A Day in the Life of a Public Diplomacy Officer

(One article I found to be interesting)

Public diplomacy is a role that all Foreign Service Officers must undertake to a certain extent. At the same time, it is a separate career track of its own and the officers in that track play a crucial role in shaping international perceptions of the United States of America. Every post around the world is different, but here is an example of what a typical day may look like.

I haven’t personally had the chance to do a tour as a Public Diplomacy (PD) officer yet so this hypothetical day is based primarily on my impressions of what my PD colleagues do. If there are any veteran PD officers reading want to call me out or add to the conversation in the comments, I’m very open to that.

Typically in a larger embassy, PD officers will be divided between working on the press side of things or dealing with cultural affairs. In our example, we will play the role of a first tour officer in a medium-sized embassy in Europe where we are doing a little bit of everything. As with all of the Day in the Life posts, this is just a basic example of what your day may look like. Your experience may vary.

8:00am – You arrive at your desk and log on to the computer. As it boots up, you start looking over both the local and American newspapers to see what concern relations between the U.S. and your host country. You know that one of the senior locally engaged staff will also provide a round-up of the day’s news, but you like to check for yourself. Your grasp of the foreign language certainly isn’t as strong as a locals, but you did spend about 8 months studying it before starting so you might as well put it to good use.

9:00am – You have a meeting with your boss, the Public Affairs Officer (PAO). The PAO is senior PD officer at post and overseas both the press and cultural affairs sections. You work closely with her and have the great opportunity to learn a bit about both sides of the shop. You are also learning about grant management, another important part of PD. At today’s meeting, you are discussing the Ambassador’s upcoming holiday party. There will be a private party for embassy staff and family, but the Ambassador is also hosting an official event with local government officials, VIPs, and press in attendance. You are in charge of managing the press portion and also writing a draft speech for the Ambassador. You show your boss what you have so far and she suggests a few changes.

10:00am – You return to your desk to work some more on the Ambassador’s speech. You do a bit of research to compare American holiday traditions along with the host country. The Ambassador’s speech will be translated by one of the embassy interpreters so you meet with him to be certain everything seems clear. The event isn’t for another week, but you know the Ambassador often likes to add his own style to a speech so you want to get to him early.

11:00am – The embassy has a rather active Facebook and Twitter community. You monitor both to look for questions and references and answer them or direct the community to a more appropriate resource. Many of the questions are consular related and you direct them to the embassy website for more information on the visa process.

12:30pm – You join the other first and second tour officers for lunch with the DCM. As entry level FSOs, you’re all still learning the ropes and it is the role of the DCM to help guide your career.

2:00pm – The PD section manages a significant amount of money in the form of grants. Although you do not have a grants warrant, you are eager to learn more about this complicated process. You are helping out the embassy grants officer with some monitoring and agree to make a few calls to local universities to see how they have been using the grant money the embassy gave them. All of this is carefully recorded in their file.

4:00pm – It is crunch time for the people handling the Fulbright program at post. The embassy receives an enormous amount of applications for the program and often needs all the help it can get in reading them all and determining who should move forward in the process. You spent and hour going over the applications and making the tough call about who will get their dream trip to the U.S.

5:00pm – You leave work at an early hour today because you have a work event later in the evening.

6:30pm – You meet the Ambassador and the PAO at a local television station. The Ambassador is doing a live interview on a local news program. You are there primarily to assist as needed, and to watch and learn.

8:00pm – The interview was a success and the Ambassador is happy. You head home and get to bed early so you can go in early tomorrow. You want to see the news first thing to see if there is any reaction to the Ambassador’s television appearance.

– See more at: http://www.foreignservicetest.com/day-life-public-diplomacy-officer/#sthash.LQcWr31B.dpuf

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Week 4 Blog: Do you think public diplomacy officers should be required to get more training than ‘traditional’ Foreign Service Officers? Why?

– Do you think public diplomacy officers should be required to get more training than ‘traditional’ Foreign Service Officers? Why?

Yes, I think public diplomacy offices should be required to get more training than ‘traditional’ FSOs since public diplomacy officers are only one limited part of the specialties of FSOs, as Rugh states in Chapter 2. Where they formally classified FSOs as ‘tracks’ of public diplomacy, political, economic, consular and management.

