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CHAPTER IV - Recommendations on Reforming Public Diplomacy

Concrete recommendations for reforming public diplomacy focused on changes proposed to the international broadcasting community under the BBG and to changes to the operations of the State Department’s public diplomacy role, or the “R Bureau.”

International Broadcasting

  • The Dialogue participants, including two former chairs of the BBG and its current chair, the current Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, a former Secretary of State, current and former members and staff of Congress from both sides of the aisle, various industry experts and former government officials from State, the NSA, the FCC, and Commerce, on a bi-partisan basis strongly recommend that the Senate support the House-passed United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490).
  • The legislation would replace the BBG with the U.S. International Communications Agency (USICA), with a separate chief executive officer (CEO) managing the daily operations of the VOA and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
  • The legislation would create the Freedom News Network (FNN) with its own CEO, consolidating operations of the surrogate Radios (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks).
  • The Dialogue supports creating a more flexible system capable of adapting rapidly to emerging crises and anticipating trends. An example is the “pop-up” radio station the BBC deployed when Thailand was in crisis.
  • The Dialogue supports creating an Innovation Fund. This fund would give the CEOs the flexibility to respond and anticipate, through grants or contracts with outside contractors (including diaspora groups) in competition with the existing international broadcasting entities. The fund would provide short-term funding, or it could offer five-year seed money for longer-term initiatives. One thought is to create this fund from the funds that would otherwise be used for legacy systems. An alternative would be to increase the budgets for State, BBG, and the independent networks to cover both the legacy international broadcasting entities and the new grants.

Network Diplomacy: A Tool and a Medium for Better Connectivity

  • The Dialogue agreed that the United States needs to focus on building the platforms being developed through which people will communicate in the future. Currently 5.5 billion people have access to television, 5.2 billion have mobile phones, 1.6 billion have smartphones and 2 billion have personal computers. The United States needs to be in the forefront of connecting people, especially as new and better technology is coming on line.
  • The systems to bring 5 billion people online are being built now. If U.S. open networks and design principles are used in those systems, then U.S. values will be shared around the world. If closed technology and design principles are used, then U.S. communications can be blocked and censored. At the same time, the United States must protect the confidentiality of users who live in countries where freedom of expression is not tolerated.
  • Support for open platforms, not controlled by governments, gives people the means to link up and reinforces the view of America as open and transforming. U.S. government platforms should be democratizing technologies and should encourage dialogue among people with differing viewpoints.
  • It is important to encourage creating these platforms through public-private partnerships (PPP).
  • Create the structure at State and BBG to foster and to encourage the adoption of new technologies and streamline the internal bureaucracy.
  • Consider the creation of a bureau for public-private partnerships to bring private money into public diplomacy projects.
  • Supply the means for people to provide content. In today’s environment, everyone with a phone can become a journalist, but they need to share their information. New technologies such as AnchorFree and ImageShack can provide the means for people to engage while remaining anonymous.
  • Focus American policy on giving people in denied areas a voice. It also must encourage penetration in target audiences by using innovative and creative programming. Radio Sawa is one successful example of this.

Modifying State to Communicate More Effectively

  • Create a central Research and Evaluation Bureau in the R Bureau with the capability to do sophisticated digital media analysis to determine what people think, to understand their concerns and to determine their reactions to American policy in order to craft a more effective message.
    Currently less than a handful of people are assigned to do media analysis. State does not have the capability to do sophisticated data analytics in real time. It should have that capability in the field. State and the BBG have developed elaborate and sophisticated evaluation and monitoring systems, but what the Dialogue is suggesting is a melding of the longer-term program effectiveness evaluations with an on-the-ground, real-time capability.
  • Create a feedback loop for information to improve American foreign policy impact. To communicate effectively the U.S. government needs to know how its message is being heard and what motivates the people hearing America’s message. It has to be an interactive system, and it has to be diffuse. Sitting in Washington, D.C., trying to understand the world is not going to work.
    • Create a hub at Department of State with regional and country spokes in missions that can develop the local knowledge and relationships, including with potential third party validators, to advise and inform the Ambassador and his/her team on how to act.i
      The hub could take the form of a 24-hour operations center that can receive, formulate and disseminate information both within the U.S. government and to foreign audiences.
    • Increase at-post capabilities to monitor, evaluate and develop responses to competitors’ and enemies’ messages. Rapid response counter-messaging should be a critical function of an expanded R Bureau.

Improving Personnel

  • Nothing can happen without the people to make it happen.
    • Change the PAO’s job to one of aggregating, curating and orchestrating networks of individuals, groups and institutions who engage each other better on American platforms or under the aegis of the United States.
    • Enhance the professional opportunities for PAOs by seconding them to the private sector’s new media and technological companies.
    • Foster public-private partnerships (PPP) at State to enhance the development and use of next-generation technologies to better connect people.
    • Provide apprenticeships for PAOs to learn and adopt best practices at the cutting edge of new communication technologies.
    • Empower PAOs to take risks and build networks.ii
    • Train everyone at a State, especially incoming ambassadors, on the public diplomacy missions. One participant noted the mantra should be that “everyone’s mission at State is to be a customer service representative for America.” Ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel need to be trained on the importance of the new media in the countries where they will be posted.
    • Increase the budget for public diplomacy programs and personnel needs. You get what you pay for.iii

There is a war going on for the hearts and minds of a new generation of young people. America is not telling its story effectively. Long the fifth wheel in the Foreign Service, public diplomacy is in need of revitalization. The current world situation daily demonstrates the critical importance of public diplomacy in a world of new communications technologies and to the role of the United States as it relates to other countries. Action is needed. As one participant mentioned, “It is time to commit sins of commission rather than omission.”

To be daring requires dynamic leadership: to irritate rather than to placate, to be willing to risk failure to achieve success, and to learn to listen.

The administration and Congress must be willing to allow new initiatives with no guarantee of success and, most importantly, to dedicate more financial resources with less certainty of a return. It is clear that reforming public diplomacy will require a lot more money for a lot more people and programs than is currently allotted to the State Department or the BBG. This means patience to play the long game.

But is also clear that the failure to engage in the global battlefield of new ideas will endanger American lives both abroad and at home.

i A 2008 report by the Public Diplomacy Council advocated creating a new Bureau for Public Diplomacy Field Operations. The recommendation in this report is similar but more technologically based and more interactive in approach.
ii PD officers need to be empowered to think about what makes public diplomacy successful. This is easier to say than do as it is complicated how the cone is now treated within the department. First, money for overseas public diplomacy operations is passed through the R Bureau but not managerially controlled by R—it is controlled by State’s regional bureaus. Second, these regional bureaus also control the assignment and therefore the promotion opportunities for PD cone Foreign Service officers. Prior to the incorporation of USIA into State, PAO officers, as Head of Agency at Post, had some independence. They created, for example, an annual Country Plan that provided context and budget justification for programming that, together with USIA’s research office data, provided a long-view for American strategy. Where is the incentive for PD officers to take risks professionally if they remain on the periphery within the larger State structure?
iii The recommended industry standard for expenditures on evaluation is 5 percent of the total budget. BBG is projected to spend 0.7 percent on research and evaluation in 2015, and State’s Educational and Cultural Bureau was allocated less than .25 percent in the 2013 fiscal budget. See pp. 19-20, ACPD’s report “Data-Driven Public Diplomacy.”
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