Thomas Miller

Thomas Miller is the Public Diplomacy Fellow at George Washington University on loan from the Department of State.
Thomas Miller has written 11 posts for Take Five

Hidden Successes In Public Diplomacy

There is an increasing recognition among public diplomacy (PD) experts that we need to pay more attention to the audience.  In fact, the word audience itself is losing credence as it implies one-directional communication.  Instead, we are urged to engage with our ‘partners’ in an on-going dialogue.  In PD headquarters around the world, there is also a trend to make PD activities more accountable and to build monitoring and evaluation into the design of programs, largely based on the impact the program had on our partners.


Examples of Meaningful Impact

The most successful programs are those in which our partners take ownership of United States Government initiatives, resulting in long term institution-wide changes which benefit both sides.

These gauges of successful public diplomacy programs rest on two assumptions.  First, there is the assumption that one has a partner willing to engage and work with us to enact programs.  The second assumption is that the most important successes can and should be measured.  But all PD professionals have had the experience of being directed by headquarters to deliver the unpopular message, knowing it may not necessarily be received well and may even be met by stiff opposition on the part of our interlocutors.  Our success as PD professionals is to deliver this message in as clear and culturally appropriate a way as possible, knowing full well that our interlocutors will disagree at the minimum.  Few of us are adequately trained for this kind of task and usually learn from our own experience.  More importantly these kind of necessary and challenging activities largely go unrecognized and certainly unmeasured as gauges of success.

I was once directed to inform the government in the country I was assigned to that the Department was going to curtail a very popular cultural exchange program.  I practiced my delivery in the local language and marshalled my arguments why this was the best solution for all concerned.  I then made the best case I could at a parliamentary session devoted to this issue.  The response to my arguments was so heated that the chairman informed the other parliamentarians not to kill the messenger.  Had I delivered the message in a different manner, would it have been received more favorably?  One can never know because one can never compare the results of something that happened to something that didn’t.  But I still believe that making the appearance before parliament and taking the heat mitigated the damage in a small way but I could never prove it.


Sometimes we cannot anticipate how our messages will be received (Credit Emerson SPJ)

While we always must defend our own government’s policies, maintaining long-term relations requires giving our contacts a fair hearing, even when we disagree. Allowing contacts to vent may indeed be an effective long term strategy and certainly provides a wealth of information which may inform future successful programming.  On her first trip abroad as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes went on a listening tour of Muslim majority countries  and was met by professional women very unhappy with U.S. policy at the time.  The tour was widely panned in the media as the events did not unfold as anticipated.  Yet many women I met in Turkey, even those who had not attended the programs, were impressed that such a high level official had come to listen and had truly seemed to hear what the audience was saying.  By any surface measurement of press coverage, the trip was seen as a failure but in terms of deep, long term impact it may have been an important success.

Our greatest successes often go unreported, or to state it in another manner, success is sometimes measured in the absence of reporting.  All PD professionals who have worked with the media have had the experience of either correcting the reporting about U.S. officials who were misquoted or ensuring that misstatements by officials do not get covered, because they were just that – mistakes.  This is possible only because the PD office in question has a long term relationship with the media outlet, ensuring continuing cooperation.

There are also occasions when the best strategy may be not to engage.  In one country I worked in, we decided not to engage with the most important and effective anti-globalization NGO.  As a hard opponent with a firmly held ideological view whose very existence depended on opposition to the globalization agenda, they could not be convinced or persuaded in any event.  In addition this group had already twisted the words and not given a fair hearing when the EU had tried to interact with this group.  By any network analysis, our decision not to engage would be viewed as a failure, showing the Embassy as barely connected to the most important player in this subject. But we had made a strategic decision whose effectiveness can never be measured.

In short, as the saying goes not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.  In an admirable effort to make our efforts more accountable, measurable goals are included in Integrated Country Strategy documents which lay out and justify our efforts for the coming years.  We can make inroads and experience the greatest successes in areas of overlap, where we have parallel agendas with local partners.  But there are many cases, especially in hostile environments, where our most important efforts cannot and should not be measured or even publicized. Just being present and listening may be our most important contribution, which lays the foundation for future measurable successes.

Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.


Prerequisites for Using Social Media to Oppose the State

Reading Zaharna’s articles on the IV Quadrant of Public Diplomacy and Going for the Jugular (with Nur Uysal), I couldn’t help but wonder why the IV Quadrant is so often associated with opposition to the government.   It is clear that if the public initiates a project, it is setting the agenda, a form of framing which puts the state in a reactive and somewhat defensive mode. Capture

(Zaharna’s Quadrant Model: Quadrant of Public Diplomacy )

Many of of the most successful Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are advocacy institutions focusing on a few issues.   The Sierra Club, for example, focusing on protecting the environment or the International Rescue Committee, which assists refugees, have name brand recognition associated with particular themes. Human rights NGOs would not focus on environmental issues unless there was a human rights angle nor would an environmental organization focus on human rights.    Such organizations exist for a cause, which in the case of the Clinton Health Access Initiative may be to partner with governments to overcome barriers to sustainable development or in cases such as MoveOn.Org to encourage governments and politicians to adopt liberal policies and change current practices.   The fundraising of these organizations depends on identifying a slice of the population focusing on their issue of concern facing a problem which needs to be overcome.  This focus gives NGOs enormous power as they can throw more resources at a particular problem than much wealthier organizations or even nations, which have hundreds of issues to address.   There is often an inherent bias of NGOs to oppose governments or vested interests in order to enact change.  If an NGO has too many items on its agenda, it loses focus and identity.  Its fundraising, followers, and future depend on having an important issue to deal with facing formidable opposition.   It is better to have one powerful opponent to mobilize followers. Often consisting of volunteers who join because they are personally affected by the cause, NGO members have the advantage of passion for the issue as well as in depth knowledge of local issues which drove volunteers to join the movement in the first place.   This ground truth stands in opposition to the impersonal and distant bureaucracy of the government.

