Matt Armstrong posed this question on Mountainrunner. The coding of the data he had gathered was crowdsourced via twitter. This has allowed him to run an analysis of the global audience of a government initiative run on a social media application.

The result of his analysis demonstrates that 67% – 70% of the audience is a demographic the organisation is not supposed to target. In numbers terms, 982 of the nearly 2000 individuals for which there was data, self-identified their location as in the United States. Further data available on Mountainrunner.

This data provides a number of further points to consider, two of which are;

a)      Location and nationality is not the same thing; though with no evidence either way an assumption on random distribution of citizens and visitors would indicate many individuals are likely to be US citizens.

b)      What does the distribution of users look like, what are the common nodes within the network, both within the US and outside?

To start the process of visualising the network of individuals engaged in this initiative I’ve mapped the network using the coded data provided my Matt and his helpers.

MMC Mapping audience location

This map & a higher resolution version of the map are available in png format, (may display better in Safari).

The lines on the map demonstrate how the individuals connect to particular locations and which continent that location belongs to. The dots identify the individuals their location as they defined it, and the relevant geographic area or continent. This allows clusters to identified around locations and comparison to be drawn between the audience in each geographic region.

As a number of individuals chose not to register a location, preferring ‘the blue planet’, ‘Earth’, or ‘the world’ these have all been grouped together.

This map is a fairly basic version of what these techniques can achieve; commentary on the map and how this can also be used to demonstrate or evaluate  a Public Diplomacy organisation’s engagement with different themes within social media will follow shortly.

Posted by: Wandren | June 29, 2009

#g2g

The evaluation of Government 2.0 initiatives using a network analysis approach, has demonstrated the importance of understanding the type of the network which is being engaged through social media. The value of consciously considering whether the initiative will be centralised around Government or dispersed throughout society should not be overlooked. This may unlock the potential of new ways of working including Open Source Public Diplomacy.

On Friday Canada House hosted Gov2Gov, an event presented by the Social Media Club and FutureGov Consultancy to discuss;

the changing nature of civic engagement and the relationships between citizens and their government, in which social media tools and the emergent ideals of Government 2.0 can be harnessed for better cross boundary collaboration and service to our citizens.

Joanne Jacobs was liveblogging at the event and comments via twitter #g2g give a feel for this very interesting event. Having taken part in this discussion about the future use of social media by governmental organisations I wanted to record some of my thoughts about the relationship between understanding networks and Government 2.0.

The potential governmental use of social media is inextricably linked to understanding of the network with which they seek to engage or that they seek to create.

The shift in ethos from that adopted through traditional channels of engagement to that most likely needed to use social media was a common theme of the discussion. A number of speakers emphasised the ability to listen to the voices of their constituency or to engage in dialogue through social medial.

This potential for listening and dialogue has the potential to empower collective action or collaboration on policy. To realise this potential, in line with the often discussed ethos of social media, governmental organisations will have to understand the form of network in which they are engaged. If they do not, experience demonstrates that the governmental approach to social media will adopt a centralised view of the network, where they act as if the universe revolves around them. 

Thinking of government existing in a walled garden and using social media to invite audiences into an area they control is a limited and centralised view of the network. Being able to reach out into the areas around which communities coordinate, thinking of Governmental engagement with networks as decentralised or dispersed along side the centralised option, has the potential to make communication more effective. The view of genuine collaborative engagement and collective action via social media will become increasingly important as the governmental walled gardens that exist in the physical world are increasingly surrounded by anti-ram barriers and police with automatic weapons. 

An example offered by Stephen Hale demonstrated the importance of understanding the difference between the centralised approach and collective action in a dispersed or decentralised network. The description of an engagement via Facebook described as leading to discussions with ministers prompted me to ask ‘what changed on the policy side as a result of your initiative and opportunity to engage in dialogue with ministers? The answer appeared to be nothing; policy remained the same as a result of this dialogue and it did not appear the intention had ever been to shift policy position on the basis of this dialogue (of the deaf). Photos on Flickr, video on YouTube, a group on Facebook, do not necessarily mean that social media is being used for dialogue or collective action. Government 2.0 will just be Gov 1 in new clothes if social media is used purely in this narrow centralised form. 

Another example discussed at Gov2Gov, Exchanges Connect also emphasised a centralised understanding of the government position in relation to the networks with which governments engage.  The aim of Exchanges Connect is to create an international social network to allow participants of exchanges to communicate, collaborate, connect.

