Dialogue, Mutual Understanding, and Mutuality

October 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

As usual, Bruce Gregory’s PD reading list has given us a lot to mull over. One highlight that naturally resonated with battles2bridges was Kathy Fitzpatrick’s U.S. Public Diplomacy in a Post-9/11 World: From Messages to Mutuality. The shift from messages to mutuality is exactly the tactical shift needed to move U.S. public diplomacy from fighting information Battles to building relational Bridges.

While Fitzpatrick puts mutuality as central in the title, the strength of her study is in advancing dialogue as a concept and model in public diplomacy. When it comes to mutuality, my mind wanders back to the British report by Martin Rose and Nick Wadham-Smith: Trust, Mutuality and Cultural Relations (2004).

Taken together, these two studies not only reinforce each other, but expand our thinking on the link between dialogue, mutual understanding and mutuality. They perhaps provide a glimpse of how to move from the theory of dialogue to the posture of mutuality that is needed for collaborative public diplomacy.

Let me review some of the highlights, beginning with Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s current study is an extension of her earlier work on the dual, but overlooked mission of U.S. public diplomacy – to not only make U.S. policies understood to foreign audiences, but to help the U.S. public understand foreign publics. Read: mutual understanding.

In this study, she identifies ten features of the “new” public diplomacy that emphasizes a strong relational focus. Her list includes “a more collaborative approach,” “mutual understanding,”“build and sustain relationships,” and “based on principles of dialogue and mutuality.”

She then surveys scholarship on dialogue and introduces a dialogical model of public diplomacy as a way of articulating what a ‘relational approach’ means in terms of public diplomacy theory and practice. She suggests eight criteria for a dialogical model for public diplomacy: mutuality, presence, commitment, authenticity, trust, respect, collaboration, and risk.

Fitzpatrick applies this dialogical model to evaluate four public diplomacy related documents of the Obama administration to assess whether U.S. public diplomacy reflects the old public diplomacy based on messages or the new public diplomacy aimed at dialogue and mutuality.  Her conclusion: promising advancements in style but not substance. U.S. public diplomacy speaks about dialogue and even engagement, but foreign publics are not legitimate stakeholders in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. public diplomacy is still fundamentally about promoting and protecting U.S. interests and values.

The problem is that while “promoting and protecting U.S. interests and values” makes sense from a purely U.S. perspective, it is very limiting, and ultimately self-defeating in an interconnected global community facing wickedly complex problems.* Wicked problems cannot be solved individually, but need to be tackled collaboratively, through a social process.

It is the need to work collaboratively others — including others who might not share one’s values or visions  — that U.S. public diplomacy falls short. One cannot hope to generate novel approaches to complex wicked problems if one is confined to others who think alike. New thinking emerges from being open to learning from others and benefiting from  diverse and even divergent perspectives.

Here Fitzpatrick’s discussion of dialogue is enriched by Rose and Wadham-Smith’s discussion of mutuality and “mutuality-based relationships.”

Rose and Wadham-Smith’s focus on mutuality is tied to trust building. Several of the elements listed are similar to Fitzpatrick, such as integrity, dialogue, equity, conflict, preparedness to change and risk-taking. However, because Rose and Wadham-Smith are interested in cultural relations,* they also include elements for cultural understanding, such as cultural awareness, intercultural skills, and honesty about one’s own culture.

Most significantly, Rose and Wadham-Smith highlight the unconditional nature of mutuality. Whereas “mutually beneficial” represents an exchange that benefits both parties, mutuality is a posture that comes with no strings attached.

At the heart of mutuality, they say, is “openness and a preparedness constantly to modify one’s own understanding.” Although one’s goal may be to persuade, one must also be persuadable.

Whereas dialogue may be the process that helps one to understand another and be understood in return, and mutual understanding may be the stepping stone in that process, mutuality appears to be the guiding attitude or mental frame of reference that makes the commitment and realization of understanding possible.   Effective collaborative public diplomacy rests on this premise of mutuality.

Kathy R. Fitzpatrick, U.S. Public Diplomacy’s Neglected Domestic Mandate, CPD Perspectives, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Paper 3, (Figueroa Press, October 2010)http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/publications/perspectives/CPDPerspectivesNeglectedMandate.pdf

Kathy R. Fitzpatrick,   U.S. Public Diplomacy in a Post-9/11 World: From Messages to Mutuality. CPD Perspectives, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Paper 6, (Figueroa Press, October 2010). http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/publications/perspectives/CPDPerspectives_Mutuality.pdf

Martin Rose and Nick Wadham-Smith: Trust, Mutuality and Cultural Relations (CounterPoint, British Council, 2004).

*Wicked problems are so intertwined that trying to solve them only seems to create more problems. Since wicked problems are socially based, they cannot be solved individually but instead require a social solution, or working with others. The current debt crisis in Europe is a prime example of a wicked problem; the simple solution for one has repercussions on others. Wicked problems are why collaboration is the top feature of new public diplomacy. [I promise to unpack that statement in another post and explain “wicked” versus “tame” problems.]

** In this early piece, they say that cultural relations focuses on trust building, whereas diplomacy is not primarily about trust, but achieving specific policy-driven transactional objectives. In more recently writing, Martin Rose (the former director of CounterPoint) did include trust as part of the public diplomacy. [See, Martin Rose: Supporting the Acrobat: Public Diplomacy and Trust, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania, January 27, 2005.] http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/pdfs/martinrose.pdf


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