a third pillar in the country’s diplomatic priorities, beside security and the economy. The report praises its culture as a potent force for the nation’s international reputation. “Our principles and values—our culture—are rooted in a commitment to tolerance; to democracy; to equality and to human rights”. Among the recommendations made in the document, it elevates the potential of mass media (e.g. television, film, and radio) in particular to reach audiences outside of Canada’s borders.
Like the BBC, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) operates as a public entity. The government approves and funds programming consistent with the mandate to, among other stipulations, focus on Canadian content. For instance, the broadcasting license for MTV Canada requires that a minimum of 68% of daytime and 71% of prime time programming be of Canadian origin. The network describes itself as offering a “distinctly Canadian interpretation of the MTV brand across multiple platforms,” in 171 territories around the world.
One such program, airing since 2009, is 1 girl 5 gays. The 30-minute talk show sees host Aliya-Jasmine Sovani asking 20 questions about love and sex to a rotating panel of gay men from the greater Toronto area. Toronto holds a reputation as a vibrant center of gay life in Ontario; Church Street, especially, has a rich cultural history and has been depicted before in popular media exported south of the border.
Logo TV, a US gay and lesbian-interest channel, picked up 1 girl 5 gays in 2010. The first season increased ratings in its time slot +55% compared to the network’s Q4 2010 average.
Pew’s poll, referenced earlier, found that roughly a third (32%) said their views changed because they know someone who is homosexual. Mass media may well be another variable at play, subbing for physical one-to-one contact. The show builds relationships on this principle, between the host and panelists (and the audience by proxy).
A rudimentary content analysis of episodes from 1 girl 5 gays’ first season begins to generate a map for how dialogue can be used to strategically shift opinion about LGBT rights. In any one episode, an average of five questions conjure pointed images of gay sexual experiences (“Do you have a gag reflex?”) while the remainder are interchangeable to hetero- or homosexual couples (“If your sex life was a colour, what colour would it be?). The majority have nothing to do with sex at all (“Whose autograph have you asked for?”).
Especially notable, the show frequently inserts a question in the final segment looking inward at the program or at common LGBT experiences: “How do you feel gay men are represented on this show?” “Does the pride parade reinforce stereotypes?” “If there was a pill to make you straight, would you take it?”
Statistical wizard Nate Silver points out how demographics and population density are likely indicators of support for same-sex marriage. It would be overdrawn to say 1 girl 5 gays answers this problem intentionally by increasing the opportunities for exposure to discussion of LGBT experiences; but, as a byproduct of capitalism (i.e. the proliferation of broadcasting in the U.S. via for-profit cable TV), the amplification of Canadian commitment to tolerance aids the cause of LGBT rights in the U.S., and represents one instance of successful cultural diplomacy in action.
Brad Gilligan is a graduate student in the Media and Public Affairs program at the George Washington University.
The recent Twitter row between the United States and Egypt triggered a number of issues – freedom of expression; the role of media in modern societies; the balance between diplomacy and public diplomacy; between interests and values, both ours and theirs; and the ability to communicate not just governments but populations using traditional channels and social media. It represents a great teachable moment, for students (and professors) of public diplomacy and practitioners as well.
To briefly recap, the Morsi government (along with conservative elements within Egyptian society) has been cracking down on more and more political speech. The U.S. expressed concern privately, and then publicly following the detention of political satirist Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart. Everything got amped up when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, perhaps the most aggressive user of social media within the Department of State, tweeted a link to a segment about Youssef’s arrest by the real Jon Stewart.
The Egyptian government blasted back, on Twitter no less, criticizing the Embassy for its “negative political propaganda.” Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party piled on, calling the offending tweet “undiplomatic & unwise.”
The Embassy’s Twitter account was taken down, the link to the Jon Stewart removed and then brought back on line. The Egyptian government claims American Ambassador Anne Patterson apologized for the incident. The State Department has tried to say as little as possible about the whole flap, but apparently sees the posting of the Stewart clip as a mistake.
What should we make of all of this?
In Egypt’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, it is hardly surprising that political Islam and civil society are struggling to comfortably co-exist. The Morsi government claims it was not responsible for Youssef’s detention, although someone in authority was. Beyond government, under Egyptian law, anyone can sue over perceived offensive speech. Just this week, an Egyptian court dismissed a lawsuit by an Islamist lawyer that would have forced Youssef’s show off air. After his release, Youssef resumed his broadcast, seemingly unbowed.
Clearly, a necessary debate within Egypt and across the Arab world about democracy, the evolution of political Islam and the development of inclusive and tolerant civil societies is underway.
The United States has been drawn into this debate, significantly through Twitter and Facebook. For example, Embassy Cairo has engaged Egyptians of all stripes on these issues. They are all unhappy with the United States, but for different reasons, believing Washington has been too lenient on Morsi, too critical, or should have no opinion at all.
Spend some time on the Embassy Twitter feed, @USEmbassyCairo, and you see what digital public diplomacy can do. Its tweets are engaging, candid and direct. Some samples:
In the past, such conversations would occur in quiet settings involving mostly government officials and policy elites. Now exchanges are out in the open, with newly empowered citizens offering their views and hoping for a genuine dialogue.
