Archive for February, 2013


The Molad Report on Israeli Public Diplomacy

February 27, 2013

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?

February 25, 2013

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

February 22, 2013

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

February 15, 2013

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

February 14, 2013

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

Read the rest of this entry ?


The PD Networks Quiz Episode 1

February 14, 2013

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?

Read the rest of this entry ?


Evaluating Terrorism Prevention (and Public Diplomacy) Programmes

February 13, 2013

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.