Measurement and Public Diplomacy

I believe the call for more measurement in the practice of Public Diplomacy can like anything lead to some positive and negative consequences. I want to start with what kind of measurements we are talking about. As we saw in the example of the UK Foreign Office, when it comes to measuring the short and long term impact of PD activities, we can use tools as tracking the media, tracking changes in the opinions of key influencers, and looking into concrete changes that have occurred in countries where the initiatives have been implemented. This is just an example that we saw; there also is the “360 degree” research approach to educational exchanges that Olberding and Olberding were talking about.

When it comes to the benefits and problems that more measurement could bring to the practice of PD, I believe Robert Banks in his paper “The Challenges and Benefits of PD Evaluation” explains it very well. He mentions: better allocation of resources, ability to justify budgets for PD efforts, it will reveal PD best practices, could lead to motivation among practitioners (given that they can see that what they do is working), and two more that caught my attention. First PD could be used more often in substitution of hard power, and more measurement answers the question of “So what?” as he puts it. More measurement can lead to seeing the impact these activities have on the audience and countries where we are doing it. As for the problems that could arise from more measurement for starters there is the negativity (if it can be called that) of practitioners to measure PD because of its intangible nature. These could lead to resistance from practitioners to actually do the measuring of PD efforts. Also the issue of attribution was raised in the readings, how and to whom do you attribute the outcomes of the efforts? When in our field there are always multiple actors working on the same issues.  Another interesting difficulty that could arise is the fact that it is expensive to conduct these types of measurements. Wont it create an unfair advantage for those who can afford it, versus the ones that can’t afford to do it? Most importantly Banks raises the issue of negative or unlikely results, if the initiative doesn’t work practitioners can feel the need to hide or alter results in order to continue to be funded, or even to keep their jobs.

For me the benefits outweigh the problems that could arise. I think the measurement of the practice of PD would be a great advantage that practitioners can take a hold of. It would not only help us understand what we do better, and see how it affects the publics, but could gain more deserved support from government which would lead to the growth of the field.

Why is big data so BIG?

Since the launch of Facebook, Twitter and of course the boom of internet search engine sites like Google, our world as we know it has been constantly changing and persistently becoming more interconnected. As Ali Fisher points out in her article, “Everybody’s Getting Hooked Up: Building Innovative Strategies in the era of big data” the of social media platforms to hit millions of users across the world. Because of this, social media platforms play a critical role in public diplomacy and as a result so does big data. In her article, Dr. Fisher quotes the definition from a UN white paper defining big data as “an umbrella term for the explosion in the quantity and diversity of high frequency digital data”. The reason why big data is important to a public diplomacy practitioner is threefold, social media is an ever growing popular phenomenon and social media platforms can be used to reach millions of people all over the world – and by tracking and evaluating the progress on these platforms, decision makers are able to track success of campaigns, better understand the needs of future strategies and develop gaps in programs that may currently not exist and possess traction. As Dr. Fisher discusses in her article, measuring and evaluating big data is key for public diplomacy efforts when trying to develop strategies that bridge the last three feet and provide platforms for different stakeholders based on their preferences and their needs. Big data is key in not only identifying audiences but helping public diplomacy organizations develop more innovative and actually strategic communications.

Cultural Diplomacy v Public Diplomacy – or not?

In the Fall of 2005, the State Department released a report titled “Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy”. The title of the report itself positions the conversation of the role of cultural diplomacy in overall US public diplomacy efforts. By definition – a linchpin is a pin that keeps a wheel from slipping off – or something that essentially keeps a complex structure in place. In the report, the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy make the case of the strong importance that cultural diplomacy plays in helping the United States influence public abroad. In his article, Jamming for Uncle Sam, Nicholas Cull supports the case that cultural diplomacy is one form of public diplomacy used to engage the foreign public and a method critical to helping a country conduct foreign policy.  

As the members of the Advisory Committee indicated, “Cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation”, it can help create a foundation of trust between peoples, which helps our policy makers develop political, economic and military agreements, demonstrates our values, creates a relationship with people (which can be carried out beyond changes in US government), and creates a more neutral platform to develop a platform for person to person dialogues. But, as Dr. Cynsthia Schneider pointed out in her article “It’s the Culture Stupid”, cultural diplomacy is actually considered the “stepchild” of the State Department.