 Though created using Ning, this initiative requires individuals to go to a centralised site, rather than embedding this exchange within the tools they use regularly. In essence participants must come to and area administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, rather than the State Dept. going to the points around which participants coordinate. Whether this matters really depends on the audience and type of engagement and organisation is aiming for, but looking at the site this morning there are 194 members of the ‘Fulbright Group’.

 Keep in mind; The Fulbright Program operates in more than 155 countries and has provided over 285,000 participants — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research in each others’ countries and exchange ideas.  Approximately 7,000 grants are awarded annually.

 The centralised approach appears to create a gap between reference in rhetoric to social media and even open source ethos and many examples of engagement in practice. If the ethos is to be truly adopted this means a shift from building cathedrals to engaging with a bazaar, effectively working in a Gramscian market place of ideas. Without this shift, governmental officials will struggle to identify opportunities for genuine dialogue let alone for collaboration and collective action. This aspiration for dialogue appears regularly in the rhetoric about the use of social media by government officials but significantly less often in practice. I offered an extended argument of this point in Music for the Jilted Generation: Open Source Public Diplomacy.

 This gap between rhetoric and practice may be interpreted as officials being disingenuous, but the benefit of the doubt makes it likely it was because governments regularly misunderstand their position within the network of those engaged in social media. 

For example, hierarchies are often contrasted with networks. While there can be hierarchical and network based models of engagement, it is a mistake to think of hierarchies as something separate from networks. Hierarchies are a form of network and a method of arranging a network map within social network analysis.

So what? 2 considerations:

1) Failure to consider the type of network has a significant impact on the sustainability of the programme. This is particularly important when governmental organisations build centralised networks and subsequently stop their funding / involvement in the vain hope the network will continue working. Centralised networks from which the central hub is removed are the most likely to collapse.

 Rather than revisit much of this here, Valdis Krebs and June Holley have written a good article on sustainable networks and the importance of recognising different roles / behaviour within a network.

 2) If networks are largely considered as centralised around the governmental initiatives, there is a distinct risk that governments are missing the conversations their constituents are having about the issues that are important to them. They may also be missing opportunities to engage or increase the impact of their programmes. One illustrative example is the discussion I attended in which military organisations were concerned with getting greater video capability in the field.

 The aim was to demonstrate to communities back home what they were facing and operations they were conducting in theatre. This discussion was almost totally detached from the numerous videos soldiers had taken with their mobile phones and uploaded to various sites across the web. (This included soldiers trading video / images of combat for credits on porn sites). Looking beyond the centralised approach would have provided this discussion not only with greater options. It also would have included in the discussion those videos and images already in the public domain and which in a centralised approach were almost invisible.

 For Government 2.0 to unlock the potential of social media it will require;

  • making the mental shift toward means of collaboration and cooperation,
  • understanding the difference between centralised and dispersed networks,
  • engaging in dialogue of the communities’ choosing in areas around which those communities coordinate.

 We must avoid conducting Government 2.0 with a web 1 mentality.

Posted by: Wandren | February 19, 2009

Networked R&D

The ISA panel session; Bridging the gap between theory and practice in Public Diplomacy provided a useful opportunity to discuss how links could be strengthened between academics and practitioners.

Accepting the premise that there is a gap between academics and practitioners I considered the means to create a bridge for theoretical perspectives to enter practice, and equally for the reverse to occur.

Theory and practice are currently caught in a paradox, the environment is evolving fast with new players, new providers, new tools all forming a new network. Yet, engagement and discussion are slowed by definitional arguments about the discipline and bureaucratic turf wars. Reading some of the resulting definitions it is are hard to differentiate what PD methods could be used under that definition and which could not, as a result I argued that there is a need to look past definitional arguments to focus on the shared purpose – influencing behaviour – and through the shared focus discuss, share and exchange methodological insights.

Online engagement is one means for exchange, practitioners and academics engage through DipNote, MountainRunner, USC’s PD Blog and John Brown’s Press and blog review among many others. Some of the links can be seen through TouchGraph which creates an image of the Google related pages database.

Approaching the gap between theory and practice from a network perspective it is clear that individuals are needed to act as a physical bridge between academics and practitioners. However, a bridge is fine but will do little by itself; there needs to be something to go across the gap.

