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Public Diplomacy Repertoires

May 9, 2011

In the last few days I found a couple of pieces about the State Department’s digital initiatives in my inbox. Besides PD2.0 there is work around internet freedom and initiatives to boost digital economies. It occurred to me that we could think in terms of a ‘repertoire’ of digital activities and that the State Department was essentially expanding its repertoire of policy responses.

It struck me that this notion of repertoire is has some broader utility. The idea of ‘diplomatic repertoire’ crops up in the literature but I haven’t seen a thorough conceptual analysis of the idea.  ‘Repertoire’ as used in studies of social movements and organizations indicates cultural models of action that may be reflected in organizational forms.  These models answer questions like what can we do? What is it right for us to do? When faced with a challenge an organization or group will normally draw on its familiar organizational repertoire rather than devise a response from scratch. The repertoire biases the organization to interpreting and dealing with problems in particular ways.

Repertoire emphasises the institutional aspect of public diplomacy and allows us to ask several questions:

  • How has the (public) diplomacy repertoire changed over time? : eg the decline of the library and the rise of social media
  • How and why do repertoires differ across countries? The US ‘Cold War Model’ represents a particular repertoire with international broadcasting at its core, note the way that the RFE/RL model has been applied to Cuba, China and Iran and the way that internet circumvention tools are being incorporated into a broadcasting model. It might be argued that Japan and Germany have repertoires are organized around cultural activities while the current UK practice seem to be about building partnerships.
  • Where do repertoires come from and why do they change?: The current UK model seems to have been strongly influenced by broader changes in how UK government organizes itself.
  • How do repertoires fit with the policy challenges that countries face? While we might expect PD practice to evolved in response to a changing environment a repertoires approach suggests that responses are going to be conditioned by by cultural, organizational and resource factors. Thus the repertoire may or may not fit with the policy challenges. The challenge for organizations is to ask the question what is our repertoire and how does it fit the problems that we face. The issue for organizations is that they will tend to interpret problems in ways that fit their repertoire.
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