Park51 Imagery and the Rhetoric of Contested Space

by Lisa Braverman A couple of weeks ago as I skimmed the news, I saw the freshly-released images of the Park51 Community Center (colloquially known as the “Ground Zero Mosque”). In the same sitting, I also performed my semi-regular check of a former professor’s co-authored blog, No Caption Needed. Perusing the two in such short succession inspired reflection on the nature of the image in strategic communication – and more specifically, the nature of the […] Read more »

Barriers and Bridges: Visiting the West Bank

Some days it feels like I have the best job in the world. This week I had one of those days. For the past several days I’ve been working with our Embassy in Tel Aviv and Consulate General in Jerusalem on their public diplomacy social media programs. This focuses mostly on sharing best practices from […] Read more »

Challenging Assumptions about Muslim Education and Fundamentalism in Indonesia

by Steven R. Corman Readers of this blog will be interested in an article by Mark Woodward (a frequent contributor to this blog) and his colleagues Inayah Rohmaniyah, Ali Amin and Diana Coleman in the most recent issue of Perspectives on Terrorism.  The paper, based on years of ethnographic fieldwork in Indonesia, challenges the popular notion that fundamentalism and religious education have a causal connection to violent extremism.  They have observed that, to the contrary, […] Read more »

Critical Implications of Compliance and Understanding

I just read Robin Brown’s thoughtful commentary on the UT-Austin PD-MAP assessment report and tool. In my previous take, I was focused primarily on the utility of the instrument: the methodological implications for how it can be used by policy-makers and as a roadmap to knowledge building about effectiveness. But I think Brown’s blog reflects what I think is really interesting about the PD-MAP exercise and what animates my own academic project – how actors conceptualize, argue for, and implement strategies of influence that are indelibly marked by their own political, social, and cultural context. When people write about measures of effectiveness – what are they saying about the mechanics of persuasion, the ideal relationship between the subject (the audience) and the state, and the normative implications of intervening in other people’s world-views? As Janice Bially-Mattern has argued, we need to think carefully about how we so casually talk about tweaking people’s “ontological security” when we use “representational force.” And that’s what make’s Brown’s comments important. He highlight’s the most obvious and persistant critical aspect of public diplomacy – the observeration that U.S. public diplomacy is itself a product of ideological positions that sustain particular material advantages and asymmetries. He says this is a “realist” response to the classically liberal attitudes towards international communication that justify public diplomacy, but I think it’s more of a critical stance. The purported goals of compliance, couched in terms of harmony of interests and understanding, mask objectives that sustain the status quo to the benefit of the communicator. Edward Comor reminded a gathering of public diplomacy scholars earlier this year at the ISA convention in New Orleans that despite how exciting and innovative public diplomacy research may be – we cannot forget the critical side of scholarship. For all the new work that’s being done on how communication modalities are being used in public diplomacy campaigns, or how communication ecologies like networks reflect new dynamics of persuasion – we must also be reflexive about the “why” of public diplomacy. Granted, this critical kind of scholarship isn’t for everyone. But as Brown implies, a critical sensitivity to public diplomacy may actually help practitioners. Not necessarily by provoking reflexive stances towards their role as agents of the state. But, by providing a perspective that is outside their comfort-zone as policy-planners, immersed in organizational and political cultures that make the practice and content of public diplomacy seem self-evidently rational and ethical. A critical stance towards the messages and practices of public diplomacy should ideally reveal the ways in which it may be perceived by other “audiences,” especially when the norms of communication, the commonplaces of public discourse, and the rituals of communication (to borrow a phrase from James Carey) are quite different. The path to a more effective public diplomacy obviously requires some form of systematic inquiry, data-collection, and assessment. But it can also benefit from a clear-eyed view of its situated-ness in the ideological assumptions that justify such practices in international relations. Read more »

Theoretically Speaking

My previous post on the US Adivsory Commission’s “PD-MAP” assessment too was admittedly long, drawing in a number of tangental thoughts and complaints regarding the study of public diplomacy. I guess I’ve got a lot of pent up ideas I wanted to get out. But amidst the competing arguments, there is one that I want to clarify. I do not suggest in my skepticism of the PD-MAP assessment tool that A) public diplomacy measurement of effectiveness is impossible and B) we can’t have public diplomacy-centric scholarship to support such analysis. The latter clarification is largely academic – but important to make. Masters programs in public diplomacy Will there by a theory of public diplomacy? Right now, we have a variety of theories and related perspectives that are appropriate and applicable to public diplomacy scholarship. From micro-level theories of communication, such as agenda setting, priming, framing, and a slew of persuasion theories…. to critical perspectives from social theory that force us to consider how public diplomacy practices reinforce or convey ideological messags Read more »