In Germany for example, the NGO Campact has a team of 22 social media activists focusing on anti-globalization issues which mobilizes its 1.7 million supporters.  Given its exclusive focus and large staff, this institution can outgun the U.S. Embassy in Germany on this issue.   Campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnership (T-TIP), Campact organizes on-line petitions, anti-T-TIP demonstrations, flash mobs, lobbying campaigns, and marches throughout Germany.

Let us look  at Quadrant IV (see previous post for discussion of quadrants) with some examples of NGOs and independent journalists who challenge the Russian narrative from neighboring Ukraine.  Perhaps the most effective debunker of the Russian narrative in the Ukraine is the NGO (, based in Kiev which was established in 2014, originally by graduates, alumni, and students associated with the Mohyla School of Journalism, to “check facts, verify information, and refute verifiable disinformation about events in Ukraine covered in the media.”  To inoculate itself against attacks, provides transparency about its sources of funding and contributors. The site regularly refutes Russian disinformation, includes videos, articles on topics such as the weaponization of information, and has an especially useful section on tools to identify fake stories.   This section provides citizen journalists techniques for finding the source of the photo, including 13 online tools to identify a photo’s authenticity, techniques for finding the information about and the owner of website or the use of geolocation tools for verification.  In short this growing website provides media literacy tools any Internet user can use to ferret out fakes.   Other websites such as have similar agendas.

The example illustrates how an organization from another country, in this case Ukraine,  can oppose a repressive regime with actions which probably would not be allowed  in Russia itself.  The Campact example shows that in an environment supporting press freedom, an NGO can effectively mobilize the populace against government policy.  When conditions are ripe including freedom of speech and assembly and the associated ability to criticize the government, social media can be an effective mobilizing tool.  When these conditions are absent, repressive regimes can use social media tools to help suppress opposition.  Depending on circumstances,  social media can be a tool to liberate or repress.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.


Return of the First Quadrant of Public Diplomacy

Return of the Ist Quadrant of Public Diplomacy

In her excellent articles entitled “The Fourth Quadrant of Public Diplomacy,” and Going for the Jugular  R.S. Zaharna describes how relations between the state and public must be taken into consideration in “strategic PD options.”


Zaharna describes Quadrant I as the traditional view of public diplomacy with the state as the actor (State based) promoting state goals (state centric). Quadrant II still maintains state control but must touch the needs, interests, and goals of the public (public centered) for the message to resonate.  Quadrant III described the public as the actor or initiator of messages (public based) designed to resonate with the State (State-centric) to move it to action.  Finally Quadrant IV describes public initiatives designed largely for public consumption.  In her article, Zaharna labels the rise of the non-state adversary as a wake up call for public diplomacy practitioners.  I would like to focus on Quadrants I and IV in the next two articles.   In Quadrant I the State adopts an assertive posture, whereas in Quadrant IV it is non-state actors.

The tools of social media have enabled non-state actors to reach audiences unimaginable in the pre-Internet age.   With the powerful media tools of the I-phone at virtually everyone’s disposal, everybody can and occasionally does become a reporter even if inadvertently.  Witness the media attention to police cam or private citizen videos of people being shot to see how difficult it is for authorities to maintain control of the narrative.  Citizen-based reporting then can challenge the state’s version of a story whether it be the use of police force in the U.S. or behavior of politicians who thought they were addressing private groups.

Yet there are many countries including Russia and most recently Turkey where citizen reporters or even reporters in the mainstream press challenge the government version of events at their own risk.   Witness the taking over of the management of Koza İpek Holding by a group of trustees appointed by the Turkish government, which resulted in the dismissal of dozens of journalists and the transformation of the holding’s media outlets to government mouthpieces or the prosecutions and detentions of large numbers of journalists.   Or within Russia where Freedom House describes the gradual transition of media supporting government policies to actively participating in its ‘information war.’  A recent Freedom House report describes two new laws which restrict freedom on the Internet.  Federal Law 398 allows the government to block websites which contain ‘extremist’ elements (a rapidly growing category) while Federal Law 97 requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily viewers to register as media outlets with all the restrictions that implies.  Meanwhile large numbers of journalists are prosecuted for defamation and are actually physically assaulted.  The news agenda and editorial policy of media outlets are set by the government and more than 90% of Russians have state run television as their main source of information.

RT Images of supposed U.S. mercenaries in Ukraine (it turns out the image was actually from New Orleans), divert attention from the fact that Russian soldiers are in Ukraine.   RT reports that Ukrainian forces consistently break the cease fire, or that MH 17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or aircraft go largely unchallenged within Russia itself.  Looking at Quadrant I, one can see that these stories are a Russian state-initiated and controlled project with an audience that largely lacks an alternative source of information.  It is no surprise then that within Russia itself 88% of the populace according to a June 2015 Pew Research Center poll trust Putin to do the right thing in world affairs and 81% hold an unfavorable view of the U.S.  Looking at the Russia internal dynamics at least, it appears extremely difficult to penetrate the media landscape and influence public opinion on key issues such as the Ukraine.