For academics to influence the world of practice, should they chose to do try, their approach might be to consider how they can engage in R&D for tools which meet the immediate challenges of the practitioner, while embodying the theoretical perspective the academic seeks to promote.

In effect, as I argue in the presentation, the gap between theory and practice might bridged to some extent by better Networked R&D.

Posted by: Wandren | January 15, 2009

To tweet or not to tweet, what is the question?

New tech is changing the face of engaging with foreign populations, whether you’d like to call it PD 2.0 or not. Craig Hayden‘s post on CPD blog raises some important questions in this area and one of the key questions for different organisations will be through which of the spaces, platforms or technologies should they seek to engage? This however, is only half the question – the other half is not just being ‘on YouTube’ or ‘having a blog’ or even ‘tweeting’, how can the tech be used to its full potential, and which bit of tech is being used for what purpose?

Serious answers to these will help organisations avoid appearing like the drunken uncle dancing in cringe-worthy fashion at a wedding.  

The recent DipNote use of Twitter, has drawn comment from Enduring America along with wider comments on DipNote coming from Mountainrunner. Ok its not perfect and a good conclusion is one which Mountainrunner writes about DipNote “this really isn’t a knock on the blog, it isn’t more than half good either“. It’s not a disaster, its not a roaring success that will revolutionise PD, it is just nudging along.

This judgement however, comes with a slight caveat – it is based on what I think they want it for. That caveat relates not just my view of the State Department’s use of Twitter, if relates to all those deciding whether to use Twitter or not and by extension it could (and should) be asked whenever organisations are (were) considering Ning, Facebook, YouTube, etc or any of the next generation of spaces and technologies.

What do you want it for? What are you going to do with it?  Failure to ask these questions vastly increases the chance of using it ‘because everyone else is’. We’ve all been there at some point; there is a lot of buzz around a particular thing, then someone suggests it should be part of project x or programme y etc. next thing you know you’ve announced it and we’re off to the races there’s no getting it back now. Anyone that’s been through it knows this is a sure-fire way of appearing like the uncle at the wedding.

So it was that the already croweded infosphere was full of the news from #mumbai just before Christmas. Stories which suggested that as the attacks unfolded ‘news’ was pouring out of Mumbai last week via twitter while Journalists were coordinating informal information networks on their blackberries. Most news media covered this angle to some extent, though the revelation that NFL star receiver Plexico Burress somehow managed to shoot himself in the leg at a nightclub did run it close in some papers.

There is however, a distinct difference between the info networks run by journalists and the twitter avalanche that has particular relevance here. The networks were being run for a purpose (and received comparatively little attention), while the Twitter avalanche was just that, a lot of people sending personal communication without some overarching purpose – this was not some mass movement.

The wolfe’s den makes a useful point here; Never before has a crisis unleashed so much raw data — and so little interpretation. Equally, rumour circulated that Indian authorities asked people to stop tweeting in case it was providing the attackers with useful intelligence, yet in 100 pages Alexader Wolfe couldn’t find much of practical use.

Consider that avalanche, one article noted within five seconds at 0748 GMT, 80 messages were posted, another graphically demonstrates the speed it gathered pace. I don’t intend to discuss in depth the security implications of operating in such an environment, merely to highlight the level of buzz created stories of their own about Twitter. The numbers became the story…

This unfortunately has become the way in a number of things in Public Diplomacy, size of potential audience has been the draw not what can be done in that particular environment. The stories about the Twitter avalanche have an echo of some presentations I’ve seen over the last couple of years on the potential of new technology in public diplomacy / digital diplomacy / engagement in virtual worlds etc. Heavy on the potential, or at least potential numbers, but less so on the clarity of what is going to be done with it. Some of this to be fair may be due to the perceived (and in many cases actual) level of understanding of the audience – I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard “this is what World of Warcraft looks like” or “This is an avatar walking around Second Life and this is how many Avatars there are”. In these cases and that of #Mumbai, the story is the size of the involvement (or potential involvement) rather than the serious practical purpose it can serve. These technologies provide means for engagement not just an audience for a message!

I am not saying we should abandon discussion, nor that we should not be happy with having found another way of reaching an audience. I suggest that if it is just another means to deliver a message (even if it has more of a human voice than other methods), another way to ask for comment just to answer back with the same rebuttals that will also appear in other media, to take a centralised view and drive traffic to other sites or stories produced by the same organisation, it is a missed opportunity. But if that’s all you want if for then it will do the job just fine. Both DipNote and 10 Downing Street have been largely using them in this way.

