October 15, 2015 by larrylauer
The USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism hosted a Summit on Global Leadership in Public Diplomacy at the US Institute of Peace in Washington this week.
In his welcoming remarks the Center’s director explained that the term “public diplomacy” was originally coined 50 years ago by US Diplomat Edmund Gullion to denote “coordinated governmental engagement with foreign publics,” but that over the years the concept became much “more expansive.”
My interest in the topic also began almost 50 years ago as a graduate student studying communication and international relations at American University. And I must say that over the years my teaching and writing embraced the more expansive concept of “people-to-people” communication. For me, government-to-people implied promoting the current administration’s foreign policy. But people-to-people implied a more mutual exchange of traditions, values and human aspirations. In short, for me the “idea of America” seemed best conveyed directly by its citizens. And so I also came to view international higher education as a highly effective form of public diplomacy.
At the Summit this week there were participants from universities, the state department, government contractors, NGO’s, and others. The speakers covered the full “expanse” of public diplomacy concepts and tools from traditional face-to-face exchanges, to uses of social media, to video projects, to MOOC’s, to establishing cultural centers abroad, and more. Common themes ranged from cultivating the ability to have civilized conversations with people with whom you do not agree, to listening first and then accepting a goal of reaching win-win agreements.
One panelist said that “credibility in communication is established by WHO is sending the message.” I certainly agree. And so everything I heard affirmed my contention that international higher education is indeed a pure form public diplomacy. It promises to produce global leaders, enhance cross-cultural understanding, and gradually focus more research on international problem-solving.