If this is the future of public diplomacy, Embassy Cairo is a trendsetter. Its recent experience demonstrates both the potential and the risk regarding how it is employed. Social media have greatly expanded public diplomacy’s reach, where actions and reactions can quickly take on broader political and social significance.
Embassy Cairo knows this better than anyone. Last September, an attempt to mitigate Egyptian outcry (and aggressive demonstrations) over an obscure American video perceived as being disrespectful of Islam became an issue in the American presidential campaign.
What are the public diplomacy lessons in this latest case?
There was a “practice what we preach” aspect to The Daily Show link. Stewart pokes fun at both Democratic and Republican political figures. Stewart highlights Egyptian contributions to modern society. He commends Morsi for assurances that political speech will be protected. He reminds that critics love their country every bit as much as leaders.
That said, it was probably inappropriate for the Embassy to link to the segment on its Twitter feed. Stewart calls Morsi a “crazy guy.” It’s inevitable that many would view it as official agreement.
While edgy works, this went too far, an “in your face” action at a sensitive time when the new Egyptian government was likely to overreact to any perceived slight.
But once the tweet was out there, connecting to publicly available content, the Embassy compounded its first mistake by removing the link. The Ambassador’s private apology with a pledge to avoid a repeat in the future was all that was needed. The removal sent precisely the wrong message that objectionable speech can and should be curtailed, a point Egypt made repeatedly during last September’s film controversy.
The retreat also sends the wrong message to the State Department’s global communicators. Ambassadors and public diplomats should be fully engaged in the vigorous debate about the critical issues of the day, not on the sidelines where it’s safe. They should be pushing the envelope, even if it means going over the line once in a while.
While integrating transformational technology into U.S. public diplomacy programs, mistakes inevitably will be made. How organizations react says a lot about what lessons will be learned.
GW School of Media and Public Affairs and Georgetown Adjunct Assistant Professor Bruce Gregory compiles an annotated bibliography of Public Diplomacy-related readings and other resources. Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest. Bruce Gregory Suggestions for future updates are welcome and should be directed to Bruce Gregory at BGregory@gwu.edu.
Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.
Christina Archetti, Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media: A Communication Approach, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). In a book that challenges conventional approaches to understanding the role of the media in terrorism studies, Archetti (University of Salford, UK) offers a new framework to explain ways “in which terrorism is socially constructed through communication.” Her book includes four areas of inquiry: (1) the role of communication, “more or less mediated by technologies,” in mobilizing terrorist groups in geographic and virtual contexts; (2) multidisciplinary perspectives on the relationship between terrorism and communication; (3) analysis of perceptions and stories that explain the way social actors mobilize and pursue political change; and (4) an understanding of the ways social networks affect scholarship and the need for greater self-awareness by researchers in the field.
G. R. Berridge, “A Weak Diplomatic Hybrid: U.S. Special Mission Benghazi, 2011-12,” January 2013. Berridge (Emeritus Professor, University of Leicester) provides a useful analysis of the history and confused character of the US Special Mission in Benghazi, reasons its “non-status” led to bureaucratic consequences that created security vulnerabilities, and insights into implications for diplomacy. His paper examines US Ambassador Chris Stevens’ role as an expeditionary diplomat and findings of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board. Berridge concludes that “diplomatic hybrids” will become a main feature of expeditionary diplomacy. Accordingly, it would be well to abandon the category of “temporary residential facility.” It sends the wrong signals to local populations and foreign ministries in both sending and receiving countries.
Edward Comer, “Digital Engagement: America’s Use (and Misuse) of Marshall McLuhan,” New Political Science, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2013, 1-18. Comer (University of Western Ontario) looks at the “use and misuse” of McLuhan’s “global village” and “the medium is the message” aphorism in the context of the Obama administration’s digital engagement and internet freedom initiatives. He argues that US use of digital technologies and strategies intended to “empower people and further inter-cultural understanding through dialogue” are dubious and “dangerously misguided.” He concludes that despite ambiguities in McLuhan’s work, it provides a useful foundation for analyzing assumptions in American policies.
Ian Hall and Frank Smith, “The Struggle for Soft Power in Asia: Public Diplomacy and Regional Competition.” Asian Security, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2013, 1-18. In this comparative analysis of investment by Asian states in public diplomacy, Hall and Smith (The Australian National University) use a mix of qualitative and quantitative evidence to suggest it has had “little or no positive effect on foreign public opinion.” Continued investment in public diplomacy absent evidence of effectiveness, they argue, turns on policymakers’ beliefs that “it is a consequential instrument of statecraft” and “an appropriate way to conduct diplomatic affairs.” They conclude public diplomacy in Asia’s competitive relationships “may deepen mistrust and increase the potential for hard-power conflict in the region.”
