PD problems may not have PD solutions

Without opening up the whole is PD the same as PR question I think that it’s interesting to keep an eye on what Public Relations professionals are thinking about…

Crisisblogger has a post attacking the idea that the reputational damage suffered by BP during the Gulf oil spill last year was avoidable with better PR: as he puts it

No effective messaging or communication can cover for the fact that you are dumping millions of gallons of ugly crude into a body of water for months in full view of the world and with all your technical wizardry and billions in resources, are not able to stop it.

This sounds rather like the policy/communications problem…

I think that this is nice example of the idea that  ‘public relations problems aren’t always problems with your Public Relations’  or to paraphrase  ‘public diplomacy problems are not necessarily problems with your Public Diplomacy

Democracy Promotion and the Theory of Diplomacy

After a few days in the countryside I’m catching up on what’s been happening.   I was reading Patricia Kushlis’s piece on US democracy promotion in the Middle East.  One of the things that I find interesting about this kind of activity is the tension created by providing democracy support to activists in a country with which you have good diplomatic relations.  In the Ron Nixon piece in the NYT that triggered Patricia’s reflections there is evidence of the tension between the US and the activists and the US and the host governments triggered by this activity.

While I was out running this morning I suddenly realized what this reminded me of:  the old Soviet doctrine of peaceful coexistence.  This used to drive other governments up the wall.  In the Soviet lexicon peaceful coexistence meant that they wanted peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with you (so far so good) but they still hoped that your capitalist regime would hurry up and collapse and if you thought that they were going to stop funnelling aid to the local communist party you had another thing coming (anyway you can’t change the direction of history)

The US (and to a lesser extent western) view on democracy promotion seems structurally similar from the point of view of the governments on the receiving end of this.  You can’t stop the historical movement towards democracy (it’s the technology as well), we’re just going to funnel government money through front organizations to people who share our agenda (and who probably want to overthrow you) but in the mean time can your goverment give us a hand with this foreign policy problem we’re working on.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have any problem with democracy promotion and it represents excellent value for money – my point is that it is important to recognize the potential political implications of this kind of activity and the tensions that follow from it.   While it may be important to present this activity as non-political in practice it is anything but.   This is particularly important to keep in mind given the rise of the ‘axis of sovereignty’ led by China that keep to a more Westphalian notion of sovereignty than the West has followed in recent years.  It maybe that in the future countries will have more alternatives to putting up with this form of aid conditionality.

Mad Policy Skillz the FCO Way

While looking for something else I came across  this FCO  booklet Better International Policy. Dating from 2010 it was issued by the Directorate of Strategy, Policy Planning and Analysis. It lays out the approach to policy development that should be used by British diplomats – click on the image for a larger version of the International Policy Framework (IPF)


The booklet goes through the steps in more detail –  it’s only 17 pages so you can skim through it in 10 minutes.

Three  comments:

The IPF is part of an effort common across UK government (and lots of other organizations) to get a better alignment between ends, means and organizational resources.  It’s an effort to counter the tendency of the FCO to focus on the latest crisis.

The handbook  emphasises  the steps that that  UK can take to exert influence on an issue or situation while recognizing that the UK is unlikely to be able to control outcomes.  Following from this is an emphasis on recognizing a range of alternative outcomes including consideration of what would happen if we don’t do anything and the possibilities that action may carry risks of making things worse.

The thing that really surprised me were these definitions:

Strategy refers to the big picture; the whole framework. A strategy includes both a clearly defined set of long term objectives and a conscious plan to achieve them. Doing the IPF fully is the same thing as the FCO competence of “Strategic Thinking”.

Policy is subordinate to strategy. Policies are deliberately chosen patterns of activity or courses of action designed to keep moving in the chosen direction.

As a paid up member of the ‘Dead Carl’  fan club I would take the view that strategy is subordinate to policy.  Policy comes from politics which is where the balancing of competing interests and priorities takes place.  If you follow the framework laid in this document you will end up with multiple strategies but no way of establishing their relative priority.  The framework refers to the departmental strategic objectives but in some respects the DSOs are just another list. This is not to say that the framework isn’t useful because I think it is but it does speak to the questions raised in the recent Parliamentary investigation into Who Does UK Strategy – that report suggested  that nobody was really in charge.