These have parallels with Politicians playing half a game of tennis with 5 children from a school of 1800 students, a visit to 1 ward in a hospital treating thousands of patients a year, or perhaps a visit to the troops in the combat zone while the actual battle rages a safe distance (preferably a long way) up the road. Despite the high numbers actually involved in the general vicinity the engagement actually genuinely reaches very few, while providing a nice photo op. Image over engagement; which if that’s all that is desired then fine, but lets not discuss the size of potential size and discuss that is will reach a limited number in a cool way.

However, is there more? Sure; it could be used for coordination amongst participants at events. If PD organisations are engaged in events which are intended to promote network building then this has some serious potential (assuming that it is a technology the participants coordinate around – rather than one which has little resonance). For example, TN2020 run by the British Council attempts this – though seems to be relying on @andrewkneale at time of writing for many of the comments.

This method uses a public space by creates an introspective view, as many of the comments while public have little resonance to anyone not included in the ‘insider’ group of attendees. The deliberate channelling in this type of network building provides means for measurement and coordination while enabling network development amongst the attendees. It may even allow an invitation for outsiders to participate but it will be hard for them not to remain outsiders if physical events continue without their involvement. 

However, one may consider something like FrontlineSMS (thanks; Peter Upton) particularly if relying on a centralised network model, which provides enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale, largely through a central hub. OK it has not got the cool appeal of Twitter, but if phone usage within the target community is text rather than web-based, it may provide a serious alternative. It would facilitate organising; a swarm or a text vote, running a competition or providing auto-response for opening times at an information centre. It, as with much of the new tech discussion, all depends on where and with whom the organisation is working along with what they are trying to achieve.

Ultimately PD is about influencing the way people to act – tech may be one of the tools and providing information may part of the process, but the important debate is what to do through tech.

Repeating the same things through different channels, will have little success just as (as I highlighted in Options for Influence) the Cluetrain Manifesto argued companies would have to evolve their methods of engagement:

Most corporations, …only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.’

PD must evolve also not just to use the technologies these networks do, but also use them as these networks do. This will move toward the open source approach in some elements of engagement, as PD organisations evolve, Giles Scott-Smith wrote;

In place of futile attempts to control all information outlets and non-state actors, the aim has shifted more towards proposals ‘to create image and value platforms’ and ‘network relationships’ around which state and non-state actors can congregate and mobilize

To do this they may seek to engage in an open-source approach to public diplomacy

which engages in collective effort among peers (both foreign and domestic), whether they are governments, NGO, commercial enterprises, or members of a blogroll or Facebook group. In doing so it may seek to aid groups that lobby a foreign government for a change in policy but may equally aim to achieve the beneficial outcome by changing the behaviour of the population, directly irrespective of government policy or direction.

To tweet or not to tweet; the question is what are you trying to achieve?

Posted by: Wandren | December 15, 2008

Folly of soft power?

Came across this provocative analysis of British foreign policy and instruments such as The British Council. It suggests, amidst other media comment that “what British still has in spades is cultural power”, that:

The Council’s purpose is not to extend soft power; it is to build trust, engagement, and the genuine exchange of ideas. The alternative course of action would be to drop the emphasis on genuine engagement, a partnership of equals, and mutual benefit in favour of programmes “to make others follow your will”. (11th December)

While I’m working on a network mapping post, thought I’d follow up the previous post with a useful link on fostering sustainable behavior, from the guys that wrote the book on the subject.

Posted by: Wandren | November 13, 2008

Public Diplomacy is Changing the Odds

There have been many attempts to pin down what Public Diplomacy is about, and as I’m currently finishing editing The Trials of Public Diplomacy, this has been at the forefront of my mind. Rather than seeking another definition to encapsulate (or exclude) certain actors, methodologies, or bureaucracies, I’ve been seeking to think about what PD is it at its core.

To me it is attempting to influence behaviour to change the odds of certain outcomes occurring.   

In thinking about this I’ve revisited Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, in it he writes about how the management of the Oakland A’s broke down the entirety of a match into an encounter of each hitter facing a pitcher which became;

a miniature game in itself, in which the odds shift constantly. The odds depend on who is pitching and who is hitting, of course, but they also depend on the minute events within the event. Every plate appearance was like a hand of blackjack; the tone of it changed with each card dealt.