Strong claims have been made that the Internet and digital media are irresistible forces for democratization. In fact, as we have seen in the cases of suppressive regimes, states can use the very tools that supposedly foster empowering the public to quash dissent.   As T.V. Reed and others have written, undemocratic regimes can use the trail left by on-line communications to pursue, harass, imprison, and even kill dissidents.  One salient example of the use of Internet as a double edged sword is Iran, where the security forces and a newly constituted cyber police unit was able to monitor personal computers in homes.   The regime also issued new rules requiring Internet Cafes to install cameras monitoring Internet users and forcing the cafes to collect customers names and contact information for a period up to six months.  Ultimately the green Twitter revolution was crushed through these strong arm tactics, which have been described as a high tech inquisition.

In an excellent article entitled “Hijacking Soft Power,” Chris Walker writes that while China has expanded Internet access to hundreds of millions of users, it has also enacted laws stipulating up to a three year prison sentence for certain categories of messages and reach deemed defamatory.   Walker cites Freedom House reports indicating that 15 of the 18 MENA countries are less free than they were 10 years ago.  Many countries are using a combination of Internet technology, censorship, and propaganda to impose their own version of reality.  As Walker states, these suppressive regimes are learning from each other and refining their approach to dominate the media space.

In short, one must enjoy a minimal amount of freedom of speech to effectively challenge the State as outlined in Quadrant IV.   In environments allowing a freedom of speech, social media tools can indeed be an overpowering force with a voice and set of arguments closer to the people than the governments they may target.   The next blog will give some examples of successful applications of Quadrant IV.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Balancing Relationships – Incorporating Policy into Pedagogy: The Iceberg Below the Tip (Part 7)

This is the sixth of a seven-part series. See parts one, two, threefour,  five, and six for background.

The previous six blogs have described how policy governs almost every action of a PD officer and how a large portion of a PD professional’s energy is consumed on internal alignment of the embassy and Washington in support of policy goals.  The public activity that is visible is the result of solicitations of proposals from Washington, elevator pitches, numerous conversations, meetings, memos, and proposals seeking funding.   Although research papers prepare students for subsequent courses, future diplomats and practitioners of PD need to master information and action memos as well to succeed in their jobs.  Following are some classroom activities which focus on activities PD professionals must complete before a program sees the light of day.

Activity 1 Strategy Memo to Washington in support of US policy.  After working with the instructor to focus on a European or Asian Country, choose from the following list of topics and select the country you will work in as PAO.  To inform your memo, study websites in the links related to your topic:

a. T-TIP (USTR Web Site on Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), US. Mission to EU

b. TPP Trans Pacific Partnership  USTR on TPP,  US Department of State on TPP

c. countering violent extremism (Bureau of Counterterrorism Department of State)

d. English teaching (Check Office of English Language Programs for ideas)

e. environmental programming (choose type: climate change, beach cleanup, reforestation, (google beach cleanup US Embassy, or reforestation US Embassy for examples), recycling (Check  US Embassy Berlin’s Going Green link for many examples of possible  projects for secondary students)


Include in your memo the following steps:

f. Situation/Importance of (country) to policy issue

g. Importance of issue to U.S. policy.

h. Sources of opposition/obstacles to overcome (Students should study opposition websites and articles to learn arguments of the other side.)

i. Values in the country to tap

j. Program activities

k. Budget for Program

l. How success of the program will be measured

Activity 2 Write an Information Memo to your supervisor evaluating an embassy’s  Public Diplomacy

  1. Social media presence
  2. Website Embassy
  3. Twitter feed
  4. Facebook

Include in your memo the following steps:

  1. Description of activity with statistics
  2. Goal of activity
  3. Strengths
  4. Weaknesses
  5. Suggestions for improvement keeping context and institution’s policy in mind.

Activity 3 Reverse Engineer Memo from Visible Program.   Analyze one of the following PD programs in a foreign embassy in the U.S. or a U.S. embassy abroad.   Write the action memo which resulted in these programs.

Examples to look at are the following:

  1. Social Media of institution in country x
  2. Public events of institution (music, dance, exhibit, talk, culinary demonstration, etc.)
  3. Exchanges
  4. Hard copy outreach (letters, pamphlets, posters, banners)

Activity 5 Elevator Pitch to supervisor for funding for program.   Write a 30-second (no more) elevator pitch in support of a PD program of your choice.  Use steps f-k in Activity 1 above.

Activity 6  Attend a program organized by a local think tank, educational or other institution.  Write a one paragraph highlight of a program. Include the following:

  1. Date and place of program
  2. Number and make up of participants
  3. Description of activity with explicit link to policy or mission of the organization (check website for mission statement)
  4. Participant reaction
  5. Short term and probable long-term results
  6. A photo in your highlight which tells the story you are trying to convey

Activity 7 Representational Event.  You are going to attend a large reception in country (you choose).   To prepare for the event, go over the policy points you feel will be discussed and review guidance to defend U.S. policy.   Go through the following steps:

  1. Choose the country where the reception is taking place and analyze the current issues which have U.S. connections
  2. Answer the following: a. What are possible objections participants may have to U.S. policy? b. What are good responses to these objections? c. What are some points you will try to interject into the conversation without prompting?
  3. Do a role play with other students (who have studied the country and issues)

Activity 8 Mission statements.   Analyze the mission statement of an institution of your choosing which organizes programs for the public.   Describe how the activities of the institution support or do not support the mission.   Choose an institution which does not have a published mission statement and write one based on the activities you can see.

Activity 9 Write a Request for Grant Proposals to put on the website of an embassy of your choosing.   Start with a policy goal and related problem the grant will solve.  Write a cover memo for your superiors describing the purpose of the grant and asking that funds be set aside.

