Saturday, February 13, 2010

Handbook of Public Diplomacy

For those of you interested in exploring Public Diplomacy, I highly recommend the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy (2010).*

Here's a quick synopsis of some of the chapters I've read -- food for thought.

Chapter 6 - Exchange Programs and Public Diplomacy
Giles Scott-Smith

Scott-Smith rather cynically argues that politics pervade all public and citizen diplomacy initiatives. “…Even the most politically neutral of exchanges, such as those between high schools," he writes, "have either political intent behind their creation or are promoted for the purpose of developing cross-border relations that can subsequently lead to political outcomes, such as a reduction in conflict."

While it is true that such exchanges may have a politically beneficial consequence, I hesitate to describe their 'intent' as inherently political. While the term 'diplomacy' necessarily suggests the relationship between nation-states or, perhaps, at the individual level, national identities, there seems to be a tendency within public diplomacy discussion to conflate the interests of the American citizen/individual with the American foreign policy agenda. I would argue that the cross-cultural exchange and learning efforts initiated by non-governmental educational and cultural groups are primarily motivated by an interest in the edification of their members
and the people with whom they will exchange their ideas, customs, practices, interests.

Chapter 10 - Mapping out a Spectrum of Public Diplomacy Initiatives: Information and Relational Communication Frameworks

R. S. Zaharna

Zaharna identifies public diplomacy as a communication phenomenon, as well as a political one. The chapter clarifies two trends in public diplomacy that speak to the difference I tried to distinguish above in my response to Scott-Smith. Zaharna writes that what emerges in the range of public diplomacy initiatives are “two underlying perspectives of communication. One perspective (the Information Framework) tends to view communication as a linear process of transferring information often with the goal of persuasion or control. The other perspective (the Relational Framework) sees communication as a social process of building relationships and fostering harmony." While Scott-Smith would put all educational exchanges into the first category, I would argue (and Zaharna would probably agree) that many of them fall into the second.

That being said, it's important for those of us in this field not to be naive about the 'frames' and 'lenses' through which our information is filtered. Much of what we might take for unbiased communication comes through channels designed and maintained as tools for the dissemination of government-sponsored information. The British Broadcasting Corporation is a prime example. So many Americans I know insist that the BBC is the best source of information about world events, without recognizing its political bias.

By the same token, the Peace Corps model exhibits all of Zaharna's characteristics of the Relational Framework, and yet it is undoubtedly a government-initiated public diplomacy effort--one that follows Scott-Smith's advice:

“Whatever the goals they are intended to achieve, exchanges are best kept independent from any sense of direct political interference and obligation in order to maintain the integrity of the participants and the credibility of the programmes themselves. Whereas propaganda refers to the deliberate manipulation of information to achieve a desired result, exchanges are (ideally) the most two-way form of public diplomacy, opening up spaces for dialogue and the interchange of alternative viewpoints.”

*I've got Emerson's copy, so you can't check it out until I'm done reading it!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

News? Public Relations? Front page ad?

iPhone helps report street-level woes

In The Press Effect, the authors cite Douglas Cater who called the press the "fourth branch of government" (p. 95). This front-page feature article in today's Boston Globe represents the media's complicated relationship with government and is also a good example of multiple layers of meaning and benefit that an article like this can represent and provide.
On the surface, this article is about a new iPhone app called "Citizens Connect" that allows residents of Boston to identify "street-level" problems and alert local government to public maintenance needs. Very cool! The article includes a giant color map of the mobile reports that have been made since the app was launched in October.
The article also serves as a positive public relations tool for Mayor Menino, as it explains that the creation of this app was an initiative of the mayor's office, (despite Menino's refusal "to use email or allow voice-mail at City Hall.") [What?! and he was elected for a 5th term??!! anyway...] The placement of the article as the lead story on the front page, with color photos and graphics on the front as well as inside pages, gives the initiative prominence and importance. One has to acknowledge that in addition to the "news" value of a story like this--and the initiative IS great, who can deny it--there is also great benefit for the mayor and to the city government in such a positive story about what they are doing to solve the city's problems. On this level, (propaganda?) it would not surprise me if the entire content of this story was written up in a press release by the mayor's office, with the few quotes sprinkled through the article representing the reporter's contribution to the story.
And who else benefits from such praise? iPhone, of course. This app is a "public service" that only works on one particular type of equipment. Poor me, without an iPhone! I cannot do my civic duty to report the pothole I have to jump across to catch the bus! "It gives me this feeling of being instantly gratified," says Heather Sears. "I feel like I'm armed and helpful, because I've got this tool and I can make an instant difference." Suddenly, my ability to be a gratified, helpful citizen who makes a difference is impeded by the lack of an appliance.
I want instant gratification. I'd better run out and buy an iPhone.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