Moneyball p. 147

 

This analogy was based on the analysis of expected outcomes for a hitter, depending on where they were in the count. Paul DePodesta, working for the Oakland A’s, highlighted the shifting odds in achieving a favourable outcome, not just as a result of a ball or strike on the first pitch but importantly on every pitch.

“The difference between 1-2 and 2-1 in terms of expected outcome is just enormous” says Paul. “It’s the largest variance of expected outcomes of any one pitch. On 2-1 most average major league hitters become all-stars, yet on 1-2 they become anemic nine-hole hitters.”

Moneyball p. 147

 

Public diplomacy organisations should think similarly when considering the networks with which they engage. The networks are not static; each network exists as an ongoing cultural and structural negotiation where every action influences (positively or negatively) the likelihood of certain outcomes occurring in the future. To be clear; the odds of any specific outcome occurring will change with each and every interaction between the members of the network.

This is good news! A positive result can increase the chances of further positive outcomes in future. However, it is equally a cautionary note; an organisation cannot on one day have a negative impact, either due to Foreign Policy or specific personal interaction, and hope to return to a blank canvass the next.

A hitter that swings wildly and ends up 0-2 can not just ask nicely for the count to be put back to 0-0. The hitter is in a deep hole and will have to work very hard to get out of it. Likewise those conducting PD who realise their country, organisation or policy are unpopular cannot just change tack and hope that returns them to 0-0; they will have to conduct programmes which re-engage with the communities before they can then move on to attempting to achieve current policy goals through PD. This re-engagement stage cannot be missed out, by Barack Obama or anyone else.   

While much emphasis is placed on measurement and concrete outcomes, the reality is that Public Diplomacy can offer no more than influence, to change the odds of events happening. Public Diplomacy does not control people’s thoughts; it works to influence in systems with many complex and unpredictable inputs, it works with vast audiences that even with the best message testing and focus groups may interpret a PD programme in a way other than it was intended.

To return to the analogy, Public Diplomacy is about influencing a community in the attempt to make a desired behaviour more likely to occur. It is about finding ways of making it more likely the behaviour will be 2-1 and an all star idea, rather than an anemic 1-2.

Posted by: Wandren | October 16, 2008

Engaging America Online

Like a marathon runner turning on to the Mall in London, the US election campaign has nearly reached the finish. As in 2004 , this election cycle has demonstrated the growing importance of online engagement and highlights the potential for PD organisations seeking to target the US, as more key influencers emerge and engage on the internet. 

This engagement will require a shift in mindset to greater openness and dialogue in both planning and practise. Unfortunately, as Tommi Laitio highlighted this week Coping with the World, those that do conduct themselves with greater openness can be attacked for exactly that;

Senior foreign policy experts including some former foreign ministers are currently criticising the current minister Alexander Stubb for too much openness. Stubb allowed the daily Helsingin Sanomat to publish assesments of Finnish ambassadors on the status of world politics.

The Canadian E-discussions while not really discursive are at least an attempt at openness. They have a way to go to be considered genuine dialogue but it’s a start.

Why target the US online?

The ability of PD organisations to engage online – particularly those targetting America – matters because, recent Pew survey results and the accreditation of bloggers at the conventions, for example, have demonstrated the level of political engagement online.

The headline from; The internet and the 2008 election by Aaron Smith and Lee Rainie was that by June;

46% of Americans have used the internet to get political news and share their thoughts about the campaign. Online video and social networking sites have taken off…

Other key stats include;

  • 39% of online Americans have used the internet to gain access to primary political documents and observe campaign events.
  • 35% of Americans have watched online videos related to the campaign,
  • 11% of Americans have contributed to the political conversation by forwarding or posting someone else’s commentary about the race.
  • 10% have used social networking sites to engage in political activity (which is 40% of those who have created profiles on such sites. Two-thirds of internet users under the age of 30 have a social networking profile, and half of these use social networking sites to get or share information about politics or the campaigns).
  • 8% of internet users (representing 6% of all adults) have donated money to a candidate online.

The report demonstrates, unsurprisingly, that political engagement online has increased both since 2004 election campaign and the earlier Pew survey in 2006.

This presents two interesting options –

1) what can PD organisations learn from the way these campaigns are run, what is the relationship between the integrated official elements of the campaign and the dispersed elements which enrich the campaign at a local level but are beyond centralised authority?

