The Molad Report on Israeli Public Diplomacy

In the annals of public diplomacy there can’t be very many reports on a country that conclude that its external communications are working well so I was pretty surprised to see this report on Israel’s hasbara that summarizes its findings as follows

Public diplomacy may be evaluated based on seven independent criteria. A thorough evaluation of the Israeli hasbara apparatus demonstrates that it satisfactorily, if not exceptionally, fulfills each of these criteria. Further, this study shows that the Israeli hasbara apparatus is an elaborate, well-coordinated, sophisticated mechanism that adjusts to emergency situations and is able to facilitate cooperation between a varied set of players. This study also reveals that Israeli public diplomacy is particularly effective in using new media and informal communication; it has successfully internalized the importance of “soft power”.

Two quick comments; firstly on the context of the report and secondly on its approach.

The research comes from Molad: The Centre for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, a new think tank that accuses Israeli politicians of failing to address real political issues –  I would read it as leaning to the left.  The basic thrust of the report is to argue that Israel’s image problems are a function of its policies not its communication of those policies.  The report closes with a quote from the British ambassador

Anyone who cares about Israel’s standing in the world should be concerned about the erosion of popular support. The problem is not hasbara. The British public may not be experts but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcement about new building in settlements, they read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank and Gaza, they read about the restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what’s going on is really what’s driving this.

Hence the basic logic is to demonstrate that contrary to what is often claimed Israel does have a functioning hasbara set up thus the image problem is down to the policy not the presentation.

How do they do this?  Their baseline is the middle of the last decade when the State Comptroller issued a critical report on Israeli PD and Eytan Gilboa published his Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component (2006).  Running through the report is claim that the intervening period has seen a major reworking of the Israeli organization which is now working pretty well.  The take their criteria for making this judgement from the strategic recommendations in Mark Leonard’s (2002) Public Diplomacy

  1. Coordination & management of messages

  2. Informal hasbara

  3. Engagement and branding

  4. Long-term cooperation

  5. Multi-dimensional media strategies

  6. Dynamism and management of crises

  7. Strategic Targeting

They then review performance of the new system under each of the headings and conclude that it’s doing pretty well.  A comparison with Israel’s critics concludes that they are doing pretty poorly against these criteria.

So what do I think? This is quite a useful report in that in pulls together a lot of recent developments in one place  but it deal with  activities rather than their local results or strategic outcomes.   I suspect that a more detailed investigation would throw up the normal PD problems of poor coordination, unclear strategy and limited resources.   However  I also think that the basic conclusion that the problems are about policy are correct – William Hague has said basically the same thing as the UK ambassador.

On a side note its interesting that  ten years on the Mark Leonard/Foreign Policy Centre reports on public diplomacy continue to be widely cited.  Rereading them suggests that tend to deal with PD  as a set of communication techniques abstracted from any political context and displaying an unfashionable concern with ‘the message’.  It’s probably time to give them a thorough critical rereading.

Molad (2012) Israeli Hasbara: Myths and Facts. Jerusalem: Molad.

Gilboa, E. (2006) ‘Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel’s Foreign Policy’, Israel Affairs, 12: 715–747.

Leonard, M. (2002) Public Diplomacy. London: Foreign Policy Centre.

Did Globalization Kill Cultural Diplomacy?

I’m working my way through some of the French literature on public diplomacy/cultural relations and I recently came across this rather striking statement by Dominique Trimbur:

Le movement present de mondialisation signe sans doute la fin d’un âge de le diplomatie culturelle. Les relations culturelles sont désormais plus médiatisées par la marché que par les États (Trimbur 2002: 17)

Or to put it another way in a globalized world national cultural projection no longer has the same role to play. If we can download every genre of global music or performance from Youtube what is the role of the state?

I think Trimbur is right to make the connection between globalization and the development of external communication programmes but I think that the relationship between market and state is more complicated.

Firstly,  the history of public diplomacy in all its varieties is intimately tied to the history of globalization. . The mid 19th communications revolution of the steamship, railway, telegraph and mass circulation newspaper made it feasible for states to engage with foreign publics. The same developments also drove a wave of popular nationalism. Thus nation-states were able to project themselves to foreign publics just as nationalism gave them something to talk about.