Karen Hughes in Cairo September 2005

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has its own set of the Cablegate files and has released some cables that Wikileaks hasn’t put out yet.  In this I spotted this account of a meeting in September 2005 between then Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes and the Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Some interesting points – first advice on what the US should do to improve its image.

Nazif said that concrete action was needed to improve America´s image. Post-disengagement Gaza offered a real opportunity for such action. Positive change in Gaza would go a long way toward improving America´s image. He noted three things the U.S. could do: 1) support Abu Mazen as he tried to consolidate power; 2) build Gaza´s infrastructure, focusing on projects with quick results; and 3) assure the Palestinians that Gaza disengagement was not the end, but the beginning. The Palestinians needed to see a path for continued progress toward a Palestinian state. Currently the message to the Palestinians was “prove yourself in Gaza first,” which was not going over well. A better message would be that disengagement was a good first step and Gaza could form the nucleus of a Palestinian state.

Hughes pressed Nazif to remove Hizbollah’s Al Manar TV channel from the Nilesat TV satellite service – Nazif declined to respond.

Hughes pressed Nazif to allow Radio Sawa to be broadcast in Egypt and pointed to Congressional pressure to link aid to Egypt to this matter.  Nazif responded that Hughes was asking Egypt to break its own laws.

Nazif complained that it had become more difficult for Egyptians to get US visas and that the US should fund additional exchange places – particularly as he’d benefitted from the International Visitor Programme.

It’s an interesting exchange that contains some familiar arguments about public diplomacy. – the US pushing for action on broadcasting, Egypt suggesting that actions might be more helpful and at the same time fending off suggestions about political reforms.

Foreign Affairs Committee Report on BBC World Service Cuts

The Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee have just issued their report on the cuts to the BBC World Service Budget.  I haven’t had a chance to look at it in any detail but the conclusions won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the discussion.

  • Global changes are making the World Service more important
  • The cuts were  financially driven,
  • The decision to switch funding to the BBC license fee from the FCO was taken at short notice and not properly considered,
  • The Committee suspects that the switch in funding will lead to long term pressure on the World Service budget,
  • They make the point that relatively little additional funding would have avoided the biggest cuts.
  • They criticise the decision to protect the Department for International Development budget from cuts whens a tiny fraction of that budget would have avoided the cuts to the World Service.
  • They argue that the cuts to the Hindi and Mandarin services should be restored.

The last point brings me back to the discussion of resources.  Why restore the cuts – why not do more?  So how can we work out how much international broadcasting we should be doing?

The report is here and some additional evidence submitted to the Committee is here.


Dutch Foreign Ministry Updates

Over at The Holland Bureau Giles Scott-Smith has news on changes at the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs.  There’s an emphasis on the importance of economic issues, more flexible means of representation and cut backs and a couple of additions to the diplomatic network; Latin America is out but Southern Sudan is in.  There’s a link to an English language summary of the changes.

Planning, Evaluation and Public Diplomacy Part 2: MFAs, Militaries and Aid Agencies

Looking at the material on planning for part 1 of this post raised a broader issue about planning and diplomacy.   From the point of view of scholars of International Relations or Communications planning seems like a tedious topic but actually says quite a lot about the nature of foreign ministries and their relations with the rest of government – particularly with Ministries of Defence and Aid Agencies organizations where planning has been taken much more seriously.  Planning is where organizational culture and an evolving external environment intersect with each other.

Military organizations are inveterate planners. This is not just to say that they draw up contingency plans but that planning is how they deal with the world and define who they are.  Military staff training is about how to plan;  if something happens the response is to start planning.   What the military means by planning is how do we organize things so that we can achieve a defined end state.  Planning is the means by which the various elements of the military organization are brought together.

I’ve also seen it said (I think in relation to Bosnia) that the reason that the US Army finds it hard to work with the State Department is because State doesn’t plan (my italics) , also that the problem with other armies is that they don’t plan (how much you plan is relative the British military plans much more than the FCO but not as much as the US military) . What this says to me is that the process of planning is something close to the heart of the military identity.

