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18

MAY 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

A Strategic Approach to Public Diplomacy

BY JOE B . JOHNSON

I

n Santo Domingo, U.S. Ambassador

Raul Yzaguirre believed that educa-

tion was the key to economic devel-

opment and social stability in the

Dominican Republic, and that improve-

ment in education required an increase

in the country’s budget. So Todd Haskell,

the public affairs counselor, developed

a strategic plan that included training

and support for pro-education groups,

a focused social media and traditional

media campaign that supported educa-

tion, and forward-leaning speeches and

articles by Amb. Yzaguirre to endorse

the efforts of a civic coalition.

The goal was to build political support

for a long-ignored constitutional require-

ment that 4 percent of national income

be devoted to education. Eventually, both

major political party presidential can-

didates endorsed the concept; and after

a closely fought election, the legislature

enacted implementing legislation. One

commentator called the ambassador’s

vocal support a “tipping point” for its

passage.

In Algiers, Public Affairs Officer

Tashawna Bethea used English study

to cultivate young leaders throughout

Algeria. Her strategy incorporated schol-

arships, educational exchange programs

Joe B. Johnson teaches courses

in public diplomacy at the

Foreign Service Institute after a

career in the Foreign Service and

seven years with CSC, a global

information technology and business services

company.

SPEAKING OUT

and an alliance with Berlitz. She also

opened the embassy’s Information

Resource Center to the public, gaining

1,100 members with cultural events, and

proactively engaged with news organi-

zations to publicize selected embassy

initiatives in country.

Ambassador Henry Ensher said

Bethea’s work during a three-year assign-

ment enhanced the overall political and

commercial relationship between the

United States and Algeria.

There should be no question that these

examples demonstrate effective public

diplomacy. Yet many in government are

dissatisfied with how the global PD enter-

prise is measured and evaluated.

The Challenge of

Measuring PD Work

The State Department and its

predecessors have been trying various

measurement and evaluation techniques

for nearly a century. In 2006, the Office

of Management and Budget rated public

diplomacy field operations as “not per-

forming—results not demonstrated.” The

first problem, according to OMB, was that

there was no “master strategy” to evalu-

ate. If you don’t have clear objectives,

how can you evaluate performance?

In September 2014, the United States

Advisory Commission on Public Diplo-

macy issued a report, “Data-Driven Public Diplomacy,” that analyzed this challenge

andmade specific recommendations

on how the State Department and the

Broadcasting Board of Governors could

use research to inform and evaluate PD

campaigns and broadcasting programs.

The report reviewed major past proj-

ects like the “Advancing Public Diplomacy Impact Study,” which a few years ago

compared favorability toward the United

States among PD program participants to

that of nonparticipants in seven countries.

It looked to future improvements in Web

and social media analytics, and made con-

crete recommendations: more research

staff and money, exemptions from laws

that restrict government surveys and data

collection, and systematic data sharing

among State and other agencies, notably

the Defense Department.

The report marks an important step

forward, and its recommendations are

compelling. However, I think it’s fair to

say that the commission’s viewpoint is

Washington-centric. In my estimation,

one improvement also described and

endorsed by the commission outweighs

all the others: making public affairs sec-

tions more strategic.

The heart of public diplomacy resides

in U.S. embassies, advancing U.S. inter-

ests and improving bilateral relations.

Yes, there are important cross-cutting

global issues that appeal to multilateral

audiences, and they are being addressed

in Washington and in the field. But

most key decisions are still made in the

capitals and major cities of the 189 coun-

tries where the United States maintains

embassies and consulates. Every mission

has a specific list of priorities to protect

American security and national interests,

and most of those priorities require sup-

port from sectors of the national public.