Activity 10 Write a memo requesting institutional support for a conference you would like to organize.  Include the purpose of the program including the policy goal to be met, the desired outcomes of the event, the speakers you propose, the format, and a request for funding with a cost breakdown.

Activity 11  (Students are divided into groups of four playing the role of Public Affairs Officer, Economic Counselor, Political Counselor, and Regional Security Officer (RSO).   Buck up your knowledge of country X focusing on your own area (Economic Counselor looks at economic issue, RSO on security issues, etc.)  Clear on a Memorandum already written from the Cultural Affairs Officer (starting with PAO) recommending a large event to be held at the embassy.  You can copy edit as well as clear on content.   The final memo should reflect the input of all participants.

The classroom activities above are routine for public diplomacy professionals.

Students appreciate doing real world type activities which mirror work outside of the university.   This type of activity is useful regardless of the institution one works for whether it be another government or an NGO.  The important point is to tap the values of the institution you serve to justify the activity you propose.   In any PD program, the activity visible to the public is just the tip of the iceberg of supporting memos and conversations which made the activity possible.

Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.

Balancing Relationships: Bridging the Gap Between Exchanges and Policy Work (Part 6)

This is the sixth of a seven-part series. See parts one, two, threefour  and five for background.

Why then are cultural programs under assault by certain policy making circles?  Part of the problem may be that PD officers are much more effective advocates with contacts than with colleagues.  PD officers need to make a regular case to Washington and to other parts of the Embassy why and how exchange programs support policy goals.  Many do this already, and an effective PAO realizes that the most important diplomacy work for a PD officer is within the bureaucracy itself.   As argued in previous blogs, we need a policy edge for everything we do.  We need to sell our ideas internally without assuming that the decision makers understand what we do or that they see the connection to their policy interests.  If PD professionals don’t do the necessary internal PR work, they won’t have the resources next time around to support our external programs.

Rather than protect exchange programs from perceived policy taint, practitioners of cultural programming can tap the programs to support U.S. foreign policy goals without harming the integrity of the exchange.  The following are some examples from our Afghanistan public diplomacy efforts that illustrate the point.  Prior to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, an enterprising desk officer recruited 12 Afghan Fulbrighters who were already in country to join the conference.  The Fulbrighters not only met high level Afghan and U.S. officials, which strengthened their network, but provided much insight on the Afghan context to global participants in the youth conference that NATO held alongside the summit.  Several years later during President Ghani’s visit to the US, a similar group of Afghan Fulbrighters were invited to the State Department dinner hosted by Secretary Kerry, one assigned to each table.  There they could express directly to American and Afghan leaders their hopes for the future of Afghanistan and demonstrate some of the changes that have taken place in Afghan society over the last decade.   Deploying Fulbrighters in this way helped promote the success of the Fulbright program to legislators and others in attendance,  gave the students a forum for introducing themselves to potential employers in their own country, and helped strengthen a pivotal bilateral relationship.  Even some of the more short-term exchanges can be used to forward policy in ways that do not conflict with the spirit of traditional people-to-people programs.  Whenever a group of Afghan international visitors visited the Department as part of their exchange program, the same desk officer conducted a focus group and invited policy offices throughout the Department to attend the session.  In the informal sessions, the hard policy professionals saw the value of the program as they heard multiple insights about Afghanistan.  The informal discussions also broke down the hierarchical relations among the participants and empowered less senior members to speak their mind. These examples show that there need not be a contradiction between short term and long term exchanges or between exchange programs and policy.  They can and should be one and the same without damaging the integrity of the program.

It is helpful to remind those in policy circles of the long-term benefits of exchanges with alumni occupying important positions in institutions both within and outside of the government, alumni who remain influential as governments come and go.   Upon their return from the U.S. the thousands of Pakistanis who receive M.A.s and Ph.Ds  impart their ideas on critical thinking and democratic classrooms to their students while staying connected to the U.S. universities

After a six month institute where they met professors, civil society representatives and American students pursuing environmental activism and volunteerism,  alumni of our SUSI exchange created volunteer associations in their respective countries, held beach clean-ups, and talked to school children  about climate change and water issues.   Thus, cultural exchanges often have immediate payoffs at the local and institutional level even if alumni don’t reach high positions.   But they often do.  The key official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany responsible for the country’s policy in Ukraine, for example, is a former Fulbrighter and an excellent Embassy contact.   Long term exchanges may have a delayed payoff but a much more consequential one than programs designed to support more immediate policy priorities.  The CAO and the cultural staff should report regularly on the impact of past exchange programs and report on insights gleaned from regular meetings outside the embassy.  CAOs and their staff spend more time outside the embassy than any other section.  They have well connected contacts in the academic community who can provide a unique perspective on how US policy is perceived.  If the knowledge acquired is not shared internally, it is as if the meetings did not take place as far as headquarters is concerned.

Connections to policy should not only be top down from PAO to staff but bottom up from staff to supervisors.  In larger embassies, PD staff often attend staff meetings of other sections so that they are aware of policy developments.  In my last two assignments, PD staff including Locally Employed Staff were assigned to work closely with specific parts of the embassy;  the press section representatives attended cultural section meetings and vice versa.  This resulted in much richer programming with short-term as well as long-term payoffs.  For example, the press section in Germany ensured that there was a social media component for every exchange program or that whenever appropriate a media engagement was incorporated into the program.   In a true collaborative networked approach, they shared ideas from their contacts and from meetings they had attended in other sections, resulting in innovative and exciting programs.  The staff’s marching orders were simple: find creative ways to implement U.S. policy in ways appropriate to the German context.

