Public Diplomacy How to Think about and Improve It

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The History and Future of US Public Diplomacy | Open Access Journals

A few hours before the arrival of the President, twenty-some East Timorese protesters vaulted the walls of the U. Embassy, determined to stage a sit-in that would, they hoped, involve the U. They achieved one objective, which was to draw global media attention to their cause. What sort of public diplomacy should be attempted under these circumstances?

We opted for openness. We answered every one of thousands of press inquiries, we gave live radio interviews from the embassy, we told callers what we were feeding the demonstrators, how we were handling one who needed medical attention, what our position was and why, and we did nothing to stop journalists from interviewing the protesters through the embassy fence. At the same time, negotiations were being conducted privately on what happened to the protesters, which succeeded in the Red Cross helping them depart for a third country.

The U.

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Now I will move to a description of cultural and educational programs, which are a significant and often underappreciated component of a successful public diplomacy program. You can make do with the newspapers alone, but they will mean far more if you have read the literature. The aim is to increase mutual understanding and prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to war.

After Senator Fulbright founded this program immediately after World War II, a number of other countries and private institutions established similar programs, so that now we have a fairly thick and, I believe, very helpful web of scholars with international experience.

These programs also strengthen bonds of understanding by providing firsthand experience of the U. We find that many people form very definite opinions about the U. These opinions are quite often pretty negative, or at best inaccurate and incomplete. We find that people who go to the U.

When they go on a U. If they want to see slums, we make sure they can see slums, but we show them what some communities are doing about slums, too. I know a number of other countries have similar programs. Few, perhaps, are battling as much popular-culture-induced myth as we are, however. I will add that public diplomacy used to mean additionally the organizing and financing of performing and visual arts programs, particularly in societies where American culture was underrepresented or unappreciated.

We spent quite a lot of money sending wonderful arts programs to the Soviet Union, for example, and we are told that these programs kept alive for many Russians a positive impression of the West despite a great deal of negative propaganda to the contrary. Now, however, that we are not engaged in the superpower struggle, our funding has been cut and we have eliminated most cultural programming.

We do assist American arts events that are financed privately, however, and in a place like London where there is a wealth of American talent on display, we provide an official presence and facilitative assistance to major events. We also are able to undertake the supervision of programs that help build democratic institutions in areas where such efforts need sustenance. I know the European Union is active in this work as well, and some other countries are too. In the new countries of the NIS, for example, we have helped the organs of the free press get started through the provision of equipment and expert advice.

In Northern Ireland, programs run from my London office support conflict resolution workshops and foster the formation of small businesses in an attempt to mitigate the poverty that is one of the roots of the troubles. Other tools of public diplomacy I will mention in passing, as they may not be applicable to all national efforts.


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We and several other major powers support international radio broadcasting, beaming news and other programs overseas in dozens of languages. We also run a parallel television service, which provides ready-to-use public affairs programming to overseas stations that wish it. We additionally conduct public opinion polling overseas for the U. This information is useful for policy-makers in Washington, who need to be aware of reactions and perceptions of foreign publics as they craft U.

Before I leave the "how to do it" section of this talk, I want to touch on audiences and technology. A public diplomacy practitioner has to choose his audiences carefully, unless unlimited financial resources are at his disposal. They never are, so we leave appeals to mass audiences basically to our radio, television and now Website programming, and we concentrate everything else on the people who shape opinions.

I have defined these before as journalists, government officials, academics, and I will add think-tank and non-governmental organization workers and leaders of business, the arts and society. We also have to assign resources of funding and personnel according to an analysis of which countries matter the most to us and in which countries can we make an important difference that serves our national interest. Given the paradigm I mentioned earlier, we examine and adjust resource allocations each year, because each year our relations shift somewhat.

Finally, I suggest that the application of modern communications technology to public diplomacy is absolutely essential, and I suggest that this means its design should not be left to the systems managers.

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Most government organizations, I have noticed, in the U. I recommend, therefore, that international business rather than government bureaucracies provide the models for effective public diplomacy technology platforms. I would also recommend rejecting an incremental approach. Some of the most startling and effective uses of cutting-edge information technology are occurring, I understand, in the countries of the former Soviet Union, because these countries have leap-frogged generations of now-obsolete technology. They got, for example, from snail mail to email without the intervening inconveniences of commercial express mail or faxes.