Secondly, much public diplomacy has been about the facilitation of globalization – particularly if we think of globalization as simply meaning increasing international connectedness. Language teaching facilitates further connection (‘if you speak French you buy French’), educational links build connections, getting your country’s books into a market helps to build interest and relations. Historically, there is evidence that for some countries at some points in time cultural relations interventions forged the connections necessary for commercial networks to take up the connections – for instance in the case of the State Department’s support for jazz and popular music (Von Eschen, 2004: 249). In his study of Norwegian cultural policy Per Mangset makes the point that for some artists participation in commercially sponsored foreign activities was preferable to operating through state sponsored networks which could undermine credibility and career (Mangset 1997). This growth of commercial networks supports Trimbur’s point.

But to make things more complicated the relationship between state and culture has evolved. I think that it is true to say that in many countries the development of an external cultural policy preceded a comprehensive domestic cultural policy; for instance the French Ministry of Culture only came into being in 1959. The growth in scope of domestically oriented cultural policy affects the way that culture fits into the international policy picture. In particular states have tended to promote cultural and creative industries and their internationalization as a good in their own right. International connections become a means of evaluating the quality of cultural activities so the connection becomes an aim in its own right. For instance in the university sector internationalization shows up in the way that league tables are compiled. International research links, students, staff become valuable in their own right.

The irony is that this creates a kind of double market failure. The international market for culture provides certain types of goods that can be commercially supported. On the other hand while international collaboration has been a part of the new comprehensive cultural policies it has been undertaken to support the development of the cultural sector rather than in the service of foreign policies. Even when Mangset undertook his study in the mid 1990s he could point to the development of three parallel sets of international networks in the cultural field; a commercial one, one run through the foreign ministry and its agencies and a third rooted in domestic policy priorities.

There are still plenty of places where markets or domestic cultural policy is not going to build connections and that remains the sphere where cultural diplomacy and its intermediate agencies retain their roles.

Von Eschen, P.M. (2006) Satchmo blows up the world jazz ambassadors play the Cold War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Mangset, P. (1997) ‘Cultural divisions in international cultural co‐operation’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 4: 85–106.

Trimbur, D. (2002) ‘Introduction’, pp. 15–23 in A. Dubosclard et al. (eds) Entre Rayonnement et Réciprocité: Contributions à l’Histoire de la Diplomatie Culturelle, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne.

British Council Call for Action to Support Arts in North Africa

At the end of last year the British Council has put out a paper The Voices of the People: Culture, Conflict and Change in North Africa.   It describes itself as follows

This publication presents the key insights from a detailed research project carried out for the British Council by the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) at the University of York during 2011 and 2012. The research, led by Professor Sultan Barakat, comprised 112 interviews with individuals or groups of artists, cultural activists and civil society representatives in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, plus responses gathered in subsequent discussion groups with interested stakeholders and partners.

Our investigation in North Africa was guided by two overriding questions:

  • What social and artistic freedoms and possibilities are opening up for artists and cultural institutions in these four countries?
  • Conversely, what new possibilities of civic, social and political expression on the street and in the public sphere are they helping to create.

The document concludes

Ultra-conservatives are growing in influence and there will be both pressure and the temptation to fall back into self-censorship, but the UK arts community can help shore up fragile changes and build a sustainable cultural ecosystem.

The UK arts and cultural sector has a clear opportunity to play a supportive role. Its work can help to span the gap between the established and the emergent, the institutional and innovative, to support the negotiation of emerging ideas and to offer ongoing opportunities for people to play their full  part as active citizens.

This is a bit of an odd document.  It comes out of the Arts side of the Council rather than reflecting an overall organizational strategy.  It presents itself as a research report but there is very little evidence of the research itself in the report.  There’s no description of who has been interviewed. We don’t get a sense of who is supposed to be talking and where they fit into the broader context.  There’s no attempt to compare across countries and what is really strange: there isn’t a single quote in a report called ‘voices of the people’ .   I’m not sure that it’s very effective in presenting either the research or the call to the UK arts sector to get involved.

Stephen Stenning the regional arts director in the Middle East and North Africa provides a bit of an update here.

UK Strategic Communications and the Libya Intervention

The news from Libya and north Africa is not so great at the moment but go back a year or so and the British government was congratulating itself on how well everything had gone.  Here’s three items that might be interesting to readers.

Firstly, we have the National Security Adviser’s Review of Central C0-Ordination and Lessons Learned.  This was the first major crisis that the UK was involved in since the National Security Council was created by the Coalition government after the 2010 election and this document reviews the performance of the new system. One of the seven issues addressed is the performance of the system for managing strategic communications across government and linking to the communications activities of other countries and international organizations.  His general view is that things went pretty well.  The document is worth a read because of the picture you get of the way in which foreign policy turns on the creation and mobilization of networks both inside and outside government.