Given the range of moving parts in a military operation is obvious that plans are necessary  but planning also has other consequences.   In looking at the development guides in the first part of this post  I was reminded of Eisenhower’s maxim -‘ plans are worthless but planning is essential’; the development community sees planning as way to build relationships.  Planning is a way to  learn about potential problems and opportunities, you learn about the people that you are working with and you develop a common understanding of what the problem is and what you are going to do about it that is relevant even if the specific plan is never used or has to evolve in unexpected ways.  This is an important lesson for relational (or collaborative) public diplomacy; that the process of planning is important part of the whole excercise.

In contrast with armies and aid agencies  MFAs have generally taken the line that the international environment is so complex and unpredictable that strategic planning is a waste of time.  Historically MFAs have done some  ‘policy planning’;   that is trying to imagine what the world will be like or how some issue will develop and  preparing policy options for what should be done – but  policy planning does not set objectives or allocate resources (Hocking 1999, Rubin 1987, Lan 2007).  Over the past couple of decades  this position has come under pressure from changing models of government organization and the changing nature of diplomacy itself.  As the scope of diplomatic action has expanded MFAs have been expected to become more strategic but there are big differences in how far these developments have gone. The FCO has moved towards a thoroughgoing strategic management approach while there are suspicions that despite innovations in planning the State Department doesn’t quite take this seriously.     Lane (2007) makes the point that the adoption of a much more strategic approach by the FCO over the past 10 years has changed the notion of planning from the old policy planning model to something that is much more strategic. As I’ve noted before the FCO seems to be much successful in meeting objectives that involve its own processes (eg consular support)  than the ones that depend on foreigners which perhaps suggests that there is something to the traditional suspicion of planning.   Lane also warns that operational planning can  lead to organizations focusing on the immediate objective  and losing sight of how the changing environment may require a change of policy.

What is interesting though is a certain convergence between the planners and the diplomats.  There is a rather obscure  debate going on in the US Army over the topic of ‘design’ .  The starting point is the danger that the current way of thinking about plans leads to rigidity and an inability to adapt to rapidly changing environments.  The new edition of field manual  FM5-0 The Operations Process draws on concepts of complex systems to advocate a mode of thinking that encourages adaptation and learning in response to a complex and interdependent world non linear transformations are the norm. Unsurprisingly some of the reaction to this has been frustration;  how are these abstract exhortations to be translated into real plans? I think that this also parallels the way that aid organizations are trying to break out of the rigidities that can emerge with formal planning.  To some extent it suggests a movement towards the traditional diplomatic position that improvisation is the only really feasible approach to international relations.

I don’t think that the divide between the military and aid planners and the improvising diplomats is going to disappear anytime soon but it does appear that both sides of the divide are moving towards each other.

Hocking, B., ed. (1999) Foreign ministries : change and adaption. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Lane, A. (2007) ‘Modernising the management of British diplomacy: towards a Foreign Office policy on policy-making?’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20: 179-193.
Rubin, B. (1987) Secrets of state : the State Department and the struggle over U.S. foreign policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

David Cameron tells reporters what he really thinks…

David Cameron seems to have some difficulty with his communications in South Asia;  last year he upset Pakistan with some comments he made about the country while he was in India.  This year he went to Pakistan but seem to have got himself into a degree of trouble back home and  he wasn’t too happy with the media coverage.  The Mail on Sunday had the headline ‘Cameron’s F-word Outburst at Reprters over British Empire “Gaffe”‘.

Planning, Evaluation and Public Diplomacy Part 1: Logframes and Beyond

A few days ago I suggested that in thinking about the questions of measurement and evaluation in public diplomacy there might be scope for looking at the way the development community deal with these issues.  In a comment Debbie Trent pointed towards the literature on ‘logframes’ or logic frame analysis (LFA).  I’ve been looking at some of the literature and it in turn has triggered some broader reflections on the role of planning and what it means in international affairs.

Firstly, a bit more on logframes.  LFA is a planning tool that has been around since the 1960s and is very widely used across the development community – it exists in different versions in different countries.