"Eclecticism is self-defeating
not because there is only one direction
in which it is useful to move
but because there are so many:
It is necessary
to choose."

- Clifford Geertz

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Today was a warmer, breezy winter day in Boston and as I was walking through Harvard Square I smelled the scent of fresh flowers in the air. It was coming from half a block ahead of me--a bucket of pink and white carnations in front of a flower shop being rather haphazardly 'arranged' by a man.

As I approached, I said "those smell delicious. I could smell them half-way down the block." He smiled and replied, "Here. This one is for you."

I was so pleased to have a carnation to carry with me, and I admired its very long stem (about 2 feet) and its delicate frosted slips-of-leaves and breathed deeply into it as I walked down the street toward the T. I knew that as it warmed up a bit, the flower would release more scent, and I enjoyed the coolness of its creamy ivory petals on my nose.

"How under-appreciated you are," I thought, to the carnation. "You are so beautiful, so voluptuous, so taken-for-granted. Cheap flower. Filler in a bouquet of more exotic specimens. But YOU are beautiful." My next thought was, "OMG. I'm 'talking' to a flower."

"Stop staring at me," I thought to it as I sat silently in the subway car. One white flower in a dreary, mid-winter subway car actually asserts quite an imposing presence. Well, I felt it. It cheered me and brought something special into an otherwise ordinary moment. A woman was talking to herself at the other end of the car and I recalled a line from a movie about how we're all terrified of going crazy. "Where does this flower-telepathy put me?" I wondered.

A remarkable thing happened to me with this flower today. People on the street, in elevators, on the bus talked to me! I talked with more strangers today than I have in the past 2 months. "That's a nice carnation," one said. "Special occasion?" said another. "Early Valentine's Day," another guessed. "A stranger gave it to me," I answered.

The power of this flower! Wow! "I should just carry around a flower every day," I thought. "How the world would open up to me!" Or was this a special moment? A special flower? Just a day with a sniff of spring in the air ... a dead-winter day when the sight of a flower might remind people of a forgotten fecundity?

This flower and its delicate scent made of a dull day something remarkable. Without words or actions it brought comfort, beauty, surprise, conversation and opportunity into my day.

Am I crazy?
It felt like grace.

The Danger of a Single Story

This is a brilliant talk, from the perspective of a Nigerian novelist, about how stories define "others" and create stereotypes. I think it's a "must see" for anyone working in Public Affairs. Of course, the use of the "single story" is a technique that has often been applied intentionally to achieve a social or political end (could we call it propaganda?). It raises the question of ethics, and whether means justify ends. Telling a "single story"--even as it may achieve one's goal--often has pervasive negative consequences.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Path

If I have any followers these days, I would let you know that I have certainly been wandering aimfully out of range of this blog for quite awhile. But much good stuff is happening. The world will be pleased to know that the wanderer has returned to the blogosphere, thanks to an assignment in my Public Affairs class at Emerson College.

Subsequent posts this spring will relate to Public Relations, Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy...and of course, anything else I happen to wander into.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

C'est pas compliqué

Love this song by Awilo Longomba feat. DJ Skalp.
"Life is beautiful. Don't complicate things."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Stereotype Threat and Black Achievement

A conversation between Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Claude Steele

This video was produced for the Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Financial Food for Thought

For any woman who has made the resolution to get her finances in order this year, this book is really helpful. Along the same lines, Bach has other books entitled "Smart Couples Finish Rich" and "Start Late, Finish Rich."

While the series seems a bit gimmicky/self-helpy, I find them very easy to read, with good suggestions for how to set and maintain financial goals and how to get your financial documents organized.