 Dr. Schneider argues for cultural diplomacy’s critical role in supporting exchanges and influencing foreign audiences abroad utilizing music like jazz and rock and roll to US films that portray positive values and perceptions of the US. Through our strongest exports like movies and music, we are able to spread the message of freedom. As Andras Simonyi (former Hungarian ambassador to the United States) put it, “Rock and roll was the internet of the ’60s and early ’70s. It was the carrier of the message of freedom”, it was part of the cultural diplomacy used by the US and other countries to help communist countries reach their freedom.

Countless examples exist of the positive influences of cultural diplomacy in healing relationships, building relationships and establishing a neutral platform separate from all government agendas to bring peoples together. But the debate will go on as to the role that cultural diplomacy will play – or at least the degree it will play in public diplomacy agendas in the future of the United States. As the report to the Department of State indicated, the US should use cultural diplomacy more heavily. But as Dr. Schneider points out, the cultural diplomacy team at DoS receives the least amount of resources (funding and personnel). Cultural diplomacy has its advantages, but it cannot be the be all end all driver of foreign policy. According to Robert Albro’s blog post “Aspiring to an Interest-Free Cultural Diplomacy”, cultural diplomacy tends to be “ineffective” or even fails when it is trying to push a policy agenda making the case for where cultural diplomacy fits a continued conversation.

The Problematic Place of Cultural Diplomacy

Should cultural diplomacy — “the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples to foster mutual understanding” (Milton C. Cummings, quoted by Cynthia Shneider, World Politics Review, 13 Oct 2009) — be so distinguishable from public diplomacy? According to Nicholas Cull, cultural diplomacy is a type of public diplomacy, or “one method by which an international actor may conduct its foreign policy through engaging a foreign public.” (“Jamming for Uncle Sam”, Huffington Post, May 15, 2013) True, cultural diplomacy can be used to strategically engage in foreign publics, but Cull further states that these initiatives operate best away from government control. So then, how is one to strategically engage a public to help foreign policy objectives through cultural diplomacy if these programs are more exchanges of cultural ideas that should ideally be free of government agendas?

This question is precisely what makes it difficult to fully envelop cultural diplomacy in the bubble of public diplomacy. It has been used by governments successfully to promote not only cultural heritage and ideologies, but also take these ideologies to strategic locations in order to assist foreign policy objectives (a favorite example for the United States is the Jazz Ambassadors of the 1960s). But these programs do not typically have direct influence on foreign policy, either at home or abroad. Rather, they showcase desirable values and try to build a larger constituency for those values (Rober Albro, “Cultural Diplomacy’s Representational Conceit,” Cultural Diplomacy, Cultural Exchange, Cultural Policy, March 22, 2012). As previously mentioned, cultural diplomacy programs can and have been used for strategic public engagement, which puts it in the category of public diplomacy; yet because there is a slightly different approach to meeting goals, to say nothing of its arts-oriented methodologies, cultural diplomacy does need to be distinguishable from general public diplomacy.

As more and and more public diplomacy is being conducted through cultural diplomacy programs, this slight but important distinction of indirect effect on public consciousness through ideological interactions may be eroded away. Cultural diplomacy may also become an even more problematic term as the definition of “culture” is effected by the new media environment, the changing role of audiences in engagement practices, and globalization. However, for now, countries would do well to maintain the distinction between public and cultural diplomacy, for the simple reason that people are less wary of cultural sharing than of direct foreign policy engagement. Though it will continue to have a problematic place in diplomatic practice, cultural diplomacy will also continue to be a unique tool for nations that deserves to have its own label.

No Need for Distinction

I don’t think we should distinguish cultural diplomacy from public diplomacy. In her article, Cynthia P. Schneider (2009) reiterates that Milton C. Cummings defined cultural diplomacy as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples to foster mutual understanding.”  It’s about winning hearts and minds by involving emotion and empathy. This sounds very familiar to the objectives of public diplomacy. Bruce Gregory (2008) defines public diplomacy as “the means by which states, associates of states, and non-state actors understand culture, attitudes, and behavior; build and manage relationships, and influence opinions and actions to advance their interests and values.” Both definitions emphasize the need for engagement and mutual understanding. Cultural diplomacy is a means to engagement and mutual understanding of societies and values. This can be done through art exhibits, speaker programs, music exchanges, sports programs, social media campaigns, etc.