He also mentioned in the article “the skills an FSO should have in a public diplomacy assignment differ in several respects from the skills required in non-PD assignments. A successful public diplomacy officer must be good at program and personnel management, interpersonal and communication skills, as well as reporting, and at staying informed on a wide variety of issues and topics,” that concludes public diplomacy officer as the exclusive position.

However, it is also true that in our overseas missions, public diplomacy professionals and traditional diplomats have some attributes in common. Both are “advocates,” who must present and explain U.S. policy positions.  Both must have an understanding not only of American policy, but also of the host country – its political and economic system, its history and society, and they way its people think.

But that is where the similarities end. Traditional FSOs and PD officers have very different jobs.

FSOs are primarily responsible for representing our foreign policy and reporting to Washington, while PD offices to this point must not only explain policy but also convey an understanding of American domestic politics, society, and culture.

Traditional FSOs are responsible for engaging primarily with host country officials, while public diplomacy officers engage with a wide variety of opinion leaders in various fields, namely anyone who is an opinion leader or influential in communication, whether in the media, academia, the arts or elsewhere.

Traditional FSOs work mostly on classified matters while PD officers work almost entirely in the open on an unclassified basis.

PD officers – unlike traditional diplomats – are also “programmers,” who facilitate meetings and dialogues between Americans and foreigners by organizing a whole range of activities–lectures, seminars, exchange programs, press events, website content, etc.–which allow these encounters to take place.

Because the scope of a PD officers’ mandate is to reach a much broader and more diverse segment of society, he or she is much more likely to need to, according to Ambassador Rugh:

  1. a) follow local public opinion closely from many different sources, including the media, and through contacts with a wide variety of people, not just official contacts;
  2. b) have excellent communication skills, to act as embassy spokesman, conduct interviews  with the local media, and give public presentations, which the traditional diplomat
    rarely does;
  3. c) be proficient in the local language, in order to communicate, one-on-one or in groups, with audiences who have limited or no English;
  4. d) be able, beginning with his or her first assignment abroad, to manage a much larger professional staff of Foreign Service Nationals than the traditional diplomat, whose FSN staff is small and has no access to much of the office’s work because it is classified.

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 4: Q3 How much freedom should public diplomacy officers have to speak their minds? Why?

Public diplomacy officers are governmental representatives to foreign audiences. Their key functions are to serve as mediators between their government (say US) and the local policies and public opinion. As Rugh states in Chapter 2 on Diplomacy Professionals, “they devote their major efforts to communications programs, and using soft power to develop mutual understand and win hearts and minds”. Thus public diplomacy officers are a human medium to represent US values, viewpoints and ideas abroad, while maintaining likeability from local audiences.

The question whether PDOs should speak their minds is very easy, once the officer personally agrees with any given US policy or action, and in that case, they should speak their minds, and by doing so persuading local audiences to follow their logic and build trust. In Chapter 4 Rugh emphasizes the importance of PDOs to be honest and truthful, as it is a crucial fundament of creating a sustainable relationship to the local public and networking circles. However, Rugh specifies that in case the PDO does not personally agree with certain US policy or action, they should refrain from criticizing US institutions and actions. Rugh does not encourage lying, but suggests the PDO refuses to answer to personal opinion questions in those cases.

I agree and would encourage that PDOs should speak their minds when their opinion is aligned with the US policies they are supposed to represent, especially when they see an opportunity to persuade local audiences towards such opinions. In the contrary case, PDOs must be very careful not to contradict US policies, even if it is done by silence, in refusing to comment. In certain situations silence indicates more than words could. These situations also make the experience and training of PDOs very important, since they often have to act upon their own discretion.

The baseline is that PDOs are there to create stable relationships, which cannot exist without a level of trust. To depict this thought, Rugh has quoted Edward R. Murrow, who as Director of USIA, said: “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”

Week 3: Cultural Diplomacy

Should we distinguish cultural diplomacy from public diplomacy? Why?

To my understanding, cultural diplomacy is the new trend and very important part of today’s public diplomacy and a tool of a nation’s soft power. Traditionally, art and culture were stood in the forefront of many countries’ promotional efforts. These countries recognize that showing their cultural heritage provides them with an opportunity of showing who they are, creating a positive image, thus helping to achieve their political aims.