Jeffrey R. Halverson, Searching for a King: Muslim Nonviolence and the Future of Islam, (Potomac Books, 2012). Halverson (Arizona State University) explores narratives of nonviolence in the lives of five Muslims: Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Pashtun), Badshah Kahn (Syria), Mahmoud Muhammad Taha (Sudan), Muhammad ibn Mahdi al-Shirazi (Iraq), and Wahiduddin Khan (India). His book discusses themes of nonviolence in religion and society with extended inquiry into the possibilities for complementary approaches to microfinancing and women’s education programs. (Courtesy of Steve Corman)
Justin Hart, The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1936-1953, Oxford University Press, 2012. Drawing extensively on government archives and the private papers of US officials, Hart (Texas Tech University) provides an account of the origins of American public diplomacy from the Buenos Aires Conference in 1936 to the creation of the US Information Agency in 1953. He places his narrative in the context of evolving foreign policy issues and the varying agendas and conceptual approaches of key players in the development of public diplomacy as an organized instrument of US statecraft. Hart’s book is particularly useful in its examination of the numerous tensions surrounding what was perceived by many as a “radical departure” in the conduct of foreign relations.
Falk Hartig, “Panda Diplomacy: The Cutest Part of China’s Public Diplomacy,” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 8 (2013) 49-78. Hartig (Queensland University of Technology) explores the history and practice of panda diplomacy as a sub-set of a larger category of using animals as gifts in public diplomacy. His article focuses on the characteristics and objectives of China’s use of panda diplomacy in Canada, France, Taiwan, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Craig Hayden, “Envisioning a Multidisciplinary Research Agenda for Public Diplomacy,” e-International Relations, January 11, 2013. Hayden (American University) makes an informed case that larger issues underlying disparate public diplomacy concepts, goals, and modes of practice provide an array of research opportunities for students of international studies, communications, and other disciplines. His essay identifies challenges in public diplomacy research and singles out three broad areas of inquiry with particular merit: media studies and communication, diplomatic institutions, and transnational politics. “Public diplomacy as a field of study does not require a rigid theoretical template to flourish,” Hayden concludes, “but rather a broader audience for its relevance to pressing questions that scholars continue to grapple with at the borders of communication, international politics, and culture.”
Adam Hug, ed., Europe and the World: Can EU Foreign Policy Make an Impact? The Foreign Policy Centre, 2013. Scholars and practitioners look at how Europe is seen on the world stage, the effectiveness and organizational challenges facing the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), the UK’s difficult relations with Europe, and other issues in EU diplomacy. The essay by Josef Batora (Comenius University) usefully analyzes the EEAS, not as a classic diplomatic service, but rather as an “organization spanning different fields and recombining external resources in innovative ways.” He argues that despite early difficulties, the EEAS “could soon set the standard.” The study includes contributions by Thiago de Aragão (Foreign Policy Centre), William Gumede (Foreign Policy Centre), Jacqueline Hale (Open Society Foundation), Richard Howitt MEP, Stefan Lehne (Carnegie Europe), Simon Lightfoot and Balazs Szent-Ivanyi (University of Leeds), Anand Menon (Kings College London), Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG, QC, MP, Edward Macmillian-Scott MEP, John Peterson (University of Edinburgh), Neil Winn (University of Leeds), and Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander MP (Shadow Foreign Secretary).
“Inspection of the Broadcasting Board of Governors,” Office of the Inspector General, US Department of State, ISP-IB-13-07, January 2013. In a 23-page report, State Department inspectors assess and make recommendations relating to the legislative mandate, structure, and activities of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent Federal agency that oversees US Government civilian international broadcasting. They find the Board “is failing in its mandated duties” due to “a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension,” which render “its deliberative process ineffectual.” Recommendations include implementing a “chief executive officer position” and new policies on Board membership and activities.
Jane C. Loeffler, “Beyond the Fortress Embassy,” The Foreign Service Journal, December 2012, 20-27. Loeffler (architectural historian and author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies, updated 2010) provides a critique of the remote and hardened US embassies built following the Inman Panel’s report on the Beirut Embassy and Marine barracks bombings in the 1980s and the “Standard Embassy Design” one-size-fits-all approach adopted by the State Department after 9/11. Look-alike fortress embassies project a negative image, isolate diplomats, and impair diplomacy. Loeffler hails the State Department’s recent turn to a “Design Excellence” initiative in the construction of embassies and consulates that are “maximally safe, secure, functional, and attractive.”
Emily T. Metzgar, Considering the “Illogical Patchwork”: The Broadcasting Board of Governors and U.S. International Broadcasting, CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Paper 1, 2013. Metzgar (Indiana University) examines the role of US international broadcasting and issues relating to its leadership, organizational challenges, performance, and future. She concludes that difficulties in its management structure, relationships with Congress, and production of journalistic content “require meaningful action…sooner rather than later.”
Evgeny Morozov, “Not By Memes Alone: Why Social Movements Should Pay Less Attention to the Internet,” The New Republic, February 11, 2013, 47-52. In this review of Steven Johnson’s book, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age,Morozov (a New Republic contributing editor) argues against the “Internet-centrism” of such thinkers as Johnson, Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody) and Yochai Benkler (Berkman Center for Internet and Society). Morozov makes a case for the role of hierarchies and centralizing strategies in the “long, slow, and painful” process of political reform. “Ideas on their own do not change the world,” he observes, “ideas that are coupled with smart institutions might. ‘Not by memes alone’ would be an apt slogan for any contemporary movement.”
Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, (Public Affairs, 2013). In his earlier book,The Net Delusion, Morozov discussed the resilience of many authoritarian regimes and challenged “the means, not the ends, of the ‘Internet freedom agenda.’” His new book questions both the means and ends of Internet-centric strategies that promote “efficiency, transparency, certitude, and perfection” by seeking to eliminate “friction, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection.” The latter are necessary to human freedom, he argues, and attempts “to root them out will root out that freedom as well.”
“Social Networking Popular Across the Globe: Arab Publics Most Likely to Express Political Views Online,” Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, December, 12, 2012. Pew’s 21-nation survey documents social networking’s rapid global spread, the “nearly ubiquitous” use of cellphones, and the popularity of these technologies among the young and well-educated. “Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world.” Globally, pop culture and sports are popular. Fewer comment on their religious opinions.
– Stuart Murray (Bond University), “Moving Beyond the Ping Pong Table: Sports Diplomacy in the Modern Diplomatic Environment”
– Rook Campbell (University of Southern California), “Specifying the Global Character of Sports Authority”
– John Nauright (George Mason University), “Selling Nations to the World Through Sports: Mega Events and Nation Branding as Global Diplomacy”
– Andreia Soares e Castro (Technical University of Lisbon), “2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games: Brazil’s Strategy ‘To Win Hearts and Minds’ Through Football”
– Guo Qing (Chengdu Sport University) et al., “A Study on Chinese National Image Under the Background of Beijing Olympic Games”
– Lee Satterfield (US Department of State), “Smart Power: Using Sports Diplomacy to Build a Global Network to Empower Women and Girls”
– “The Pacific Century: An Interview with Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine”
Deborah Lee Trent, American Diaspora Diplomacy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Lebanese Americans, Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael,’ Discussion Paper in Diplomacy, No. 125, November 2012. Trent examines the US government’s diaspora diplomacy with Lebanese Americans, its relevance to US policies toward Lebanon, and two key challenges to US credibility among Lebanese and America’s Lebanese diaspora: “(1) lack of Arab-Israeli peace; and (2) lack of inclusive engagement with all of Lebanese society.” Her case study argues the potential of collaborative and trans-sectarian diaspora diplomacy for practitioners seeking to strengthen the credibility of US policies. Her paper adds to the growing academic literature on diaspora diplomacy.
US Government Accountability Office, Broadcasting Board of Governors: Additional Steps Needed to Address Overlap in International Broadcasting, GAO-13-172, January 2013. In this recent report, one of many on US international broadcasting, GAO examines the extent to which US language broadcasts overlap with each other and with language broadcasts by other international broadcasters. It found 23 instances of overlap involving 43 of 69 language services. GAO recommends (1) systematic annual review of the cost and impact of internal overlap among the services, and (2) systematic annual consideration of better ways to increase impact due to similar or complementary activities of US commercial broadcasters and other government broadcasters.
Matthew Wallin, The Challenges of the Internet and Social Media in Public Diplomacy, Perspective, American Security Project, February 2013. Wallin, a Senior Policy Analyst at ASP, takes a critical look at difficulties and possibilities facing public diplomacy practitioners in their uses of social media. Key judgments in his thoughtful overview: (1) Practitioners often do not fully appreciate the limitations of online tools. (2) Effective use of social media platforms is time and labor intensive. (3) Engagement through the internet and social media works best in association with real-world diplomacy. (4) Metrics should measure effect and influence as well as quantitative indicators of use. (5) Traditional radio and television “broadcast” mediums have considerable potential to be used interactively.
Ethan Watters, “We Aren’t the World,” Pacific Standard Magazine, February 25, 2013. Watters (author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche) discusses field research by UCLA anthropologist and MacArthur Foundation grant recipient Joe Henrich among indigenous people in Machiguenga, Peru and 14 other societies from Tanzania to Indonesia. Henrich’s behavioral experiment used a game comparable to “the prisoner’s dilemma” to investigate whether isolated cultures “shared with the West the same basic instinct for fairness” and the “same evolved rational and psychological hardwiring.” His research challenges fundamental assumptions that humans share the same cognitive machinery and conventional ideas about cultural diversity and the way we think about ourselves and others. (Courtesy of Vivian Walker.)
Robert Albro, “Collaborative/Creative Diplomacy/Partnerships,” The CPD Blog, Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, January 24, 2
Andrew F. Cooper, et al., “Does Diplomacy Need Star Power” [Celebrity Diplomacy], Room for Debate blog, The New York Times,March 17, 2013.
Jeanette Gaida, “The Use of Social Media in Public Diplomacy: Scanning e-diplomacy by Embassies in Washington, DC,” Take Five Blog, Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University, February 19, 2013.
Susan Gigli, “What is ‘Disruptive Metrics’”? Disruptive Metrics Blog, InterMedia, March 20, 2013.
Kim Elliott, “Repeal of Smith-Mundt Domestic Dissemination is Good Unless it Goes Over to the Dark Side,” January 3, 2013; “With Repeal of the Smith-Mundt Domestic Dissemination Ban. De Jure Catches Up with De Facto,” January 11, 2013, Kim Andrew Elliott’s International Broadcasting Blog.
Craig Hayden, “Uncovering Logics of Technology in U.S. Public Diplomacy,” The CPD Blog, Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, February 11, 2013.