Secondly, we have a presentation by the then head of Public Diplomacy at the FCO, Conrad Bird, on the Foreign Office view of Strategic communication and its application in the Libya intervention this picks up some of the issues from the first item in a little more detail.

Thirdly, in March 2012 there was a revised version of the Ministry of Defence Joint Doctrine Note on Strategic Communications that I’d blogged about here.  The revised version takes into account lessons learned from the activity in Libya.  It’s noticeable that some of the issues that I’d raised in my earlier post have been addressed.  This version has a clearer treatment of the relationship between strategic communications and strategic, operational and tactical levels of war.  It’s also much clearer that there are different forms of strategic communication with different objectives that will co-exist.  Both this document and the Bird presentation show signs of developing cross-government approach to strategic communication as a result of work in the National Security Council

The PD Networks Quiz Part 2

It’s one of my basic assumptions about public diplomacy in all its variations that it involves multiple agencies and those agencies, if not actively hostile to each other, probably don’t work together too well.  Hence when I read this over breakfast I was shocked.

‘From an analysis of available ****** sources, the whole organization seems to have been efficiently run; propaganda thus appears as the product of a well oiled machine, a network of co-ordinated and skilfully linked governmental departments.’

The question is which country are we talking about during the second half of the 1930s?
Given that we know that it couldn’t possibly be Britain, France or Germany  was it

A. Switzerland

B. Italy

C. Japan

D. Hungary

Answer after the fold

Continue reading “The PD Networks Quiz Part 2”

The PD Networks Quiz Episode 1

A new feature – no prizes yet….

Which former director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff  said:

‘the world I grew up in – states were like billiard balls.  We tried to prevent them from crashing into each other.  We did not, however, look inside them. We did not think we could change what happened inside them and we did not care what happened inside them.’

A: George Kennan (b. 1904)

B: Paul Wolfowitz (b. 1943)

C: Anne-Marie Slaughter (b. 1958)

For a bonus point when did they say it?

Continue reading “The PD Networks Quiz Episode 1”

Evaluating Terrorism Prevention (and Public Diplomacy) Programmes

The Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation has just put out a paper recording the discussions at a seminar they ran on Evaluating Terrorism Prevention Programs.   It’s worth a look in part because of the discussion of some of the practical problems of doing evaluations that apply to public diplomacy as well as their area of interest.

It strikes me that the issue that is only partially addressed is that many programmes (I’m British so I need two mm’s)  aren’t actually designed with evaluation in mind.  When faced with a challenge an organization needs to do something and reaches into its repertoire and puts some ‘programming’  together.  Alternatively, if it’s not faced with a new challenge organizations just carry on doing what they always done. The result is  that the programme is evaluated it’s  against its stated objectives (which may or may not have been feasible in the first place) or a broader set of policy objectives (look at the Dutch example in the paper ) not on whether its actually producing the intended real world results.

At least one of the presentations points to the significance of ‘theories of change’ in programme design. I’ve blogged about this before. This is the movement, particularly in the development community, to get away from formalistic planning models and to engage with what’s happening in the ‘real world’.   Your theory of change explains how  your intervention is going to produce the desired effect.  If you can do this you are in a better position  to work in appropriate evaluation metrics.  You may also do some useful learning in that you discover that your  intervention had the desired result for the reason you’d expected, that your causal mechanism operated but didn’t produce the desired results  or that you got your results but not through the change mechanism that you’d expected.

The question of theories of change is where academics can potentially make a bigger contribution to Public Diplomacy practice by helping to get a better model of how public diplomacy can and cannot produce the desired effects.

Richard LeBaron on the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications

If you didn’t see it when it came out in last year I’d highly recommend a few minutes reading this transcript of Richard LeBaron’s talk on his experience as founding director of the US  Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.  I think that there are some good lessons here.

Bureaucratic basics matter.  Among other things making sure that you have the backing of the White House and the NSC.  Get the organizational identifying code that will mean that you exist within the bureaucracy get a budget but while your doing this make sure that you are already providing some value.  He implies that previous efforts failed because of their failure to crack the bureaucratic issues.

LeBaron emphasizes the importance of forging connections with the intelligence community.  The Center made use of staff seconded from the IC and he notes that this  ‘integration of intelligence into the world of Public Diplomacy remains a work in progress, and we literally broke some new ground in the process.’  This is actually relearning an old lesson from the World Wars and the Cold War. Where you are dealing with target audiences where normal diplomacy doesn’t have access you need to make special provision to gather useful information – during the First World War the Foreign Office developed a Political Intelligence Department precisely to gather the information that its propagandists needed. Good information means good targeting and the ability to intervene in ways that are relevant to those targets.

