March 26, 2011

Public Diplomacy: not just for diplomats anymore

In reconceptualizing public diplomacy from propaganda, to soft power, and long-term communication, the actor has always been the state. The traditional roots of “diplomacy” and a realist attitude towards non-state actors has left the power of NGOs, institutions and active citizens outside the realm of public diplomacy. But that may no longer be possible, or wise, for states to do.

As Fisher wrote in “Music for the Jilted Generation,” the “practice of public diplomacy” is developing and the “barriers to entry,” like the Internet and other communications technologies, are decreasing rapidly and “this has the potential to break down the hierarchical producer and recipient relationship, and creates a means for collective action.” Fisher calls it “open source” diplomacy, where Kelley stresses the “new” public diplomacy with non-state actors, present from “take-offs” and not just the crash landings of critical strategic situations.

A state could use long-term “engagement” or relationship building techniques with the goal of increasing “social capital” with particular countries. But this takes a long time, could be expensive, might not work, and has proven itself to be very difficult to sway policymakers towards, despite the sense-making inherent to the theories of engagement.

Or, they could use intermediary organizations and spokespeople, where the message is no longer controlled directly by diplomats, but conveyed via stakeholders with better relationships and more credibility with target audiences. And perhaps, as Fisher’s use of the term “open source” suggests, it will cause more people to get involved and become stakeholders in foreign policy. It goes beyond traditional diplomacy, “to engaging on a genuinely symmetrical, peer-to-peer engagement aimed at engaging in collective effort with groups that were previously largely only considered as part of the target audience.” (Fisher)

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