Turning to the academic community, how can we be better at bridging the gap between study and practice?   My colleagues who read the theory have difficulties envisioning putting it into practice.   For example although there has been much criticism of an overemphasis on messaging, it has proven extremely useful in political campaigns and is therefore supported by political appointees who occupy key positions in the Department.   What aspects of messaging which have proven so effective in political campaigns can one apply to public diplomacy abroad?  Which type of messaging is more effective and why and how can we make messaging more dialogic? How can we benefit from management theory to help budding PD professionals to effectively harness human and financial resources?  PD professionals could benefit from studying management literature, which is full of useful suggestions for keeping supervisors in the loop or involving key players in an organization early in the process.  How can we foster long term relations among the press?  (Many posts conduct journalism training, which raises the standards while developing long term relationships with the Embassy.)

This post has advocated that the most important diplomacy a PAO practices is within the bureaucracy itself and that all PD activities have to support USG policy in some way.  The hard distinctions between cultural programming viewed as having a long term payoff on the one hand and press and policy work with short term benefits on the other hinder us from maximizing our resources.  One can often design more effective exchanges by breaking down the artificial barriers between short- and long-term goals.  Former diplomats and now scholars such as Bruce Gregory or Donna Oglesby, or a team consisting of a diplomat and scholar such as Lee and Davis provide models of how one can usefully combine theory and practice.  It would also be extremely helpful have more of this teamwork as well as more time and attention in the scholarly literature on the policy aspects of PD, which after all is the reason PD professionals are in the field in the first place. End Part Six.

Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.

This is the sixth of a seven-part series. See part seven here

Balancing Relationships: A Model for Bridging the Exchanges Policy Gap (Part 5)

This is the fifth of a seven-part series. See parts one, two, three, and four for background.

In the previous sections I argued that policy drives all Public Diplomacy activities in the U.S. government and that it is possible and often desirable to couple short term policy objectives with long term relationship building.   The following model describes a more fruitful way of viewing PD programs with different tools used for different purposes and contexts:


Rather than distinguishing between exchanges vs press or short term vs long term, perhaps we should focus on indirect vs direct programming and consider ways we can combine both.   Both direct and indirect programming have distinct advantages depending on the goal and context but the most effective indirect programming should incorporate aspects of direct programming and vice versa.  All PD programming must support policy.  If a policy connection cannot be articulated, it is difficult to argue for funding.   And all programs must develop as much as possible long term relationships with contacts, which of course cannot last without two-way (or more) communication.

Failing to take the long term relationship into consideration often thwarts short term goals.  At one of my posts, a brilliant embassy officer easily won an argument on U.S. policy with a leading journalist, who left the conversation defeated and alienated.   Had the conversation been framed as a teaching opportunity with a possible win-win outcome rather than as an argument,  the journalist may have come back for future conversations on the topic that could have led to more informed articles and provided a future outlet to explain U.S. policy.  In everything we do, developing the long term relationship must take priority over winning the moment (although it is possible to do both if done skillfully).  Similarly any program, whether it be an interview or tweet on policy must have a two-way or more exchange of ideas.   A tweet which has no reach is a failure.   Even in the area of messaging, PD professionals must always keep potential and actual audience reactions in mind and learn what works in local contexts.

Indirect Programming reaches audiences and potential contacts who may not share our views.   In other words, hard audiences can be reached with soft content.  In many parts of the world, the Department of State has English ACCESS programs which teach English to underprivileged youth.  Many participants in this program and their families resist association with the United States but do want a desired skill, the English language, which will advance their academic and professional future.   Students in this program often progress from a simple desire for English proficiency to realizing that English is a window to the world and end up developing a curiosity about the United States.   In one country I served in, we invited parents to observe the classes.  We had to expand the program as word of mouth imagesAccessspread through the community of classrooms which were empowering their children.  In another country I served in, the methodology used in an English Language Fellow program of student centered participation and development of critical thinking skills reshaped the teaching of the entire university as students in classes in other subjects pressed to be more involved in their own learning.

Soft culture programs have long term and often surprising payoffs.   In support of American Studies, the U.S. Embassy in Germany gave grants to universities which often invited speakers who were skeptical of U.S. policy.  My German staff member  in charge of the portfolio made a convincing case that allowing universities to choose which speakers to invite gave us credibility and more access to higher education.  On a daily basis the American studies professors we worked with functioned as honest brokers, criticizing policy when they disagreed but almost always explaining U.S. life and institutions and providing useful context.  American studies professors were often involved in arranging speeches for our Ambassador in universities that won over  hostile audiences  by willingly engaging, taking criticism, and then making a convincing case for our policy.

Finally, press exchanges develop long term relationships with media while giving journalists skills and contacts to improve their reporting.   In the regular interactions with journalists and other contacts over coffee, lunch, or in receptions, PD professionals learn about local concerns, explain U.S. policy and establish a relationship of trust which payoff every time a crisis arises or a high level visitor arrives.

Direct programming is easily understood.   A large percentage of the speakers we brought to Germany came to explain and defend the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe which is a top U.S. priority.  Although the agreement under negotiation is often demonized in Germany, those who heard the discussions came away with a more open mind.    Journalists and other contacts came to hear a high level official even if they disagreed with the policy.   They came not only to hear Washington’s point of view but to engage in a dialogue and debate.   This holds true for interviews as well, which are always two-way communication.

Thinking about all Public Diplomacy as serving policy with more indirect and direct tools at our disposal is much more fruitful than walling off exchanges from policy and policy from relationship building.  In short, PD professionals and academics need to focus less on the program itself and more on what the program is supposed to accomplish.   End Part 5

Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.

