Friday, January 8, 2016

PD's Ten Best of 2015

Tuesday, January 5th 2016

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Public Diplomacy Ten Best of 2015

Okay, here it is.  Our list of 2015’s best in public diplomacy – acts, actions, ideas, programs or decisions.
We asked you, the readers, to nominate the public diplomacy example you thought made a positive difference in the year past.  We invited you to send your nominations via email (, Twitter (#PD10Best), or via the Council’s own Facebook page.  We gleefully accepted suggestions from public diplomacy officers, ambassadors and DCM’s, academics, outside experts, journalists, retirees, etc.
Ambassador Brian Carlson and a small team judged and rewrote the nominations by calling on their own professional expertise, evidence of impact or measurement, a modicum of humor, and a dash of humility.  The scientific method was not employed – and we’re not doing this on live television because Steve Harvey is busy.
Anyway, with those disclaimers, here are the ten best of public diplomacy, 2015 edition.
Best Long-Overdue Public Diplomacy Innovation:
The audience data being developed by the U.S. State Department to enable Public Affairs Officers (PAO) to make intelligent resource and content decisions.  PAO’s have long worried: “Because we can’t afford to do outreach with everyone about every subject, whom should we engage, and about what?” Custom reports sponsored by the Under Secretary’s office, (R/PPR)help answer those questions. Most admirably, the R/PPR research does not cost much and the office has proven surprisingly flexible in responding to posts’ needs.  Not only do PAO’s find the more than 60 original analyses useful, but they are also noticing the utility of research focused on specific topics such as support/opposition to trade deals like TTIP or the credibility among urban Russians of Putin’s propaganda offensive (hint: lower than the American media thinks it is). Check out the PDC YouTube video here.

Best Use of Social Media by an Embassy:  
Someone in Embassy Moscow seems to have a real knack for using humor, sarcasm, and a deft touch to undercut the Putin regime’s anti-American disinformation and propaganda.  Rather than our trying to explain it here, you have only to look at Buzzfeed’s report “The Best Photoshop The U.S. Government Has Ever Produced” and The Guardian’s “U.S. Gives Grammar Lesson Over ‘Fake Letter’ to LGBT Activist” as well as The New York Times report of the “fake letters scoop.” To parody the Russians, the Public Affairs Section went so far as to sendAmbassador John Tefft to the moon (via PhotoShop).  As Voltaire prayed in 1767, “Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” 

Best Youth Program:
Mission KSA’s November 2015 Youth Conference was the cornerstone of a strategy to reach, cultivate, and energize future Saudi leaders (an historically difficult demographic to reach in this society). The event forged a close-knit, nation-wide community of young Saudi leaders who are working on tangible projects to improve their communities and strengthen Saudi civil society in ways that align with U.S. government (USG) goals. The Youth Conference encouraged alumni to work on USG priority projects such as entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, and the environment.  Participants competed for new grants proposals, which created a rare opportunity for mixed-gender networking among rising leaders across the country. Perhaps most importantly, the Mission recognized the 2015 Youth Conference as a key performance measure in its plan to turn public diplomacy program alumni into a cohesive community of future Saudi leaders. 

Most Needed New CEO:
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) recent appointment of a full-time chief executive officer for all U.S. civilian international media is the winner. Since 1994 when the Voice of America was removed from the U.S. Information Agency and merged with Radio Free Europe and other entities under the BBG, America’s international broadcasting has been as coherent as a pack of angry, mongrel puppies.  The appointment of John Lansing, former Scripps Networks president, as CEO of all BBG operations – and the Board’s promise to step back from day-to-day business decisions – is a first step toward more effective public diplomacy broadcasting.  Remember how, in the old RCA ads, that Dalmatian used to sit by the Victrola and listen for “his master’s voice?” Check out the PDC video with John Lansing here.

