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MAY 2015


Many in government are dissatisfied

with how the global public diplomacy

enterprise is measured and evaluated.

In my work as an instructor at the

Foreign Service Institute, I have been

able to look at scores of public diplomacy

projects and programs around the world.

I’ve seen very impressive work. But too

often, public affairs sections seem dis-

connected from specific policy initiatives.

Many PD staffers have trouble articu-

lating the links between their work and

policy advocacy. Media activities too

often do little more than repeat generic

messages fromWashington and promote

embassy events. PD professionals feel

that the approach is too reactive, and

some complain that their mission’s front

office changes priorities unexpectedly,

appearing to be most interested in pub-

licity and representational resources.

An Important Initiative

Harnessing public diplomacy more

effectively to substantive mission priori-

ties is the focus of an important initiative

that is neither well known nor under-


In 2013, the under secretary for public

diplomacy and public affairs (called R

on State’s organization chart) asked all

public affairs sections to draft a Public

Diplomacy Implementation Plan. For its

plan, each PA section is asked to:

• Select objectives from the mission’s

Integrated Country Strategy;

• Explain how the public affairs office

will advance each chosen objective, using

all resources—from social media and

grants to educational exchanges; and

• Describe what results can be

expected from the effort.

The mandate doesn’t stop with a

plan document, but involves reporting

throughout the year. The Mission Activity

Tracker, a companion Web-based data

system, allows staff to record significant

activities that follow from the plan, as

well as results (e.g., audience feedback

or favorable developments that can be

linked to the event). The MAT has been

around for more than 10 years, and has

been improved to the point where it is

intuitive and easily searchable. While

there is no formal evaluation report, the

implementation plan is to be reviewed

and resubmitted annually.

Most posts submitted plans last year,

and reaction from PD professionals has

been constructive, judging frommy

interaction with FS and local staff. The

great majority of them also feed data into

the tracker.

The new system has the potential to

provide Washington more granular and

realistic evaluations at the same time

that it makes public affairs sections more

effective. Consider these benefits:

• Until now, most mission strategy

papers have adopted broad PD goals

about increasing mutual understanding

or shaping the media narrative, without

specifying which bilateral issues they

address. The new document focuses on

missionwide objectives.

• Both the planning documents and

the activity tracker can be viewed by

anyone who has access to State’s unclas-

sified but protected OpenNet network.

This allows PAOs to compare notes

with other posts or read in on a future

assignment. Desk officers can search and

analyze reported activities across one or

many posts. Some bureaus already use

MAT entries instead of cables or email for

routine reporting.

• The entire MAT suite (including a

couple of tools still in development) uses

a standard set of categories for audi-

ences, programs and topical themes. That

imposes uniform standards of practice

and promotes accountability. PD expen-

ditures at posts are now coded by catego-

ries to indicate how outlays correlate with

stated priorities.

• The plans enable Washington to

know much more concretely what posts

have prioritized. That sets up a basis for

tactical decisions and evaluation, as well.

All good news. So what’s the problem?

Nurturing Needed

The “strategic cycle” (Washington’s

term for the planning suite) is new and

fragile, and it is planted on stony ground.

While compliance was good the first

year, deeper buy-in is far from guaran-

teed. There is a school of thought that

“you just can’t measure success” when

trying to change attitudes; so why try?

It is easy to treat the scheme as merely

a paperwork exercise. Creating and fol-

lowing a strategy is a new discipline for

most PAOs—one that has been neglected

since State took over the PD function

in 1999. Planning and logging activities

involves the whole section—Foreign

Service and local employees—and takes

time, which is in scarce supply in the PD


The electronic tools are being

improved, but will require further

refinement. And that involves long-term

budget support.

This second year of the initiative is

critical. PAOs in the Near East and South

Asia are only now submitting their first

implementation plan. The Integrated

Country Strategy exercise, a missionwide