Lindsey Horan, “Analyzing ‘Cultural Diplomacy in Africa’ Through the IR Positioning Spectrum,” Take Five Blog, Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University, March 20, 2013.
Kate Shriver, “Harlem Shake: Arab Spring Protest Edition,” Take Five Blog, Institution for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, March 25 2013.
R.S. Zarhana, “Culture Posts: Four Fallacies of Network Public Diplomacy,” The CPD Blog, Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, March 20, 2013.
W. Russell Neuman, The Future of the Mass Audience, (Cambridge University Press, 1991). More than two decades ago, before the worldwide web and internet browsers and well before Facebook and Twitter, Russ Neuman (University of Michigan) explored ways in which new electronic media and personal computers would lead to a “demassification” of the mass audience. Published just before he became director of the Edward R. Murrow Center at the Fletcher School, his book provided an early look at audience fragmentation, narrowcast media, the psychology of media use, and the interplay between technology and political culture. Although events have challenged some of his forecasts that economics of scale would “put natural constraints on special-interest, small-audience programming,” his book nevertheless was ahead of its time and a gem from the past.
Current compilations of Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites are posted at Arizona State University’s COMOPS Journal, George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy. For previous compilations of Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites, visit Matt Armstrong’s MountainRunner.us website and an archive created by the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy.
by Kate Shriver
First, there was Gangam Style, the epic YouTube video by South Korean pop sensation Psy that swept the world in 2012 and currently has over one billion views, making it the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Anyone who was anyone made a spinoff or parody of their own.
Now, there is the Harlem Shake. Here’s the premise: in an approximately 30 second long video a single person dances for roughly 10-20 seconds on their own (usually in a mask or helmet of some sort) while everyone else around them carries on with their own business, essentially ignoring the lone dancer. When the music “drops,” the video cuts to everyone in the room dancing basically just any way they want, though it typically involves a lot of gyrating, hip thrusting and a variety of masks, costumes and other props. The accompanying music is by US artist Baauer—and depending on whom you ask—the initial video was posted in early February by a group of young men in Australia, or it was posted by these guys somewhere else.
In reality, the Harlem Shake in its first form was a dance that characterized the New York neighborhood of the same name in the 1980s. This information aside, the modern day Harlem Shake has taken off at lightning speed with hundreds of new versions posted to YouTube every day. The craze is starting to wind down in the US and the West, though the fad has not come without a few brushes with the authorities: in the US, the FAA is investigating an incident which involves posted Harlem Shake video that appeared to show the crazy dancing taking place on a plane that was in flight. There have been reports of students being suspended for filming their own versions in school. In Australia, a group of miners were fired and reportedly banned from all mine sites after authorities discovered their Harlem Shake video, which they apparently shot while on their work site—in a mine! One of the most popular versions, with over 50 million YouTube views, was created by members of the Norwegian Army who are featured dancing around in the snow after breaking formation.
While the meme may be wearing out its popularity in the West, it is just beginning to get going in the Middle East: Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices (A VOA powered initiative) has compiled a list of Middle Eastern countries where the dance craze has gone viral, from Algeria to Yemen. But it is in Tunisia and Egypt—the hotbeds of the Arab Spring—where the Harlem Shake meme is taking on new meaning. The dance seems to have morphed into a form of social protest against the respective governments who have, in response, cracked down hard on some of those who created the videos.
In Tunisia, where there has been a split between secularists and ultra conservative Salafis since the fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over 2 years ago, a group of students at a high school in Tunis filmed a version of the Harlem Shake in which some students danced in their underwear, dressed up as Salafis with fake beards, or as Gulf emirs (among other costumes). The provocative nature of the dancing caught the attention of the Salafis, who decried the video as indecent. Minister of Education Abdellatid Abid, angrily denounced the video as indecent also, and ordered an investigation of the school’s principal. Skirmishes have erupted elsewhere in Tunisia as conservative Muslims attempt to stop youth from partaking in other Harlem Shake videos—with one student in coastal Mahdia purportedly receiving 12 stitches on his head after being beaten in one such clash.
A video linked to the original Tunis high school Harlem Shake video is titled “The Harlem Shake: Attacked by Salafis Edition” which appears to show a schoolyard where students are about to do the dance, and are then attacked by Salafis. In some of the skirmishes the Salafists have reportedly shouted at the students “Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israelis, and you are dancing.”
Only a few days ago a mass protest/Harlem Shake dance was planned in Tunis in front of the Ministry of Education. Thousands said they would participate, but the rainy weather appeared to have dampened the turnout, with only a few dozen students taking part in the protest with shouts of “freedom, freedom.” In a Washington Post report, students stated their own reasons for participating in the dance: one said the dance represented a way to vent and take a break from the stresses of the past year, and another reported that he wanted to take advantage of the newfound freedoms thanks to the revolution after years of harassment and repression. In additional reporting on the mass protest, a student said he was there to make the minister of education understand that he cannot stop the dancing – “This policy of suppressing rebellious spirit is no longer acceptable.” The initial video and the backlash have only served to produce even more Harlem Shake videos, and the meme and its meaning continue to flourish in Tunisia.