My belief, given the geopolitical trends already underway, is that we will be seeing governments engaging in more public diplomacy, not less. Along with transparency will blossom collaboration and less hierarchical processes of governing, less top-down decision-making and more bottom-up and collaborative policy-making. Public opinion will demand it. I heard recently of an example of how this might look: a White House advisor recently was tasked with developing guidelines for regulating a certain kind of international commerce. Rather than drafting what he and his experts thought best and then sending it up the chain of command, he first posted it on the White House Website for comment and input from whomever was interested.

The result was a set of guidelines far better than any closed-circuit team could have devised, plus he had buy-in thanks to the collaborative approach. Even better, enough people and governments had seen the guidelines that they started developing compatible regulations themselves.

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The next prediction is that successful leaders in international endeavors will themselves become more adept at using the tools of pubic diplomacy to gain support for their positions. Public diplomacy will no longer be a job just for certain specialists, like press attaches and cultural attaches. Nearly everybody in an embassy will be engaged in public diplomacy, especially the Ambassador and other senior officers. There will, however, still be public diplomacy specialists, and they will be people who combine the skills of systems managers, modern librarians, publishers, database experts, marketers and cultural interpreters.

They will advise the whole embassy team about how to target, distribute, differentiate and authenticate information so it is as useful as possible. In parallel to this trend, I expect that there will be a decreasing need to classify and restrict information. The dynamic of everything about transparency in government and the culture of the information revolution argues for openness.

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The future will assuredly bring us further advances in the amount of information available and reductions in its cost. Andrew Grove, the brilliant head of Intel Corporation, has said about technology, "What can be done will be done. The vehicle is simply not threatening or even important. These developments will result in the death of distance as an important factor in modern communications. Already, software companies are employing workers in these three zones to keep projects going around the clock.

In this fast-moving environment, the people who know how to choose, sort, edit, and authenticate information will become extremely valuable. The sought-after experts will be what we now are beginning to call "knowledge workers. In the information-rich world evolving before us, does the "virtual embassy" have a role?

The History and Future of US Public Diplomacy

Can we depend on digital video conferences, Websites and real-audio news feeds to carry the public diplomacy of the future? Probably not. I see nation branding as one of the most important tools of contemporary public diplomacy. Like public diplomacy, nation branding relies on a foundation of listening.

Learn more about the history of public diplomacy and nation branding in our interview with Nick Cull. Feel like exploring the topic further? We invite you to browse through our collection of articles on public diplomacy. Or jump directly to our latest posts linked to public diplomacy:.

Get to know and learn from the mistakes and successes of public diplomacy specialists around the world. Enjoyed this brief introduction to the fascinating world of public diplomacy? Share and spread the word! Want to stay up to date on latest place branding insights, strategies, stories and examples? Join our mailing list! Other countries with energetic public diplomacy programs, which most of the major powers have, would offer interesting variations, and I certainly invite you to examine them. I will start with information programs and proceed to cultural and educational activities. Information programs concentrate on the fast-moving actions and decisions of government and aim dissemination of materials to international journalists, government officials, and those academics and other opinion-shapers who follow the daily agenda of world affairs.

For the U. At the end of what I thought was a very persuasive presentation, one of the junior diplomats in the audience said, "Yes, but what we really want to know is how to control the press. No amount of "spinning" is going to change the facts. What you can do, though, is present and explain the facts accurately, persuasively and fast.

When I was in Indonesia, we had a very contentious trade dispute that involved obscure U. The Indonesian press and public initially were outraged at what they assumed was an action on the part of the U. Fortunately for both countries, this initial assumption was faulty. By first grasping and then explaining the facts of the U. Thus a fast, fact-driven campaign was able to prevent a nasty dispute and preserve what were quite harmonious overall relations. An American employee of the Embassy was caught red-handed selling drugs in "commercial quantities.

Denying that this happened or trying to minimize its negative character were not options. We gave out as much information as the law allowed, we expressed our heartfelt regret, and we were especially careful to explain that the military court martial the man faced in the U.

Fortunately for public perceptions - and justice - the suspect was found guilty and incarcerated. The outcome in the public view ended up being neutral for the U. My last example in support of the open approach derives from Indonesia in the fall of , when Jakarta hosted the APEC summit and eighteen heads of state, including our President and most of his senior staff. It was, needless to say, a busy time for press relations, as nearly 4, journalists were in town, most notably for us the celebrities of the White House press corps.

A few hours before the arrival of the President, twenty-some East Timorese protesters vaulted the walls of the U. Embassy, determined to stage a sit-in that would, they hoped, involve the U. They achieved one objective, which was to draw global media attention to their cause.