This is the fifth of a seven-part series. See part six here

Balancing Relationships: Exchange Programs as Critical Policy Tools (Part 4)

This is the fourth post of a seven part series. See parts one, two, and three for background.

There is a view within parts of the U.S. government that exchanges are soft and somehow do not advance U.S. policy goals.  In a time of tight budgets and daily crises, focusing on building long term relationships with a distant and uncertain payoff is viewed as a luxury.  Here I will focus on PD relations with contacts and the public – the part of PD which receives the bulk of scholarly attention – as critical programs to support policy.  I will also describe how one can raise the odds that funding in support of these programs continues.


I will argue here that the PD officer’s duty is not just to package and promote our message to key contacts but to convince policy makers of the value of traditional exchanges work.   Exchanges and other seemingly non-policy efforts support USG policy more subtly and often more effectively than direct advocacy.  Senator Fulbright, whose legislation introduced many of the exchanges which make public diplomacy possible, stated that mutual understanding is a worthy goal because it promotes peace.   He was making a direct appeal to the core policy goal of promoting peace that every American can understand.

PD professionals within the Department of State who work in exchanges need to focus on policy like a laser and make the case to their superiors that the program is worth the investment in time and resources.   The dichotomy between long term cultural relationships and short term press and policy work is a false one.   The bureaucratic divisions within the Department of State, with Education and Cultural Exchanges (ECA) housed in a separate building and cultural sections literally walled off in most embassies from information sections can conceal interaction between press and cultural work and the crucial policy work carried out by cultural programs.  Furthermore, one simply cannot support short term policy needs without calling on long term contacts.  This is the reason I label the traditional view of exchanges on one side of the equation vs press and information on the other side as misleading and in fact harmful to effective public diplomacy work.

dichotomy1Time and time again PAOs leverage long term relationships developed over time to further short term policy goals.   In fact, without the close cooperation with individuals and local institutions, one cannot even gather an audience for delivering policy.   When Secretary Kerry made his first public diplomacy appearance abroad, Embassy Berlin worked with long-term contacts to gather a diverse and dynamic audience.  The Embassy mined its vast group of alumni to assemble an audience for an in-depth exchange on foreign policy issues.  The whole event was filmed and broadcast by Facebook at no cost to the USG, once again thanks to the long term relations that had been established with cultural contacts and institutions. youth event

Even in the press side of public diplomacy, it is the long term relations which ensure that a high level USG visitor is quoted accurately and gets a fair hearing.  Because of the excellent relations many press officers enjoy with the media, it is very common after press events involving USG officials for the Information Officer to correct misquotes or misleading interpretations before articles reach the press.  Both sides want to maintain the relationship to ensure future access and journalistic standards.

Most State Department officials come to realize that public diplomacy programming is often the best way to reach out to potential contacts who would never be seen entering an embassy.  Whether through English teaching or concerts, opponents of our policy will participate in programs which they view are in their own interest, initiating the all-important dialogue necessary to effective PD.  In fact as Undersecretary Stengel and others have argued, the best approach to reach hard audiences is through soft diplomacy.

Finally alumni of long term exchanges are often the most credible messengers for US policy.   On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Germans, it was a French historian, who had participated in long term exchanges to the US, who most credibly argued for the important US role in liberating the city.  The same message emanating from the U.S. Embassy would have appeared self serving or defensive.

The PD officer needs to explain to headquarters on a daily basis how seemingly neutral PD programming support policy goals.   This entails making the explicit link between a program and policy in reports back to headquarters and ensuring that PD activities support policy in some way.   To ensure an effective program, one of my colleagues would write the highlight of the program before it began.   The highlight then became an effective guidepost in planning and executing the program.  This helped him and his staff ensure that the program supported policy goals, that press covered the event when appropriate, that the right participants attended the program, and that follow up was built into the design of the event.  The next post will show how policy support connects all aspects of PD work and erases divisions between long and short term goals.  End of Part 4

The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

This is the fourth post of a seven part series. See part five here

Balancing Relationship Based and Policy Based PD Programming – Managing PD Relations within the Embassy (Part 3)

This is the third of a seven-part series of posts. See part one here, and part two here

Equally important to the relationship with Washington is the relationship within the Embassy, primarily because different sections are privy to specific policy developments emanating from headquarters that PAOs are not.

State Press

Many PAOs start each day in the embassy with meetings in the Front Office with heads of other sections to review Washington developments which will affect the embassy’s work and to discuss local developments which may inform U.S. decision making.  The PAO’s job then is to convey this to the entire PD staff so that all work is aligned to the latest guidelines.  This may involve what messages to convey, what terms to use or avoid, or what the reasons are for policy direction.   Once again, for the PAO much of the work within the Embassy is to ensure that public outreach conforms to policy.  Before the PD section posts something in social media related to a trade agreement, the economic section has to weigh in.  A public statement on Russia must pass muster with the political section, which may alert the PAO to Washington sensitivities regarding wording or content.  By far the most important internal relationship is between the PAO and the Ambassador, who is the public face of the Embassy.  Although the PAO often plays a critical coordinating role in crafting the Ambassador’s public persona, in most embassies it is the Ambassador who deals with the press, delivers the public speeches, and personifies policy.