In terms of techniques he points to the incorporation of the Digital Outreach Team into the Center  and to the preparation of templates that could be used by diplomatic posts in responding to events.  For posts facing particular threats the Center assisted with communications frameworks and staffing. They built a network that could identify and contribute material that might be useful for the center. They provided grants to NGOs developing community resilience programmes.

In terms of audience and message his basic view is that the CSCC is providing a very specialized service within the public diplomacy community.  Its job..

Hammering away at the weaknesses and contradictions of Al Qaeda is critical. Our intended audience is trying to decide whether to engage in violence. Our objective was to nudge them away from that path by sowing doubt about terrorist organizations. We were not focused on their level of admiration or distaste for the United States; we were not focused on whether they liked us or not; we were not focused on selling the American way of life. Others in the PD arena deal with those issues using a variety of other tools. Our reason for being was to help reduce the pool of recruits to violence by influencing this small group and the immediate environment around them. I did not see us as waging a war of ideas, but rather engaging in repeated focused interventions to denigrate the ideas and practices of the terrorists.

Contrary to the view that is sometimes expressed LeBaron does not see counterterrorism as an overarching theme within public diplomacy rather than a part of a broader communications portfolio.






The Anglo-French Diplomatic Mutual Admiration Society

When William Hague become Foreign Secretary in 2010 he expressed concerns that under the Labour government the FCO had become too dominated by managerialism and was losing focus on core diplomatic skills such as reporting, writing and negotiating, languages and area expertise.  The response  was to launch (in true managerialist fashion) a ‘Diplomatic Excellence Programme’ including a bit increase the budget for language training.   This activity was accompanied by new performance targets and a benchmarking exercise . The FCO convened a panel of outside experts from NGOs, business etc who compared the performance of the FCO to other foreign ministries and reached the conclusion that the FCO was the second best in the world.  Who could be number 1?

It’s worth saying that I haven’t seen a list of who composed this panel or what their methodology was.  But just on my experience of the FCO if you were going to get them admit they were second best who might they just be willing to admit a certain admiration for? If you were going to give them a competitor to catch up with?  Of course their could only be one answer: the Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres et europeennes of the Republique Francaise – The Quai d’Orsay (sorry about the missing accents)

In giving evidence to Parliament in November  last year the chief permanent official at the FCO, Simon Fraser,  discussed this  comparison.  Somewhat conveniently the reasons for the superiority of the French echo areas where William Hague had previously voiced the need for improvement in British perfomance.

I think that the group felt that the French diplomatic service like Britain’s has a very long diplomatic tradition and culture and they are very effective in advancing their national interest through diplomacy. They are effective in supporting their commercial and economic objectives. For those reasons they were felt to be a very effective diplomatic service.

One of the things that has been stated in the past is that the French Government as a whole are more organised in their collective support of French economic interest through diplomacy.

The Quai D’Orsay probably is a more focused organization with a stronger sense of its own history and mission as the representative of France than the FCO is in regard to Britain (which is not to say that the FCO is exactly lacking in this) Dgging into the self descriptions  on their web site you do get something of the romance and history of diplomacy.

But the reason for this post is that if we open the Winter 2011-12 issue of Mondes: Les Cahiers du Quai D’Orsay the ministry’s version of Foreign Affairs things are not so rosy.  This is a special issue devoted to la diplomatie d’influence.  (Thanks to Ellen Huijgh for flagging up the importance of this concept).  In the editorial the head of the forsight unit at the Quai relates  diplomatie d’influence to soft power but much of the discussion is more about the use of diplomatic influence beyond bilateral relationships rather than the very diffuse way that soft power is used in some other contexts.   The lead essay by Nicolas Tenzer, ‘The Global Influence of Major Powers and their Strategies for the Future’ argues three key areas for influence to operate are in are

    1. Tendering processes by which states commission major projects
    2. International processes for standards setting
    3. The international processes of opinion formation, the conferences, think-tanks and media where  agendas are formed and issues framed.

The point is that influence in these spheres works through relatively diffuse international networks and that countries other than France have been working hard to build their positions.  Which country get the most mentions in this article as having been doing this?  The UK (Sweden, Canada, Germany also get multiple mentions).  In Tenzer’s view linkages betweens government, NGOs, professional organizations and universities  allow the formation of a national view on issues while at the same time allowing that perspective to be advanced in multiple arenas.