All these programs strive to create mutual understanding and spark conversations/engagement. Conversations are fluid, which is why different offices are needed to execute public diplomacy. For example, the Bureaus of International Information Programs and Educational and Cultural Affairs carry out different programs in cultural, sports, and culinary diplomacy, among others. In the end, the goal of cultural and public diplomacy is the same – create mutual understanding. We cannot go about winning hearts and minds with rigid programs, which is why we should not distinguish cultural diplomacy from public diplomacy. If all efforts work towards the same goal, why distinguish.

Real contact leads to better Cultural Diplomacy

As Albro discusses and as it discussed in this week’s lecture public diplomacy is in need of a new cultural diplomacy that is based on relationship building, and not just on presenting culture for foreign publics to try and understand. I say try because as Albro explains in his blog post titled “Cultural Diplomacy’s Representational Conceit” sometimes cultural practitioners believe that by presenting culture (whatever the medium is art, film, performance, etc.) and leaving it to the public to decode is enough, it is not. It is important to create a process where participants can engage in dialogue and exchange ideas while coming to an understanding together of each other’s cultures. Like the author explains we must not focus on us, and what we want, but on how we can help the other, and collaborate so everyone can benefit.

Another type of culture diplomacy that has proved to be effective is one in which public and private organizations collaborate in order to share different aspects of culture abroad. For example, the Sesame Workshop initiative that employs local production teams to create characters and stories that empower girls in countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, China, India, among others. This initiative not only shares lessons on how these types of programs are done in the US, and values that are central to countries in the West, but it is also a collaboration between both countries. Where local producers bring local values and merge them with ideals from the West that can benefit young girls in their respective countries. Another example is the Cultures in Harmony initiative in which through music they help people share and understand issues that are relevant to their community or culture.

What these examples and others that we read highlight is the need to share common values, enter in dialogue, listen to what foreign publics consider important or what they need, and to remember that although culture is incredibly helpful in sharing understanding between two people (or in this case governments and publics) it needs to be sustained with people to people contact, and with the idea that we must collaborate instead of trying to turn publics into receptors without explanation of who we are, our values and beliefs.

“Putting a Human Face on Social Networking” – Key Lesson Learned from The Last Three Feet

In the book, The Last Three Feet, various public diplomacy professionals came together to write short chapters about their experience working in some of the key U.S. countries – including Pakistan, Iraq and China.  No one story in the book is the same, and no one lesson learned is the same for all writers based on their experiences working overseas. What is important about this book though is that through various perspectives and experiences, we as scholars of public diplomacy and hopeful professionals in the field can read the accounts of our predecessors to learn best practices- identify what works and what doesn’t work. For a student of international communication and intercultural relations I was extremely interested by the chapter Aaron Snipe who captures 1. The importance of social media but 2. The need to communicate with a human face for more high context cultures. Mr. Snipe and his fellow colleagues at the US Embassy in Iraq recognized that communication vehicles like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were popular means of communication with youth – especially following the Arab Spring. An important key lesson for all communications campaigns is to know your understand – and understand the way they want to be communicated with. Defining the appropriate communications strategy can be conducted through focus groups, surveys, random interviewing to determine the appropriate vehicles a given population will respond to effectively. Just building a strategy is not enough though – as can be seen by the Facebook Page that the US embassy launched in Iraq (which took a hit from 4,000 friends to 1,000 friends in less than 4 months). To respond to this dilemma the Embassy took on a few measures including:

  1. Increasing the frequency of the posts on Facebook page as well as ensuring the content was relevant to users
  2. Developing more messages in Arab to appeal to local population; but also including a English option
  3. Giving a name and face to the Facebook Page “Administrator”

In particular – I am impressed by the decision to humanize the Facebook Page. Many times we can all find ourselves frustrated when posted on a given company’s Facebook page but we don’t get a respond to our request or sometimes complaintJ The use of personnel names and photos on the US Embassy Facebook page helped the Iraqi population see the Embassy in a new light and made people feel that they can actually connect with someone who works at the Embassy.

 Based on the analysis conducted by the Facebook Team, as a result of the measures that the Embassy took, the Facebook page generated nearly 100 new viewers a week, encouraged greater two-way communication between locals and the Facebook Team, and provided a platform to promote USG objectives through activities like the “The Question of the Day” initiative which increased insight into Iraqi society for the USG. In addition, according to Spine, after greater followers joined the Facebook page, the US Embassy also noticed an increase of applications for US Exchange programs; which were as a direct result from promotion by team members on the Facebook page.