The average PAO spends much of his or her energy aligning agencies and sections with different missions and priorities and resolving the inevitable conflicts between representatives of US government agencies with different cultures and missions.  When I was PAO in Cyprus during the evacuation of more than 14,000 Americans from Lebanon, my primary interest was to help the press get a good story.  The Defense Attache had an exclusive focus on the evacuation mission with the legitimate concern that media could negatively impact that mission.  In such circumstances the PAO must work with the relevant section and with the Front Office (Deputy Chief of Mission, the #2 person in the embassy especially) to balance competing needs.  In this case we decided to respond to journalists’ questions of arrival time of ships from Lebanon and helped them gain access to the secure part of the port and on board ships carrying evacuees from Lebanon to Cyprus while ensuring that the media did not interfere with the arrival of the evacuees.  With our help, the journalists got their story of a US government-wide effort we could be proud of and the mission continued unimpeded.


U.S. Embassy Berlin – Internal Coordination: A Prerequisite for Successful Public Events

Following the old saying that amateurs think tactics but professionals think logistics, the PAO also must coordinate with other embassy offices that are part of the State Department to ensure successful exchange programs. One of the first things a PAO needs to do upon arriving at post is to develop good relations with the Admin Counselor, the General Service Officer, and the Budget and Financial manager to ensure that the administration and money side of the Embassy understands exchange programs, how the money will be used, how the programs will be organized, and how program success will be evaluated.   The PAO also learns from the Admin Counselor staff what rules and deadlines need to be followed to ensure timely service and support.  In Germany, for example, to prepare for large programs where hundreds of participants needed access to the embassy, the PD and Admin sections had regular meetings at all levels so that smooth logistics led to successful programs.   For example, long lines or bottlenecks at the entry to programs can reveal the lack of good planning and preparation.   When participants in a PD program are unaware of the logistics behind the program, one can consider that aspect a success.

One of a PAO’s main jobs is to ensure that his or her supervisors up the chain are never blindsided and that they have enough information to make decisions appropriate to the context.  The PAO and/or IO spends most of the day ensuring that the Front Office knows the latest guidance from Washington, that Washington knows of potentially problematic stories emanating  from the field, that USG officials are armed for potential press questions , and that the Ambassador’s speeches conform to policy.  The PAO must ensure that the Ambassador and Washington learn about a developing or a bad story before they read it in the press.  This gives the bureaucracy time to draft a thoughtful response.  Drafting guidance often requires input from other sections to ensure that the embassy is providing a united front.  In short, the average PAO must manage government internal relations (including much e-mail), manage the resources supporting exchange programs, and look inward to ensure the success of the outward face of the embassy.

We need to be reminded of Nicholas Cull’s admonition that public diplomacy must be connected to policy. It would be useful to see more scholarly writing on the internal dynamics of PAOs and other players in embassies as they cooperate to implement programs.   As described above, this internal coordination in support of policy dominates a PAO’s day.  Much excellent scholarly work describes managing exchange relationships with contacts in the field, but the public event is built on a foundation of internal coordination and consultation.   (End Blog 3)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

This is the third of a seven-part series of posts. See part two here, and part four here.

Balancing Relationship Based and Policy Based PD Programming: The Internal Relationships – A Focus on Washington (Part 2)

This is the second of a seven-part series of posts. See part part one here

The successful Public Affairs Officer (PAO) must skillfully balance and successfully navigate three relationships:  a.  the Washington bureaucracy, b. other sections of the embassy, c. contacts abroad.  The following diagram outlines the key relationships that PAOs juggle on a daily basis (I have highlighted the internal relationship in blue):

State Press

PAOs Managing the Relationship with Washington

Here I will briefly describe the internal relationships which dominate an average PAO’s day, how one tries to get different offices in the embassy and Washington on the same page (often literally), and how a PD officer can deal with the inevitable case of competing priorities.

The PAO Washington relationship is key to success in public diplomacy.   Effective PAOs and Information Officers (IO’s), whose focus is the press, generally spend the largest portion of their days aligning themselves with Washington.  From the minute s/he wakes up usually very early in the

morning, the PAO (and of course IO) monitors the local press to identify news items which headquarters needs to see.   These range from highlighting a story which may require USG comment to giving Washington a feel for stories which affect its interest.  The PAO and the staff must always keep US policy in mind in order to determine what to include in the daily press summary and how prominently to place it.  The story featured most prominently in the local press may not be included at all or may be placed in the background of the press summary sent to headquarters.  Locally Employed Staff, who do the bulk of the monitoring, become highly attuned to USG priorities so that they can highlight appropriate articles.  The PAO and IO may also clear on speeches from Washington or guidance for appropriateness to local context to assure that the host government and populace will read the message as intended.

Similarly, the PAO and in concert with the Cultural Affairs Officer ensures that all exchange programs support U.S. policy and that the allocation of resources reflects Department priorities.   By example, this meant programming more speakers in Germany to support our economic agenda such as T-TIP and in Pakistan developing programs to reach a more diversified young audience.   The PAO and CAO are in frequent contact with Washington to learn of Washington priorities and models of effective programming.  All these efforts are to bring Washington and the post on the same page.

But it is a headquarters oriented relationship, which why the line from Washington on the chart above is thicker than that from post to headquarters.  The Public Affairs Office in the field receives its funding from Washington with a mandate of explaining and supporting US policy abroad.   Often there is a competition among other embassies for resources with the proposal that best supports policy in an innovative manner garnering extra resources.  While PAOs may inform policy and provide ‘ground truth’ to Washington with daily press summaries and other reporting, and may backchannel to warn of directives from Washington that could harm U.S. interests, once the policy is set the PAO must enact it to the best of his or her abilities.

