Week 7: Real Time

Throughout this course I have found the mode of social media platforms to communicate in real time to the foreign public most compelling. In week one I posted about the increase of social media usage in nation branding via local civilians projecting a certain mass image on social media sites. In week four I posted about Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, who in 2006 rallied foreign service officers to make as many public appearances as possible to be heard and familiar to the foreign public they served. Prior to this campaign, officers were dismayed from making public appearances due to scrutinization of their message by their Government supervisors. Everything needed to be approved and that takes time.

In week 6, the article by Wallin focused on the necessity of giving autonomy to foreign service officers when it comes to interactions via social media sites. The bonus of communicating via social media to a foreign public is that response can happen in real time. In the past this method of communication has been stifled by attempts to gain approval for what messaging an officer was using. By the time approval was gained, the response was deemed late. The foreign public begin to see their issues as less of a priority for US foreign policy. Thus, it is essential to be able to give foreign service officers a certain level of autonomy so they can utilize the ability to communicate in real time.

This week’s readings on nation branding brings full circle that idea that cohesive messaging through all platforms including social media is essential to today’s PD efforts. Social media sends messaging not only from trained officers, but also from private sectors, nonprofit organizations, and civilians engaged in international relations on corporate, social, and cultural level. This messaging needs to be cohesive but autonomous in its efforts.

-Samantha Sobash


Wk 6: What does the term engagement mean in the context of public diplomacy? Does it clarify the purpose of PD or add to its ambiguity?

Public diplomacy work entails numerous partnerships with interagencies, NGOs, and more broadly civic society. These partnerships are necessary for a number a reasons. First, a government does not have the capacity to carry out all of its envisioned PD initiatives. PD officials, especially in the US State Department, are already understaffed and spread thin with the projects they are assigned. Second, many initiatives would not be as approachable to locals coming directly from government officials. It is more comfortable for a public to interact with foreign peer groups. And lastly I’ll mention that it seems more realistic that a separate entity would be more effectively evaluate and commit to a long term engagement than the government with rapidly changing interests depending on current world events. A government has to focus on whatever is most crucial at a given time. Therefore nongovernmental organizations can carry on the work that is necessary to maintain strong diplomatic ties with nations less on the radar of the US government at any given time.

Using the term engagement to describe diplomatic efforts can make the work a bit more ambiguous. However, I think it is a more accurate term when it comes to separating the type of interactions had by governmental officials versus nongovernmental individuals or organizations abroad. Engagement in the context of public diplomacy is descriptive of the interactions nongovernmental persons and organizations have with foreign publics that can be or not be on behalf of government initiatives.

This term is salient particularly when considering cultural activities and exchanges related to public diplomacy. For instance, if a dance company was sent abroad to lead educational workshops and perform for the public, I would think of this as cultural engagement under the umbrella of public diplomacy. Although these engagements add to the overall efforts to inform a foreign public about US policy, it is mostly about building international peer relationships.

-Samantha Sobash

Wk 5: Consequences for increased demand for better measurement and evaluation

It is clear there is a need for improved measurement and evaluation of PD programs. PD programs are challenging in the sense that they require long term attention to yield tangible results, most require cross sector partnerships which is difficult to appropriately evaluate, and the new forms of media utilized within PD efforts require new forms of evaluation. With respect to these characteristics of public diplomacy initiatives, it only makes sense to specialize the way we measure and evaluate the work.  As Banks notes in “A Resource Guide to PD Evaluation”, the evaluation and measurements of PD programs have to reflect the public diplomacy objectives for a particular country. However, currently most programs are evaluated base their own merits, thereby missing out on broader trends, links, and applications. Although it is necessary to consider programs based on their country’s context, they should not be evaluated in a vacuum. Aggregating information about programs with similar objectives in various countries will be highly beneficial to gaging what types of programs will work best in different country contexts.

In broad terms, the US has not carried out contemporary public diplomacy initiatives long enough to have sufficient base line data. This limits the credence of current program evaluation, because there is not enough data to prove long term effectiveness. However, when we consider big data, therein lies a range of possibilities for supporting the efforts of public diplomacy initiatives. Public diplomacy programs have developed to become much more interactive due to the internet and social media platforms. Big data exists, we just need to know what to do with it. Fisher suggests in “Everybody’s getting hooked up…” to consider two potential areas, the operational activity of an organization and observing the greater networks of communities worldwide. Enlisting big data can provide significant leverage for the effectiveness of public diplomacy programs worldwide. In light of these changes, the betterment of measurement and evaluation would have very positive consequences.

-Samantha Sobash

Infograph – Language beyond borders

This infographic provides great insight into where languages have roots and where crossover of various countries occurs. The readings throughout this course have indicated the necessity for Public Affairs  Officers and other public diplomacy officials to be able to communicate directly with the locals in their respective native language(s). Many foreign publics or officials will refuse to talk through translators for fear of misinterpretation or external ears in the conversation. While the US education system does not do an exceptional job at teaching foreign languages, it is crucial to the work of foreign service officers, and thus the US government supports intensive language courses as a significant part of officer training. This infographic is a great tool for knowing where your language skills could best serve or what language skills could be beneficial for a public diplomacy officer’s work.