2) Should PD organisations (particularly those with limited financial resources) be shifting emphasis from physical world to virtual when targeting the US?

The first I fear is too large a point for this post, and I’m not really the person to provide the answer – so I’ll leave it as a question should anyone wish to venture perspectives from the campaign.

The second question however, highlights an important point I can address – the US is wide open for online engagement, both for the purpose of domestic politics and PD initiatives launched from outside the US. As the Pew report demonstrates the numbers of people who use online platforms for political activity is growing. The question is how long will it take for PD initiatives to aggressively follow suit. There are of course, those early adopters that are already busy, but for the rest, the potential for mass engagement in an online environment is still one of untapped potential. The engagement of blogger networks for example, might provide means to deliver a dispersed strategy if a PD organisation had something with which to engage them. Ultimately will they be able to find a means of engagement?

Understanding coordination games and having individuals within a PD organisation empowered to engage in the online environments would be a start. These will require greater openness, a willingness to engage, and mindset that seeks out ideas originating outside the organisation.

With Americans increasingly engaging online, those seeking to engage may value the potential which could be gained from creating PD programmes that match this trend. This will likely require a breaking down of the formal hierarchies through which MFA, and related organisations tend to operate. On a practical level individuals will also need to be able to engage at work, so social spaces, online video, skype etc. will all need to work on the computers of PD organisations. The active discouragement of this engagement at work, through blocking sites and limiting access to technology shuts off a potential (and rapidly growing) area of engagement with the American population which for most PD organisations is high on the priority list.

With the report this week that operations in Afghanistan are playing catch-up with their opponents, in the use of video on mobile phones, this gap in adoption cannot be allowed to grow in any environment. For those, for example Europeans, seeking to influence the US public The internet and the 2008 election presents clear evidence that there is potential to conduct PD with large scale audiences online. The challenge, for many, will be whether the PD organisations can adapt fast enough to empower their representatives to engage effectively in these environments?

John Worne‘s International Relations Positioning Spectrum (IRPS), and Nick Cull‘s response provide interesting perspectives on the Cultural Relations / Public Diplomacy ‘divide’ and how work in the field is to be articulated. The IRPS appears a useful tool at the national level to help mediate in interdepartmental turf wars. However, the IRPS contains national peculiarities, specifically the difficulty the British Council faces in articulating its position, making it unlikely to become transferable internationally. This is best divided into two sections, first discussing the spectrum itself and second how this reflects the difficulty of articulating the position of the British Council. 

Read more on USC PD blog

Today when funds in many countries are being restricted or greater impact demanded from the same level of funding, partnerships are seen as one way of responding to the escalating demands on Public Diplomacy. However, how far can a partnership go, and what is the ultimate demonstration of success?

The example of the British Council continuing to work in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis is often sighted in anecdote. It is used as example of the British Council continuing to work through a time of crisis. This, while a nice story, overlooks that the appointment of sequestrators, including Abdel Rehim Rashwan, who was the chief inspector of English at the Ministry of Education in Egypt. As a result of sequestration, the work was not being run under British authority but by the authority of another national government.

This reality is, however, much better than the original anecdote and demonstrates possibly the ultimate success in building relationships with a host country:

The work and relationships which the British Council had developed before the Suez crisis were considered so valuable that the sequestrators “embarked on a policy for the Council which followed to the letter its previous activities under the British“. As a result, English language classes continued and a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream drew a large crowd.

In continuing the programme in this form, the sequestrators ensured that opportunities, for example language training, were still available to the local community. As a result, the British Council continued to achieve impact despite having to withdraw national staff and hand over authority for running their programmes.

Today with increasing focus on impact and growing emphasis on partnerships, how many Public Diplomacy organisations could rely on the target audience or local community to continue their work without the PD organisation being involved?

Many current approaches are unlikely to receive this kind of support.

Some ‘pump-priming’ grants or programmes set up specifically to be sustainable will be able to continue once the original Public Diplomacy funding is removed. However, these are specific initiatives. The Egyptian example demonstrates an entire national programme continuing after national representatives were forced to withdraw; the host government took on the responsibility of running the same programme as had originally been in place.

Many current programmes are developed to be heavily centralised, focusing authority on the PD organisation, causing the programme to be reliant on it for coordination and financial support. Inevitably, when funding or official support ceases the initiatives grind to a halt. This in many instances means the impact is limited to the time frame of the funding.