In Egypt, where there are strict public indecency laws, four pharmaceutical students were arrested after posting a video of themselves doing the dance semi-naked in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood. Students in Egypt have also posted videos of the Harlem Shake being done in front of the Pyramids (it is unclear whether the Pyramid video is the same one that resulted in the arrests).
Following the arrests of the four students, somewhere between 70 and 400 protesters showed up outside
the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to stage a Harlem Shake dance/protest. The dance was organized to be a peaceful protest of the ruling party and President Mohammed Morsi, and a lighthearted moment in an Egypt that is still reeling from its transformation. A unique twist in the Egypt story: a member of the Muslim Brotherhood created his own Harlem Shake video in response to the protest, in which he and other people wear masks featuring the faces of opposition party members. The video has apparently since been taken down.
What is particularly interesting about the way the Harlem Shake is being used in Egypt, is that the protest outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters was organized by a newly formed group called “The Satiric Revolutionary Struggle” which has
its own Facebook page with over 1,000 likes. The Verge reports that the group was started by 17 year old Mahmoud Tabei and three of his friends so that they could work on making political statements through humorous demonstrations. Tabei said that he had seven friends who died in the Arab Spring violence in Egypt and that another of the aims of the newly formed group is to raise morale and “refresh minds.” The next event the group is working on is a marathon that will start at the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (the party of deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak), and end at the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters. The Verge writes that “it’s a path meant to symbolize Egypt’s political trajectory from Mubarak to Morsi. Its message, according to Tabei, should be clear: ‘They are the same. Nothing has changed.’”
So what does all of this mean for cultural public diplomacy? It appears that the Harlem Shake meme was an inadvertent export of Western culture (particularly U.S. culture) that hit the Middle East and transformed from something that was initially fun and lighthearted, into something more meaningful and useful to politically active youth, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.
Can the US government or an NGO or another some other PD actor harness the power and popularity of the meme in any way? Perhaps a rapid response digital media team at the State Department could message words of support for the dancers citing freedom of expression? It certainly doesn’t look good for the either the Tunisian government or the Egyptian government to crack down violently on the dancers, so that is something that the State department could monitor and then respond to if necessary.
It could also be true that this type of super fast social media movement is impossible to control or use in any way for cultural diplomacy. It seems that in the ever important short/mid/long term goals of public diplomacy, and particularly cultural diplomacy, that this sort of meme presents an “instant” goal of some sort—something that can be recognized and addressed.
Where a real opportunity lies is with the newly formed Satiric Revolutionary Struggle group founded by an Egyptian teenager and his friends. This is a group with robust backing on Facebook, and something that could be assisted with support from the USG directly, perhaps through a program that brings comedy troupes or political satirists from the US to Cairo to teach the group some of the “tricks of the trade.” Or an NGO or other organization could reach out to the group and show them similar skills they could use, as well as other popular media they could use in order to satirize the government. It is obviously still quite risky to criticize the government in Egypt, so the newly formed group should also receive training on how to avoid conflict, etc.
Perhaps the most important point to consider in this case is the US and its foreign policy remain largely unpopular in much of the Middle East—so any overt help given by the USG could be outright rejected, or worse: it could be seen as foreign meddling likely to result in a total shut down of whatever initiative it was trying to assist with in the first place. Thus the name of the game is “indirectness” – assistance in the form of things the group may actually want or need (e.g. a good piece of technological equipment to assist with video production or editing).
Sure, the Harlem Shake is probably not a highlight of US culture that the government would choose to export: it is not a gem like jazz or classical dance or paintings. But it is something that has a wide appeal to a huge youth population in the still evolving Middle East, and it is something the USG could potentially use to provide “helping” public diplomacy.
Kate Shriver is a graduate student in the International Affairs program at the George Washington University with a focus on the Middle East.
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
In his piece, “Schools, Hospitals or Cultural Relations?” John Worne outlines the “crude version” of the International Relations Positioning Spectrum (IRPS), a continuum that illustrates international relations as falling somewhere between aid and military power. As he defines it, the IRPS is “giving, helping, sharing, boasting, shouting, fighting.”
However, just as people have different conceptions of what “culture” means to them, a (cultural) spectrum, of sorts, can also vary in meaning. For example, Nick Cull, in his response to John Worne’s spectrum, argues that a more appropriate spectrum might fall: “listening – facilitation – exchange – cultural diplomacy – broadcasting – advocacy.” When using this spectrum in analyzing diplomatic efforts, though, understanding Cull’s classification of cultural diplomacy is crucial. As Cull defines it, cultural diplomacy is “an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through making its cultural resources and achievements known overseas and/or facilitating cultural transmission abroad.” In this sense, his definition most closely aligns with Worne’s “boasting” in the sense that an actor is promoting, or projecting, its own society to others.
