Introducing the Influence Chain

It’s one of the maxims of academic writing that you should stick to one new idea per paper. In writing my paper for ISA this year I shoved three ideas in each of which deserved a paper in its own right.   The overall question was if we’re thinking in comparative terms about PD what should we be comparing in order to build better theory.

In the paper I offer three ideas. Firstly, we should think about national public diplomacy systems*. That is the set of organizations and stakeholders that are responsible for the conduct of foreign public engagement. These systems are path dependent in that they emerge in response to quite specific problems, become institutionalized and the response to changes in the internal and external environment is constrained by the existing organization and ways of doing things. National systems develop specific repertoires of activities so faced with a new problem they reach into their toolbag and pull out a familiar tool. In posts this week I want to write about the second and third of the ideas that I put forward the influence chain and the operational space.

What’s an influence chain? Following Bruno Latour’s exhortation to follow the actors it’s the set of connections that leads us from intent to effect.   Here’s a very simple example: a government wants to influence another government using PD so in a very classical model there’s supposed to be a chain of influence that runs from left to right.

Ideal Type 4

But what you frequently get is something like this…

Fail 2

..the chain isn’t complete or it doesn’t go where you want it to go: for instance an implementing organization just does what it always does regardless of the situation. This isn’t surprising as that organization is probably going to be evaluated in how much it does, not what the effect actually is.

Some future work is to develop a typology of influence chains based both on the type of actors involved and the type of influence mechanism.  From the point of view of comparative research the USIS at its most informational or the Goethe Institut at its most cultural are both building influence chains they are just composed of different types of links and work (or don’t work) in different ways.

For me the influence chain can exist in three forms. Firstly, it’s the ‘theory of change’ – possibly implicit that the decision-makers and planners have. In pure research terms actually looking at what these theories are would be a valuable exercise.  How to they vary across organizations, across the actors in the chain and across countries.  Secondly, following from this the chain can be thought of as a diagnostic tool; what’s wrong with this theory. Thirdly, it’s a way of exploring what is really happening. The ‘theory of change’ is likely starting from a fairly idealized picture of the world but when we start ‘following the actors’ we start to see what’s really happening

If we look at the connection between the first and second links in the chain as if under a microscope we notice that the two links have quite a few potential differences between them and something similar is going to happen all along the chain. In the language of actor-network theory, actors need to be enrolled (ie influenced to get on board with the project) but this leads to translation – that is the project is changed by this process. Given how difficult different bits of the same state find getting along what happens when we start to include, for instance, foreign NGOs? Marshall McLuhan argued that the medium is the message to which I would add that in public diplomacy the medium is the organizational network.



*In responding to the paper Eytan Gilboa argued that ‘system’ was too orderly and suggested ‘establishment’. I hesitated before using ‘system’ for precisely this reason.

Here’s a copy of the paper:ISA 2014 v 6

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