What sort of public diplomacy should be attempted under these circumstances? We opted for openness. We answered every one of thousands of press inquiries, we gave live radio interviews from the embassy, we told callers what we were feeding the demonstrators, how we were handling one who needed medical attention, what our position was and why, and we did nothing to stop journalists from interviewing the protesters through the embassy fence. At the same time, negotiations were being conducted privately on what happened to the protesters, which succeeded in the Red Cross helping them depart for a third country.

The U. Now I will move to a description of cultural and educational programs, which are a significant and often underappreciated component of a successful public diplomacy program. You can make do with the newspapers alone, but they will mean far more if you have read the literature. The aim is to increase mutual understanding and prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to war. After Senator Fulbright founded this program immediately after World War II, a number of other countries and private institutions established similar programs, so that now we have a fairly thick and, I believe, very helpful web of scholars with international experience.

These programs also strengthen bonds of understanding by providing firsthand experience of the U. We find that many people form very definite opinions about the U. These opinions are quite often pretty negative, or at best inaccurate and incomplete. We find that people who go to the U. When they go on a U.

Wilton Park: What is public diplomacy?

If they want to see slums, we make sure they can see slums, but we show them what some communities are doing about slums, too. I know a number of other countries have similar programs. Few, perhaps, are battling as much popular-culture-induced myth as we are, however.

I will add that public diplomacy used to mean additionally the organizing and financing of performing and visual arts programs, particularly in societies where American culture was underrepresented or unappreciated. We spent quite a lot of money sending wonderful arts programs to the Soviet Union, for example, and we are told that these programs kept alive for many Russians a positive impression of the West despite a great deal of negative propaganda to the contrary.

Now, however, that we are not engaged in the superpower struggle, our funding has been cut and we have eliminated most cultural programming. We do assist American arts events that are financed privately, however, and in a place like London where there is a wealth of American talent on display, we provide an official presence and facilitative assistance to major events.

We also are able to undertake the supervision of programs that help build democratic institutions in areas where such efforts need sustenance. I know the European Union is active in this work as well, and some other countries are too. In the new countries of the NIS, for example, we have helped the organs of the free press get started through the provision of equipment and expert advice. In Northern Ireland, programs run from my London office support conflict resolution workshops and foster the formation of small businesses in an attempt to mitigate the poverty that is one of the roots of the troubles.

Other tools of public diplomacy I will mention in passing, as they may not be applicable to all national efforts. We and several other major powers support international radio broadcasting, beaming news and other programs overseas in dozens of languages. We also run a parallel television service, which provides ready-to-use public affairs programming to overseas stations that wish it. We additionally conduct public opinion polling overseas for the U. This information is useful for policy-makers in Washington, who need to be aware of reactions and perceptions of foreign publics as they craft U.

Before I leave the "how to do it" section of this talk, I want to touch on audiences and technology. A public diplomacy practitioner has to choose his audiences carefully, unless unlimited financial resources are at his disposal. They never are, so we leave appeals to mass audiences basically to our radio, television and now Website programming, and we concentrate everything else on the people who shape opinions. I have defined these before as journalists, government officials, academics, and I will add think-tank and non-governmental organization workers and leaders of business, the arts and society.

We also have to assign resources of funding and personnel according to an analysis of which countries matter the most to us and in which countries can we make an important difference that serves our national interest. Given the paradigm I mentioned earlier, we examine and adjust resource allocations each year, because each year our relations shift somewhat. Finally, I suggest that the application of modern communications technology to public diplomacy is absolutely essential, and I suggest that this means its design should not be left to the systems managers.

Most government organizations, I have noticed, in the U. I recommend, therefore, that international business rather than government bureaucracies provide the models for effective public diplomacy technology platforms. I would also recommend rejecting an incremental approach. Some of the most startling and effective uses of cutting-edge information technology are occurring, I understand, in the countries of the former Soviet Union, because these countries have leap-frogged generations of now-obsolete technology.

They got, for example, from snail mail to email without the intervening inconveniences of commercial express mail or faxes. My belief, given the geopolitical trends already underway, is that we will be seeing governments engaging in more public diplomacy, not less. Along with transparency will blossom collaboration and less hierarchical processes of governing, less top-down decision-making and more bottom-up and collaborative policy-making.

Public opinion will demand it. I heard recently of an example of how this might look: a White House advisor recently was tasked with developing guidelines for regulating a certain kind of international commerce. Rather than drafting what he and his experts thought best and then sending it up the chain of command, he first posted it on the White House Website for comment and input from whomever was interested.