Each spectrum, regardless of their respective labeling, contains similarities that are interesting when applied to a case study, such as “Cultural Diplomacy in Africa: A Forum for Young Leaders.” Cultural Diplomacy in Africa: A Forum for Young Leaders (CDA) is a network of students, young professionals, and cultural practitioners from across the world “who share an interest in the African continent.” Housed and run within the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, the CDA believes in the significance of cultural diplomacy as a tool for policy and uses it to address the challenges currently faced in Africa. Further, the network “conducts ongoing activity aimed at supporting development and strengthening relations between different countries and cultural groups within Africa, and between Africa and external partners…[and] provides an opportunity to network and experience the vibrant city of Berlin.” The Forum’s objectives are defined as follows:
As is fairly evident in its description (and in its many objectives), the CDA Forum is composed of a number of cultural diplomacy programs and initiatives. First, the CDA Forum greatly focuses on the role of African leaders within its program. These speakers, involved in lectures and discussions include “leading figures from the fields of politics, diplomacy, academia, civil society and representatives from the private sector.” Each speaker is expected to bring his or her own insights on the theme of the Weeklong Seminar. These activities of the Forum seem to fall nicely under Worne’s “sharing” or “boasting” category of the spectrum, but the nature of program will obviously affect the classifications. For example, lectures might align more closely with “boasting,” while discussion-based programs involve more “sharing.” One note of importance is that Worne astutely observes that some words might be better suited for describing various activities than others. For instance, he states, “‘Exchanging’ is perhaps a more accurate term than ‘sharing’ because it is more actively mutual and more purposeful. ‘Telling’ is perhaps fairer than ‘shouting’ to encapsulate diplomacy and campaigning…The intent behind it and the way it is done make the difference.” Therefore, lectures may be better classified as “telling,” since speakers are sharing their insights and experiences, whereas seminars and workshops are more about the mutual exchange of information. In addition to the speakers, the program provides opportunities for the participants to network with other attendees and explore the cities in a new setting. According to ICD’s website, social and cultural activities range from film nights to debates to group dinners to visiting historical sites. Although these visits provide an outlet for the attendees to meet informally with one another, the ICD website clearly notes that during group visits, participants “are able to see the city from a different perspective. They will be able to experience all that Berlin has to offer, as well as partake in visiting Germany’s top institutions, including foreign offices, the city hall, the German parliament, and various embassies throughout the city.”
Looking at the program from this angle shows that the CDA Forum through Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, in addition to supporting efforts aimed at African civil society and its overall development, is also an opportunity to promote the German culture to participants. This element of the Forum’s activities would fall farther to the right of the spectrum—perhaps under boasting or shouting, but what components are necessary before an initiative is classified as ‘shouting’ versus ‘boasting’? Determining whether participants felt like a significant portion of the program was geared toward German society would be interesting to examine within this context. Worne notes in his piece that “at its best, cultural relations means more ‘helping and sharing’, less ‘shouting and fighting’ and maybe one day a less urgent need to ‘give.’
This is a fair point, but it’s difficult to know the relationship between these points within the context of the CDA Forum because there is little knowledge on the CDA Forum’s participants. Although the website classifies them as “students, young professionals and cultural practitioners,” there are great differences between the former category of students and the two latter categories.
Is this Forum primarily composed of students trying to learn and “take it all in,” or is it composed of individuals who can take the knowledge they learn and actually apply it in their home countries? Both classes are extremely important, and relationships need to be built with each group, but there is a difference when considering the short and long-term implications of exchange programs. Ultimately, when looking at the elements of the CDA Forum, each of the tactics could be placed at different points along Worne’s—and along Cull’s—International Relations Positioning Spectrum. The cultural diplomacy elements of the program attempt to build relationships with African leaders, create networks (and lasting relationships) among today’s young leaders, and even promote the German lifestyle and culture through history, tours and dinners.
Although I tend to believe that multidisciplinary initiatives with numerous aims might have a greater chance of success, do multiple aims have the ability to dilute the central, core purpose of an organization or an enterprise? Does the Forum’s focus on multiple areas mean that this particular initiative has a greater or less likelihood of experiencing success, or does the spectrum not matter not matter as much in the grand scheme of things?
By Rebecca Woodward
The recent presidential elections in Kenya served as a platform to showcase mobile technology as a medium for transparent and fair processes in a country troubled by election violence and fraud in the recent past. There are roughly six billion mobile phones in the world, in Kenya over 75% of the population uses cell-phones, so drawing upon technology already in use as a tool for institutional accountability is a logical choice. Much has been said and written about the Obama administration’s approach to digital government, and it has mostly revolved around former Secretary of State Clinton’s plan for 21st century statecraft. This novel approach of Government using technology as the building blocks and foundation to reach out and connect with friends and (not-so-friendly) partners, has meant rethinking many of the tenets of diplomacy up until now.
The U.S. State Department has developed several programs, which have revolutionized traditional diplomacy; among them is TechCamp, which is a program within the Civil Society 2.0 initiative. Since 2010, there have been over 15 TechCamps held all over the world, from Santiago (Chile) to Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), aimed at educating civil societies around the world providing them with stronger technology skills, which in turn will lead to more transparent governments and empowered citizens, ultimately strengthening democratic institutions.
Other countries have similar initiatives using technology as a key component of their diplomacy toolkit, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), for example, has a wide array of programs across the world which use basic SMS to request service from government agencies, report service interruptions or lack of service in order to keep governments accountable. In the U.S., organizations such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), among others have been active in democracy promotion for many years, and as technology has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, it has also become part of their programs. More recently, organizations such as Code for America have begun expanding internationally to partner with local governments worldwide to provide them with the tools and insights needed to bring technology to their citizens.