Genuinely influential states have that ability to operate in multiple registers.  All those countries understand that influence requires strong public diplomacy but mainly an ability to promote certain ideas and concepts discreetly in the right international places

These networks also allow the rapid deployment of expertise.  This an area where France has been building up  a new organization to allow it to compete (this is taken up in another article)

The issue also includes a piece on strategy in international organizations where the French approach of trying to place candidates at the top of the organization is contrasted unfavourably  with the British method of placing experts at the working  level.  There’s also an article on ENA, L’Ecole Nationale d’Administration as a tool of soft power.

It’s interesting to look at these two discourses together.  There’s an element of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence here but we may be looking at two different points on a continuum.  The Quai is narrower, more focussed, more closed while the FCO is operating in a more diffuse, open manner.  Following the type of analysis that Ronald Burt in Brokerage and Closure you can see both of these positions have their own strengths and weaknesses.  More closure will build identity and performance while openness offers benefits through better information gathering and a greater range of connections to operate through.

Burt, R.S. (2005) Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital. Oxford: OUP Oxford.

Tenzer, N. (2011) ‘The Global Influence of Major Powers and their Strategies for the Future’, Mondes: Les Cahiers du Quai D’Orsay, 117–123.

[ Mondes publishes its articles in French and English but it was noticeable that the formatting of the French articles was sometimes clearer than the translations so its worth checking the French version even if you’re reading the English version[



The FCO’s Digital Strategy

Just before Christmas the FCO issued its digital strategy.   This isn’t a long document so a few comments about context, content and the broader implications for UK diplomacy.

The key contextual point is that it is a response to November’s  Government Digital Strategy.  This is chiefly concerned with the improvements in services to citizens and financial savings (£1.7-1.8 billion pa) that would ensue if transactions were delivered on-line and if people chose to use them. All government departments were required to produce their own strategies.   Hence the FCO strategy is not an outpouring of spontaneous digital excitement but a response to a government level initiative.  As the GDS points out the majority of central government transactions with the public are done by seven departments involving taxes, motor vehicles, pensions and similar, while the FCO does transactions through its consular work its diplomatic activity doesn’t fit so neatly into the framework.  As a result the FCO digital strategy is much more detailed when going through the  list of consular functions, the extent of digitization and the possibilities for expansion.

However, if you’re reading this blog I suspect you’re more interested in the policy and diplomatic bits of the report than certificates of no-impediment and why they have to be on paper.

In assessing where they are the report notes that the primary use of ‘digital’ has been as  a communications tool  but argues that they are extending it into new areas using it for

  •  ‘[F]ollowing and predicting developments’ as they did during the Libya crisis and the Arab Spring where they used sentiment analysis  to produce daily updates circulated around Whitehall (It’s not clear whether they actually used specialist tools for doing this or just read tweets)
  • Formulating policy – giving the example of consultations around a recent white paper on policy towards the UK overseas territories
  • Implementing policy – the example is of their UK for Iranians website (sounds like message delivery to me)
  • Influencing and indentifying who to influence, here they give a big shout out to the Ambassador in the Lebanon Tom Fletcher who seems to be the current FCO digital stakhanovite
  • Communicating and engaging on foreign policy – the foreign secretary answers questions on twitter.

By item four on this list I think that they are repeating themselves.

What do they want to achieve:  spread ‘digital’ across the organization and use it to deliver to deliver more open policy formulation and increase transparency.

In order to achieve this there will be a digital champion at FCO board level,  more training and access to digital kit  – for instance through adjusting security settings on the network to allow easier access to social media tools.

A few quick observations

The basic direction in FCO communications is to get social media more integrated into the everyday work of the organization hence the move away from the centralized communications directorate.

There is a move to get greater integration between ‘digital’ and news.  The hope is that the integration will produce a better news operation.   Historically, the news function has been at the core of UK public diplomacy so it’s important that the drive for digital helps this rather than undermines it.  The number of people who will potentially be reached by working through media organizations dwarfs the numbers of people who are ever likely to follow  British diplomats on Twitter and Facebook.

Having identified online influencers during the Arab Spring what did the FCO do?  In ‘some cases invited them to meet with us in person’ – seems sensible to me.   The key point is that diplomacy has always been about crafting relationships and maintaining networks.  New technology is creates new opportunities for doing this.  The key choice in diplomacy is to identify which relationships and networks are the ones to use in each case. The challenge is to make sure that ‘digital’ adds options without damaging the ability to make use of existing opportunities

Finally, the document never defines what ‘digital’ is. Is is it a tool?  Is it an ideology?  Is it both?

UPDATE: There’s an interesting post on the FCO’s Digital Diplomacy blog about about the role of regional digital hubs in supporting the work of the embassies.  Because of the location in different timezones there is a always 24 support available.