In addition to that, cultural diplomacy is also regarded as forming international bridges and interactions, identifying networks and power domains within cultures and transcending national and cultural boundaries. With information technology’s presence, soft power incorporates national culture, including knowledge, belief, art, morals and any other capabilities and habits created by a society. The importance of public diplomacy has been emerging since soft power has grown out of culture, out of domestic values and policies, and out of foreign policy. Examples can be seen, such as China’s Confucius Institute, France’s Alliance Francaises, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, Germany’s Goethe Institut, and United States’ Fulbright Program, all functions around agreements between guest and host governments, for exchanging cultures and languages. It also draws the significant role of cultural diplomacy as the key of public diplomacy.

However, sometimes cultural diplomacy has become some kind of soft weapon to defend their political manners. At this point, I believe we should distinguish cultural diplomacy from public diplomacy, since as Schneider has said, “culture has limits. It should not be equated with politics, and certainly will not solve political disputes or make them disappear. But culture, in all its forms of creative expression, embodies many of the characteristics associated with free societies.”

Week 3: What kind of “cultural diplomacy” do you think would be most effective as a component of a larger public diplomacy program?

Cultural Diplomacy is different from Public Diplomacy, in that it often is not as strategy oriented as it aims relationship building and fostering mutual trust and understanding by exchanging ideas, art and information – as defined by Milton C. Cummings (In Schneider, 2009).

One of the main arguments opposing forms of public diplomacy deal with the propagandistic perception associated to it, however cultural diplomacy tackles exactly that issue. According to Schneider’s article, MIT, Harvard the New School and other institutions have studied brain processes in determining attitudes towards people, societies, organizations etc., and have come to the conclusion that these attitudes are more likely dependent on emotional stimuli and perception than rational information digestion. These findings point towards the importance of cultural diplomacy as a bridge between different people and nations.

Schneider mentions the great success cultural diplomacy has had during the cold war period, when African-American Jazz artists were sent to play around the world (especially the Socialist countries), where they were deeply admired for their music, and the expression of Jazz, as well as their dissident attitudes towards the United States in the segregation era. This unusual diplomatic task has had very positive effects in signaling the level of freedom of expression as a cultural value of America. After the Cold War these initiatives have been reduced, and shortsightedly seen as unnecessary. Schneider gives many current examples where cultural diplomacy is being an effective diplomatic tool, and areas in which it should be used more, such as the divide between Western and Eastern (Muslim) viewpoints.

According to Rugh, education exchanges, along with American spaces and culture exchanges have similar positive impact on relationship building between the US and foreign publics. While cultural diplomacy might lack in the diplomatic strategy component, these means offer the ethos of emotional bonding to strategic diplomacy for smaller more targeted audiences.

I believe the most effective cultural diplomacy policy includes a good coordinated mixture of all of these components within the public diplomacy realm, which would offer an efficient policy program where each element compliments the others.

Week 2: Do you think PD is too hampered by organizational and institutional contexts? What would fix this? A more robust domestic constituency? Better leadership? Better legislation?

Public Diplomacy is in essence a nation-state based approach to building international communication and relationships. State institutions and organizations are hence difficult to be taken out of the picture of PD, as they are the main actors in initializing PD efforts. As Kiehl points out, “…it is the message, not the messenger, that is key” in PD; however the message is usually produced by an organization or institution who is managing and funding whatever PD takes place anywhere in the world.

A hampered PD as a result of organizational and institutional context might be similar to any public service, in terms of creating a program in the midst of budget constraints, political incentives and public agenda. The ACPD report has enumerated a list of areas for improvement regarding this issue. Their findings suggest the improvement of funding streams of US public diplomacy, based on the effectiveness of programs, as well as broadening the spectrum in some areas, while contracting funding in less effective areas. The main idea behind the ACPD recommendations lies in the difficulty of measuring PD results. The goal of PD is sustainability in relationship building among different global actors, and it suggests commitment. In their findings the ACPD report emphasizes the higher effectiveness of long-term commitment and programs (such as Fulbright), which are relatively hard to measure as they take rather long to be completed and show results. Institutions and organizations, especially in political contexts, often prefer more measurable goals, which are easier to justify financially and present as successful meeting of objectives.

Melissen on the other hand points out the “modern” ways of PD which have come along with the technological advances. In these times the importance of state actors and institutions is shared with many other organizations and civil actors across the globe. According to Melissen the world is not as divided (into nation-states) as it used to be, and PD has to adopt to these developments.

From the findings and recommendations of the ACPD report and Melissen, it is evident that an improved domestic constituency, better leadership and improved legislation are all crucial factors in improving the effectiveness and overall processes of PD, while adapting to fast-changing means of communication.