Best Effort To Combat The Terrorist Message: 
On August 19, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced Germany would accept up to 800,000 refugees this year, nearly double the amount that had been forecast only a few months before and almost four times last year's total. Then the world collectively rubbed its eyes: the vast majority of Germans supported a huge "Refugees Welcome" campaign, which made news worldwide. Challenges are now emerging, but last year German Chancellor Merkel in a stroke undercut the ISIL myth that Muslims are only welcome in the caliphate.  In fact, millions of Muslims are fleeing the caliphate, voting for freedom with their feet. 

Best Public Diplomacy Article:  
Monitoring and evaluating advocacy is the Holy Grail when it comes to measuring impact for international organizations from the Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationOxfam, and the National Endowment for Democracy, to name a few. But not so at Foggy Bottom. Thus it was encouraging to see the fall issue of Ambassadors Review, the foreign affairs journal of the Council of American Ambassadors, present a persuasive bit of research, “The Evaluation Revolution in Public Diplomacy.” Carissa Gonzalez, the Kathryn W. Davis Public Diplomacy Fellow for 2014-2015, interviewed dozens of public diplomacy leaders, practitioners, ambassadors, academics and other experts. She also brought to the subject her own prior experience as a business strategy consultant and Foreign Service Officer (FSO) in the Middle East, South America, and Washington. 

Most Effective 2015 VIP Visit: 
In his first trip to the United States, Pope Francis delivered many inspiring messages and bolstered the image of the Church in America.  After the Sept. 22-27 visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, the Knights of Columbus’ Marist Poll survey of the U.S. public showed improved acceptance of Catholic teachings on the major political issues - marriage and abortion, respect for the environment – and found that fewer than 24 percent said they saw the visit as political.  Francis’ approval soared from 58 to 74 percent.  Another Catholic website commentator pointed to effects beyond fickle opinion surveys.  The Pope’s target audiences spanned the world, he said.  The Pope was aiming to encourage progress in global conflicts and more dialogue between America’s political parties.  But there is no doubt that Pope Francis raised the Church’s visibility and his own in a favorable way, teaching public diplomacy strategists many lessons. 

Best Effort To Mark a Historic Occasion:
The U.S. Department of State went all out to mark the raising of the U.S. flag over the U.S. embassy in Havana. State flew in three former Marine guards who had taken the flag down fifty years ago, as well as Cuban-American poet Richard BlancoSecretary Kerry delivered remarks in serviceable Spanish.  And State’s TV Services provided a live broadcast feed. You could quibble with some technical and protocol details, but no effort was spared.  Does it matter?  It’s true that last year’s announcement of normalization has brought little or no improvement in human rights or behavior by the Castro regime.  But it has improved U.S. leverage in Latin American relations overall: perhaps a more important marker.

Best Idea to Save the Planet: 
Bolstered by participation of President Obama and Secretary Kerry alongside other world leaders, the UN Conference of Parties in Paris (COP 21) forged the first universal climate change agreement ever, which exceeded expectations. The common motivator for key nations at COP 21 was public support and pressure to slow the degradation of the world’s climate and environment. U.S. action on carbon emissions, amplified by Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at posts, set an important example. State’s IIP Bureau deserves a mention for the campaign it mounted to develop support for U.S. goals at COP 21; measurements showed significant increase in public approval of U.S. policies on climate change where the campaign was active.

Best Increase in Educational Exchange:
Since President Obama launched the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative in 2011, the number of U.S. students studying abroad in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased 20 percent, and the number of students from the Americas studying in the United States has increased 24 percent.  The Americas ranked second as a regional destination for U.S. students, with more than 50,000 studying in the Western Hemisphere. The Latin American and Caribbean region is the fastest growing region for U.S. study abroad, with an 8 percent increase in the prior year. This comes against a backdrop of ever more international students choosing American campuses. The 2015 IIE "Open Doors Report" also finds foreign student enrollments up 10 percent to a record high of 974,926 in 2014/2015.

So here are only a few good things that happened in the realm of public diplomacy during 2015.  We received scores of nominations, many of which highlighted interesting initiatives at U.S. embassies.  Some of those included pictures, and we’ll try to feature a few of them on our home page in this new year.  To all of you who wrote in, thanks!  We’d love to hear from you via the same channels mentioned at the top of this article.


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