Engaging with decentralised or dispersed networks would have the potential to extending the impact, by passing responsibility for the initiative on to others. This has the potential to increase longevity but reduces control, a trade off that would have to be addressed on a case by case basis.

Today, whatever the approach, sequestration resulting in another country running an organisation’s Public Diplomacy programme is unlikely at best. The example of post-Suez Egypt is an ongoing example of the potential of a relationship, well beyond the usual hopes for partnership in the 21st century.

Posted by: Wandren | September 11, 2008

Glassman in the UK

James Glassman has been in the UK for the last couple of days, and along with marking 9/11 he has been celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Programme at Downing Street, speaking at Chatham House and appearing on the Today Programme.

Whilst his view of the rhetoric in the years immediately after 9/11 is interesting, and acknowledges the early failures in language, what is of greater concern is the approach which he has to facing violent extremism.

As in his first speech on Public Diplomacy at CFR he confuses the national interest with the Global. On the Today Programme, Glassman reiterated this position and made it clear that defeating violent extremist groups was in the national interest (and there’s no problem with a country wishing to mount an effective defence.)

The issue here is that the thrust of Glassman’s argument is;

The standing of the United States in the world is important because it makes it easier for us to achieve our national interest which in the case of violent extremism is really a global interest. However, improving our image in the world is not an end in itself…we are working very quietly to help build networks to give young people alternatives so they do not pursue a path to violent extremism“.

By claiming a national interest as global, rather than national policy being part of a collective, this evokes the same reaction as to his speech at CFR;

While it is useful to claim that everyone works for you, there are times when “they” will only work for you if you can subsume the national into the collective, rather than branding the collective as ‘American’.

Emphasising the need for a collective narrative rather than a focus on national interest, and subsequently claiming that ‘national’ as a ‘global’ interest, Channel 4 News yesterday ran story about the UK’s domestic programme of combating violent extremism. Whilst much of the piece is about whether some of the projects were value for money, some of the interviews also highlight that being seen as working for America may actually hamper progress – a situation made worse when American Public Diplomacy claims to be a self appointed leader – or worse ‘supreme allied commander in the war of ideas‘.

The coming 60th Anniversary of 22nd September highlights the issue at heart of Public Diplomacy.

The Fulbright Commission aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”

Is Fulbright, and US PD more broadly, only about bringing a little more ‘America’ into the world affairs? Or is it about exchanging knowledge and understanding?

In 1936 William Tyrrell (quoted by Philip Taylor) recognised “Modern defence consists not only in arms but in removing misunderstanding and promoting understanding”. In many instances this is still true, but is not solely a process of telling others they have misunderstood. If only they understood then they wouldn’t oppose us cannot become a common refrain for US Public Diplomacy.

Misunderstanding is also a problem for the construction of US Public Diplomacy. The failure to nuance rhetoric so that it supports and is part of a collective effort, rather than constructing a national narrative and claiming it as a global public good, demonstrates a misunderstanding what is useful to local communities that go toe to toe with groups seeking to target civilians.

Empowering dispersed networks is about taking the action most likely support the desired outcome. It is about taking a back seat when that is most helpful. It is, as Nick Cull put it, “(s)ometimes the most credible voice in public diplomacy is not one’s own“.

Empowering and engaging with dispersed networks are a powerful option worth careful consideration in Public Diplomacy practise. Indeed both in the UK and in the CFR speech Glassman has highlighted the need to work with networks. However, both times he has undermined the power of those networks by using a narrative which rhetorically claims ownership over the end goal or over the network itself for the US.

While advocating a particular national policy is a role for Public Diplomacy, James Glassman, and practitioners more broadly, should keep a keen eye on the end goal. If the end goal is communities empowered to face a common challenge, using rhetoric which damages that goal should be avoided, however tempting it is to promote the ‘national’.

Glassman is right that information operations are not enough and his emphasis on persuasion and inspiration has some merit. Yet if the US is to truly engage with the power of networks and dispersed networks specifically, he will have to add empowerment to the tools of ‘persuasion and inspiration‘ as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described them. Doing so has the power to deliver results, but only if ‘persuasion and inspiration‘ are done in a way that maintains the space (and credibility) for members of the network to act unimpeded by centralised US narratives about leadership in a war of ideas.

(Posted before the speech at Chatham House, if anything significant changes an update will follow)

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