Week 4 – Key Traits and Skills for PD Officers

The nature of public diplomacy work requires officers to have exceptional communication and marketing skills, particularly to be able to correspond on behalf of US interests, create programming that is appropriate for a specific target audience, determine which media sources are trustworthy, and gage how best to disseminate information to foreign publics. The following two examples focus on contemporary skills necessary for foreign officers in public diplomacy.

In 2006, Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, encouraged Public Affairs officers to make appearances on TV and radio whenever possible. Prior to Hughes, US officers had to get permission to make public appearances to insure a unified voice in statements made to foreign publics. There was a point where officers were not allowed to make any statements to Al-Jazeera, a state funded broadcaster in Qatar. However, Hughes made the case that it is more important for US officials to be able to speak on behalf of the US rather than leave statements on US interests up to critics on media networks directed to foreign publics. The two communication platforms mentioned above, TV and radio, continue to be key avenues to reach foreign publics where literacy rates and accessibility to the internet may still be low. In such cases, these communication platforms remain as important as in the Cold War era to reach target audiences. However, with the increased use of social media and the internet as tools of public diplomacy, there are more technological skills required of US officers today.

Public diplomacy officers are engaging with foreign publics on a far more regular basis than other foreign service officers, and thus it is imperative that their language skills are at a professional level. Public affairs officers can foster better connections and are regarded as more trustworthy when they are able to communicate with foreign publics in the local language. Language skills also allow a public affairs officer to make appearances on local media channels which are best regarded by foreign publics. Since the Bush administration the US State Department has received additional funding to improve the language training of foreign service officers to better communicate in their respective locations. While language has always been an important skill for foreign service officers, it is increasingly focused on in the training process today.

-Samantha Sobash

Week 2 – The US Military involvement in PD

After the USIA dissolved in 1999 the agency was consolidated under the US State Department. The US government believed it wasn’t as necessary to have an entire agency dedicated to public diplomacy work as the Cold War had come to an end; The US was on top in terms of the spreading of democracy and opening markets. The US has rested on their laurels when it comes to public diplomacy because it is seen as a nefarious act. Historically, the US has not necessitated diplomatic efforts in order to sustain good will with other nations, rather only when there is a crisis situation or when the US hopes to gain good will. As a result of the small US domestic staff as well as the Public Diplomacy Officials around the world in embassies, the workload is overwhelming. The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken it upon themselves to act as PDOs when necessary, however their execution of such tactics does not bode well as their military role overpowers their ability to think and interact on a civilian level with foreign publics.

As the Bush administration clearly marked the US presence in the Middle East as a “war on terrorism”, he deemed the situation as primarily militaristic in nature. Thus, the military have been the most funded and primary points of contact in these conflict areas. This is a result of their concern for US citizens’ safety in these areas. Although the DOD has no designated communication spending per say, their work is much more likely to yield significant funding than the international information programs to carry out public diplomacy initiatives. Although most recently the DOD has honed in on strategic communication and engagement, their downfalls in carrying out PD work is that the military tends to be narrowly focused, has short time frames for “operations”, utilizes mostly media as an outreach tool which tends to have unilateral messaging, and plans inflexibly in advance. It is evident that the uniform image is also a barrier to dialogue with foreign publics as military personnel come off as intimidating to civilians. There is a significant power dynamic that cannot be overlooked when considering the execution of PD work. It is essential for the foreign public to feel as though they are on a mutual playing field in order to actively engage.

-Samantha Sobash

Week 1

1) How would you describe public diplomacy to someone who was not familiar with the term? How would you convince them that it was important?

Public Diplomacy could be described as a means of communication to the public on a national and international level; with the aim of informing, influencing and persuading politics and public opinion of locals and foreigners with regards to various issues, actions, attitudes and standpoints.

While the term has been coined by Edmund Gullion in 1965 (Pamment, 2013), its meaning has since then differed based on global political circumstances at different points in time, and still can be regarded as a living and evolving concept.

According to William A. Rugh, the current 21st century concept of public diplomacy (from the U.S. point of view) essentially is the “idea of explaining ourselves to the world”. Rugh describes the evolution of the concept starting out as a mere “declaration, without institutional expression” which solely regarded foreign policy. However, with time the concept expanded to include understanding the American culture and society furthering to mutual understanding. Technological development of more recent years has made public diplomacy even more important, as people from around the world are more connected to each other; hence it is a way to give aimed direction to the flow of information. It can have various forms, but is usually aimed at opinion-shapers and makers abroad, who have the ability to transmit certain information to large audiences.

The importance of diplomacy can be understood by analyzing Professor Joseph Nye’s coined concept of “soft power – the ability to shape the preferences of others” (in Rugh). In connection to technological developments that have taken over the global sphere, many scholars believe public diplomacy to now be an inseparable dimension and tool of  diplomacy as a whole, which has expanded from the traditional nation-state level to transnational organizations, NGOs, civil society groups, etc. Continue reading