The TechCamp initiative differentiates itself from other organizations in that it brings together people from varying socio-economic backgrounds around technology, whereas NDI or SIDA bring technology to specific groups with common interests (teachers, economists). TechCamp reflects the values of 21st Century Statecraft touted by the Obama administration: openness, transparency, and engagement. TechCamp reflects these values in its entire organization; the website provides “TechCamp in a box,” which includes all the tools needed to start a TechCamp, the planning process, as well as solutions which are documented (both in English and other languages) through TechCamp Wiki.
Through TechCamp, the U.S. is not only sharing cultural norms and values (including the Harlem Shake), but is also establishing valuable ties and on-going relationships with the future decision makers around the world. Finally, the recent TechCamp in Philadelphia is an interesting addition to the TechCamp curriculum. Having the domestic component could be interpreted as a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is not just exporting the program without applying it at home, but also to showcase work being done overseas by the State Department to U.S. taxpayers.
Countries using culture and diplomacy to advance democracy abroad, such as the U.S., need to take advantage of their privileged positions with regards to access to technology, communication channels and international presence. The U.S. could focus on strengthening the programs it has started to develop over the last four years and incorporate them into its diplomatic toolkit for future democracy promotion around the world. Programs such as TechCamp need to multiply at every level, promoting a grassroots approach to technology. As NGO’s move forward with successful results using technology platforms to promote transparency and civil society engagement; at the state level, cases such as Kenya illustrate the many uses technology can have in promoting democracy worldwide.
Rebecca Woodward is a graduate student in the Global Communication program at the George Washington University with a focus on Communication and Information Technology.
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
This post was co-written by Dr. Ali Fisher, Associate Director, Intermedia. Ali produces analysis of social movements which enhances organisational strategy, strategic communication and evaluation through network analysis and big data. Current research includes the use of digital media during elections, and social media as an information sharing tool during moments of tension, in addition to projects focused on e-diplomacy strategy and methods to disrupt the use of the internet by violent extremists. Ali’s book Collaborative Public Diplomacy; How transnational networks influence American Studies in Europe was published earlier this year.
Social media is one of the fastest growing tools of modern public diplomacy. The advantage of social media provides the opportunity to reach citizens of other countries in near real-time. Social media platforms also provide spaces for interaction, increased engagement, and thus furthering the goals of public diplomacy. This research has been conducted by Jeanette Gaida as part of a capstone project for the Masters in Global Communication at George Washington University, working with Ali Fisher at InterMedia.
The potential ease with which social media can be accessed and the low cost in comparison to other methods make it an attractive tool for many embassies, as well as other government offices, that are facing budget cuts and demands to increase engagement. Numerous platforms allow for the use of more dynamic content, such as videos, photos, and links, than traditional methods of giving lectures or passing out pamphlets. In addition, social media are key channels in reaching youth populations, a major goal of current public diplomacy efforts.
However, public diplomacy is not only about reaching a youth audience. It is equally important to listen to and understanding young publics, their thoughts, aspirations, information seeking and sharing behaviors along with the actions they take as a result. With this insight, there is greater potential to engage and collaborate with key communities rather than broadcast to a target audience.
Which platforms are used to conduct e-diplomacy in Washington DC?
With over 170 diplomatic missions in the United States, American citizens and social media users around the world have a vast range of channels with which to engage. Adding to the range of channels, many embassies also have multiple accounts on the same platform, often an account representing the Ambassador and an account for the embassy.
To analyze the extent to which Embassies in DC are conducting e-diplomacy, accounts were identified through the websites of the respective embassies. An embassy was recorded as conducting e-diplomacy if the embassy website had easily identifiable links to social media accounts or if a brief, basic, search of social media platforms uncovered an account.
Which platforms are embassies in DC most frequently using to conduct e-diplomacy?
Logically, some embassies will use more than one platform to conduct e-diplomacy. The research found that every embassy that uses more than one platform, use at least one of Facebook or Twitter as part of their e-diplomacy strategy.
Platform Usage Among Embassies
|More Than 1 Twitter||Both||Neither||Facebook and Not Twitter||Twitter and Not Facebook|
|Embassies using 2 platforms||88%||14%||100%||88%||0%||13%||0%|
|Embassies using 3 or more platforms||100%||19%||86%||86%||0%||0%||14%|
Total number of embassies using 2 platforms= 24
Total number of embassies using 3 or more platforms= 21
This overview of the data raises some important questions for further analysis:
An evidence based approach to e-diplomacy strategy:
To analyze the strategic implications of this data to inform the conduct of e-diplomacy, the capstone project will focus on five embassies to study in depth: the United Kingdom, Peru, India, Italy, and Sri Lanka. These accounts were chosen as they represent countries from a range of continents and will give a more detailed picture of social media usage. Further parts of the research will be made available at a later date.
About the Capstone Project
The Global Communication program is joint venture between the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. In this program, I have chosen to concentrate in Public Diplomacy. As part of the program, students complete a capstone project in which they partner with local firms. This project partners with InterMedia and looks at the uses of e-diplomacy by foreign embassies in the United States. Embassies mainly market to the American public, but some embassies reach out to citizens of their country living in the United States or to the public in their home country.