State Press 2Mastering USG policy requires reading the daily Department of State ( and White House ( Press Briefings, a careful reading of all speeches by the President, the Secretary of State and other high level officials as well as daily Department guidance and suggested social media content.  The PAO must be aware of all high level visitors from Washington to the post and the content of phone conversations between the President or Secretary of State and in-country counterparts.  A fine reading of these texts provides PAOs and IOs with an up to date understanding of USG policy to use in daily interactions with press and other contacts.   I would argue that the public interaction of PD officers, which receive much of the scholarly attention, is just the tip of the iceberg for the more important task of aligning the officer with Washington views.  With this knowledge, the PAO or IO can reply to press queries, correct misconceptions may which may arise in conversations with contacts and ensure that all outreach, including social media supports USG policy.   By the same token, the spokesperson in Washington is able to anticipate and prepare for questions using information provided by the field.

To garner extra funds for exchange programs, the PAO must know how to connect proposals to Washington priorities and how to make the case that a program that might on the surface lack connection to policy actually has a direct link.   Many of my American and German staff had copies of the strategic goals placed in a prominent position in their offices to underpin any request for funding and other support.  End Part 2

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

This is the second of a seven part series. See part one here, and part three here

Balancing Relations Based And Policy Based PD Programming (Part 1)

Balancing Relationship Based and Policy Based PD Programming


Public diplomacy activities are traditionally divided between exchanges, which are seen as policy neutral, and short term messaging, which pushes out the latest policy (see:  This division, in fact is reflected in the organization of U.S. public diplomacy sections abroad, which divide broadly into information and cultural sections.   The general view is that cultural sections focus on developing lasting relationships through participation in exchanges often with a long-term payoff as contacts rise over a lifetime into positions of influence.  The press side of the house does the heavy policy lifting, conveying U.S. policy to broad audiences and reacting quickly to short term developments.

  1. Cultural/Exchanges________________________________Press/Information

Long Term                                                                                                           Short Term

Field Oriented                                                                                                    Headquarters Oriented

Relationship Oriented                                                                                      Message Oriented

Largely Two (or more) Way                                                                            Largely one way

With a vast literature on building collaborative networks, the balance in scholarly literature on PD weighs heavily in favor of the cultural/exchange part of PD and developing relationships with contacts.  As Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel noted in an address at the U.S. Institute for Peace (, when public diplomacy in the US was created, there was a scarcity of information.  This provided fertile ground for institutions such as VOA to broadcast news and other programming  to information hungry audiences.   We have now moved to an infinite supply of information where the real problem is scarcity of attention and ability to process.

Undersecretary Stengel addressing the USIP conference.

Undersecretary Stengel addressing the USIP conference.

David Ronfeldt and others remind us that technological developments such as ubiquitous cell phones, the Internet and social media have hastened the trend.  They elevate many-to-many communication over traditional one-to many modes of the broadcast media.  Dialogue is valued over messaging, which is viewed as close to propaganda.  Thomas Keene, chair of the 9/11 Commission and chair Lee Hamilton emphasized that, “The U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for,” but also concluded, “Public diplomacy is not a one-way street.   It is not delivering a message:  It is communication … a process of engagement and developing relationships.”  There are simply too many players able to convey their message for a government to have a monopoly of information.  Although Americans in general have a particular talent for sitting down and having a conversation according to Undersecretary Stengel, he acknowledged that the State Department is much better at one way than two way communication.

Yet arguments can be made for a focus on the right hand side of the diagram as well.  The power in the Department of State and US government resides with those who make policy, not those who carry out exchanges.   In an era where one expects immediate results in domains from business to diplomacy and the rationale for PD funding is regularly called into question, one must build in some short term results in order to protect long term programs.

An effective senior PD officer must live, eat, and breathe US policy.   The typical Public Affairs Officer (PAO) will start the day perusing and watching local media to gauge how issues that touch US policy interests are covered.   A focus on US policy dominates the entire day from internal meetings to coffees or lunches with contacts such as journalists to representational events in the evening when PAOs may try to explain or defend US policy in multiple conversations.   Even in the area of exchanges (the left-hand side of the cline), Washington ties programs closely to headquarter priorities as posts compete for a dwindling resources.   Senior PAOs may spend just as much time and energy managing the Washington and internal Embassy relationships as those with their contacts.

In the next six blogs, I will try to argue that the view of cultural and information programs occupying different worlds is a false one which blinds us to areas of overlap and synergy.  I will show that money spent on long term exchanges is not a wasted resource that could better be spent supporting short term goals as some argue.  I will also show that it is possible to tie exchanges to short term goals without sacrificing program integrity.  The biggest payoff should still remain the long term benefit as alumni of our programs often become the most credible interpreters if not advocates for our policy.  Meanwhile academics studying public diplomacy often forget that the underlying rationale for public diplomacy is to support policy objectives.

I will attempt to bridge the gap with suggestions for making exchanges more policy oriented and messaging more dialogic.  I will recommend that scholars of PD devote more time and attention to activities that support policy and that are key to how government measures the success of PD programming.   I will also recommend that headquarters review the importance of establishing and maintaining long term relationships.

In the next two blogs I will focus on internal relationships within the Department of State bureaucracy and maintain that the most important public diplomacy is often internal to the organization.  Blog four will focus on the exchange side of the equation with suggestions for garnering more short term payoffs.  Entry five will include a model which eliminates the exchange policy gap altogether with a focus on policy with indirect and direct goals.  Entry six will include recommendations for both scholars of PD and practitioners within the government for bridging the gap between long term exchanges and short term policy PD.   The final entry will describe pedagogical implications of a more policy-focused approach.

Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.

This is the first of a seven-part series of posts. See part two here

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