The signature of LFA is the frame or matrix itself which looks something like this (based on Gasper 2000)

Hierarchy of objectives Performance indicators Data sources Assumptions and risks
Goal – longer term impact      
Purpose – short term impact      
Outputs – deliverables      
Activities – work package for outputs      

The vertical dimension sets out a means-end chain showing how the elements of a project relate to each other.  The purpose is usually the direct objective of the project  while the outputs are the components of the project.  These diagrams can have more rows.  The horizontal dimension sets out how we can tell if the project if working, where the data to tell this will come from and the assumptions that we have to be true for the objectives to be met.

The matrix is intended to be the end point of a planning process that  involves  a systematic analysis of the existing situation and conversations with collaborators to ensure a common understanding of the problem.  The difficulty is that the relationship between the logframe and the planning process is sometimes rather looser that it should be  Gasper identifies four problems

  1. Logic-less frame -an  existing project is presented in matrix without any real analysis
  2. Jamming – an oversimplified version of the project is used so it will fit the matrix.
  3. Lack-frame – too much left out
  4. Lock-frame – failure to update the frame as the project develops and new issues become apparent.

This frustration has led to a search for alternatives for instance Davies (2008) advocacy of a ‘social frame’ that focuses on the changes in relationships that must occur for a project to be successful.  In the UK development community the emphasis on ‘theories of change’ seems to be aimed precisely at getting back to the process of research, communication and learning, that is supposed to underpin the matrix.

The basic thrust of thinking in the development community is that monitoring and evaluation always takes place in relation to what you are trying to do. This places a heavier burden on developing feasible and systematically worked through plans.  Of course this doesn’t always happen in the development community any more than it does in public diplomacy but I think that making the effort to lay out what the theory of influence that underpins any activity is a necessity for any PD activity.  This raises the question to what extent to PD organizations actually make use of systematic planning tools in developing their activities.

In the second part of this series I’m going to make some comments about the difficult history of planning in diplomacy.

Notes on reading

The article by Gasper and the responses to it (h/t do Debbie Trent for the references)  give some insight into the origins of the logframe approach

Gasper, Des. “Evaluating the ‘Logical Framework Approach’ Towards Learning-Oriented Development Evaluation.” Public Administration and Development, Vol. 20, No. 1 (2000): 17-28;

Bell, Simon. “Logical Frameworks, Aristotle and Soft Systems: A Note on the Origins, Values and Uses of Logical Frameworks, in Reply to Gasper.” Public Administration and Development, Vol. 20, No. 1 (2000): 29-31.

Smith, Peter. “A Comment on the Limitations of the Logical Framework Method, in reply to Gasper, and to Bell.” Public Administration and Development, Vol. 20, No. 3 (2000): 439-441.

This is a comprehensive discussion of how to develop a logic frame including interaction with stakeholders and how decide which are the important assumptions.  This is part of a set of guides on project planning.

AusAid (2005), The Logical Framework Approach, AusGuideline 3.3 (Canberra: AusAid)

Davies, Rick (2008), ‘The Social Framework as an Alternative to the Logical Framework’ available here argues for rethinking the logic framework in social terms.

Keystone (2009), Developing a Theory of Change (London: Keystone Accountability).  This is part of a series of guides on Impact Planning, Assessment and Learning

UK Relational Public Diplomacy in Pakistan

David Cameron has been in Pakistan this week and causing a certain amount of controversy(in the UK at least) by pointing to the UK role in creating the tensions in South Asia and by agreeing to £650m of aid for education in Pakistan. In discussions of  counter radicalization the state of public education in Pakistan has been a recurrent theme with the argument made that the weakness of the state school system pushes children into madrassas where they are at risk of radicalization.

Given the context it seems appropriate to post this cable from the US embassy in London reporting on a UK-US video conference from 2009 discussing British efforts to build relationships with Pakistani civil society groups.  The cable expresses a degree of surprise that government funding doesn’t seem to fatally undermine the credibility of the civil society partners.  It also points to the problems of developing metrics for this kind of activitity.  Also note the list of different UK government agencies involved – both domestic and international.  PREVENT is part of the broader CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy and has proved controversial  because of the perception that it is overly focused on the muslim community and is currently under review.