Assessing the Public Diplomacy Assessment Model Report

At their September 28 meeting, the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy announced a report they had commissioned from a research team at UT Austin. Its subject of evaluation and measurement for public diplomacy is undoubtedly important and a significant priority for governments engaged in public diplomacy around the world. This report owes its existence to the efforts of the Advisory Commission’s former Executive Director, David Firestein – an intelligent and articulate advocate for public diplomacy concerns. Frankly it’s surprising that it took this long for the Commission to get to this subject, but it’s a significant step in the right direction. The report itself, however, is not perfect. Matthew Armstrong wasted no time in offering a thorough and at times stinging assessment of the report. Having read both the report and Armstrong’s commentary, I’ve come to a few conclusions: 1. The report is a commendable and surprisingly systematic attempt to devise a flexible evaluation tool. 2. It’s not ground-breaking in its recommendations – but then again I don’t think it was intended to be. It’s designed to provide a tool for policy evaluators to consider programs based on previous experiences. 3. I think Armstrong’s negative comments about the project’s formative research expressed a frustration many public diplomacy watchers share about previous evaluation work. 4. I also think Armstrong’s critique: that the report offers nothing new in terms of criticism of US PD is fine, but that wasn’t the point of the report. 5. The report authors were not able to interview and survey enough people to do a thorough analysis of US strategic thinking and culture about public diplomacy. Then again, I’m not sure they needed to. See above. 6. The PD-MAP is a neat tool. But it’s strangely idiosyncratic and at times arbitrary in its recommendations for how to measure outcomes. It’s not well cited – which is important when you consider all the different dynamics they are trying to measure. 7. I’m starting to appreciate John Brown’s position more on public diplomacy research (!). See below. I won’t repeat the summary work done by Armstrong in his lengthy treatment of the report. I admit I was very skeptical of the report before reading it. There has been a lot of studies of US public diplomacy, commissioned by the GAO and others, that measure what the government is doing and not the result. Effectiveness is often inferred from what the report authors call “outputs.” The report, however, is very much interested in “outcomes.” Connecting outputs to outcomes is not an easy task – it requires diligent research, analysis, and indeed access to data that studies can use to make claims about outcomes. And here’s the kicker – it also requires theories to guide analysis, because we’ve developed pretty good ideas for how and why things happen that can be explained from data analysis. For example, if you’re going to investigate persuasion effects of, say, selected exposure to a particular message, visual, or experience – then you don’t need a theory of public diplomacy. You need to employ established and reliable measures of effect developed in relevant fields like social psychology, communication studies, and public relations/strategic communication. Too bad the real world of public diplomacy doesn’t allow much for field work, quasi-experimental, or controlled experiments on persuasion effects. But I digress. We get it. Measuring public diplomacy is hard. There’s a reason why the academic study of international relations and foreign policy in general has very few durable theories and hypotheses that have held up across contexts. A predictive, elegant model that is useful for international affairs is a rare thing to come by. The most sophisticated quantitative analyses very often deal with very specific parameters, situations, and data. The messy particulars of different embassies, cultures, operational contexts, policy programs, policy objectives, and research subjects makes a comprehensive model for PD seem almost fantastically absurd in prospect. So what do we get with the UT Austin report? The report did not set out to develop a predictive model, let alone a theory, of public diplomacy, though it does claim to measure effectiveness against expectations established systematically from flexible factors and priorities. In my opinion this is a good thing. Rather, it’s pretty clear the group devised a way to catalog, organize, and code program information in such a way as to allow policy programmers to get a real picture of how effective their programs have been from a strategic perspective. The three main strategic goals of PD the authors derived from their research and used for evaluation are: Increased Understanding of the US Increasing Favorability toward the US Increasing US Influence of the US. So, the first part of the report deals with how the authors settled on these three primary strategic objectives for PD. The second part builds on the objectives, to illustrate how you might code and standardize data in such a way as to model effectiveness against these objectives. Their derived tool, the “PD-MAP” model, is a flexible system to accomplish analysis of effectiveness (linking outcomes to outputs) that is apparently based upon a Multi-Criteria Decision-Making Model. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this concept, nor the theories and studies that have been used to develop the concept. But the benefit, the authors argue, is that you can tweak the model in any way you like to account for the relative importance of the objective, the risks involved, the expectations, etc. Through data standardization, the model combines results of different effectiveness measures into a relatively straightforward depiction. I’ll cut right to the chase. The proposed PD-MAP evaluation tool is a great way to organize and compile evidence of effectiveness in such a way as to measure outcomes by standardizing results from a wide-ranging series of pre and post hoc measurement data. Yet the overall system relies upon a set of assumptions that makes me pause, because the real heavy-lifting of data collection and analysis aren’t that specified. What we have instead is a policy and strategy management tool. Remember the saying about “when you assume…?” The ways in which the authors describe sweeping subjects like influence ... Read more »

American counter-terrorism measures in flux as civil society promotes reforms

Nearly two years into the Obama administration, U.S. counter-terrorism policy is in a confused and contradictory state. Bush era assumptions and strategies remain unchanged in many respects, even as the “human security” framework (sometimes referred to as 3D: defense, diplomacy … Continue reading Read more »

A Counter-Narrative for Iranian Tyranny

by Jeffry R. Halverson The ruling regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly known for a militant foreign policy posture, abuse of the human rights of its citizens, and a suspected nuclear weapons program that threatens to destabilize the Middle East region. It is in the interests of all parties involved, save for the Iranian regime itself, to bring about the radical reform of Iran’s political system, especially in light of its increasing […] Read more »

A Counter-Narrative for Iranian Tyranny

by Steven R. Corman The CSC has released a new white paper by Jeffry Halverson entitled A Counter-Narrative for Iranian Tyranny.  The executive summary is below, and you can find the full paper here. The ruling regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly known for a militant foreign policy posture, abuse of the human rights of its citizens, and a suspected nuclear weapons program that threatens to destabilize the Middle East region. It […] Read more »