The 4th Quadrant of Public Diplomacy

February 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

Nation states are facing a second wake-up call in public diplomacy. The first wake up call, prompted by the 9/11 attacks, was the realization that perceptions of foreign publics have domestic consequences. The second wake up call, which rang out first for China during the 2008 Olympics, and then for other countries with Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy Movement, is that adversarial publics are able to challenge states in the quest for global public support. How states can effectively respond to this second wake-up call is a pressing area of public diplomacy research.

States appear to be viewing public diplomacy through a geopolitical lens and are focusing on other states as their primary competitors. However, viewed through a strategic communication lens, the greatest PD competition and threat to states are not other states, but rather initiatives by adversarial publics. Aside from challenging individual states, the diversity of political perspectives and cultural identities of these publics raise questions about whose ‘norms’ and ‘rules’ should govern how issues are addressed in the global public arena. This has implications for all states.

To begin to address this challenge, public diplomacy needs a more nuanced understanding of publics beyond non-state actors. The international relations (IR) literature tend to use the terms “state-based” and “state-centric” interchangeably to distinguish domains of state actors from non-state actors. In communication, the term “audience-centric” is used specifically to distinguish between communication messages and approaches designed around the audience’s needs, interests and goals and those of the sponsor. Whereas much of PD has highlighted (soft) power, messages, or images, the PD Quadrants below highlight the importance of the relational dimension between states and publics in considering strategic PD options.

State-based Public Diplomacy

PD Quadrant I reflects the traditional view of public diplomacy as a state-based, state-centric activity. It is state-based in that the initiative is designed, implemented and controlled by the state. It is state-centric in that PD initiatives are designed to meet the interests, needs and goals of the state. Relations with publics are often obscured by the focus on getting the message out and promoting the state’s interests. Because the public is viewed as passive, the relational dimension is often unexplored. However, if relations are positive, the message and image of the state tends to be favorably received. If relations are negative, the state’s communication efforts tend to encounter unexpected resistance. International broadcast and nation branding campaigns reflect the state-based, state-centric public diplomacy of PD Quadrant I.

PD Quadrant II represents a shift from state-centric to public-centric initiatives. Initiatives are still state-based in the sense that it is the state that initiates, sponsors the initiative. However, despite state control over the initiative, public participation and building positive relations is viewed as pivotal feature for PD initiatives in PD Quadrant II. To secure public participation and build relations, rather than being primarily focused on the state-centric needs or goals, the PD initiative’s message, approach and selection of media platforms are designed to resonate positively with the public. The rise of the “new public diplomacy” over the past decade that advocate a more “relational” approach and the view of public diplomacy as “engagement” exemplify the state-based, public-centric initiatives in PD Quadrant II.

Reversing the Role of the Public

PD Quadrant III represents a shift from state-based to public-based initiative. Digital media have effectively enable publics to reverse communication roles with the state. Rather than being a consumer of state-generated information, publics are able to generate communication for state attention and consumption. Whereas the state-based, public-centric initiatives in PD Quadrant II seek to co-opt the public, the public-based, state-centric projects in PD Quadrant III seek to co-opt and involve the state. Many of the global, complex issues such as global warming, health, and education originally launched by public such as the Campaign to Ban Landmines, are illustrative of PD Quadrant III.

What both PD Quadrant II and III have in common is a neutral to positive relations between state and publics. Publics are often called “stakeholders,” and assume organized public representatives such as civil societies or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There is also an implicit assumption that the state and the public share similar goals and perspectives. The positive relations and shared perspectives lie behind the willingness to adapt messages and approaches, build relations or networks, seek commonality, mutual engagement, dialogue, and potential collaboration.

Adversarial Public Stakeholders

PD Quadrant IV is distinguished from other quadrants by the public’s capacity to produce PD content neutral to negative relations with the state. PD initiatives are public-based in the sense that the public retains primary if not exclusive control over the initiative. The initiatives are public-centered in that they are designed to meet the needs, interest and goals of the public, which may be framed as neutral or counter to those of the state. Rather than assuming positive relations with publics, states may be faced with adversarial public stakeholders. While often overlooked, these public stakeholders may be even more strategic stakeholders in public diplomacy initiatives.

Because adversarial stakeholders continue to retain a strong vested interest in a contested public issue, they cannot be dropped from the PD equation even if they disagree with the state. Nor can they be dismissed as “irrational.” These adversarial stakeholders may command more perceived credibility and legitimacy by the public than the state. Attempts to openly challenge these stakeholders can further serve to alienate the state. The state may struggle for relevancy. Most importantly, these stakeholders are proving adept at using digital tools and network communication strategies to generate a soft power differential capable of challenging states. They can command state attention.

For states, PD Quadrant IV represents the challenge of “crisis public diplomacy.” Unlike the relatively stable communication with benign publics, crisis public diplomacy entails communicating simultaneously with multiple publics – not just foreign or domestic, but favorable and adversarial publics – in a highly visible, rapidly evolving, contested public arena.

Whither Public Diplomacy?

In theory, if not entirely yet in practice, states have gotten the first wake up call. The need to shift from state-centric to more participatory and relational public-centric approaches is evident in the accelerated use of social media in public diplomacy.

States may be less appreciative of the full implications of the second wake-up call, or shift from state-based to public-based initiatives. Recent PD reports reflect the trend of discussing public diplomacy in terms of (soft power) competition from other countries. However, the majority of the threats raised in the reports are not from other countries, but from adversarial public stakeholders in PD Quadrant IV.

In looking ahead to the future of public diplomacy, states need to move quickly beyond whether and how to use the social media for public-centric initiatives. As mentioned in the soft power differential, the greatest potential threat that states face is being blind-sided by a highly-network non-state actor. Already this has happened for several states. Understanding the dynamics and developing strategies for adversarial public-based PD Quadrant IV is one of the most urgent and pressing area of public diplomacy scholarship.

FROM Culture Posts series:

Zaharna, R. S. (November 6, 2012). “The 4th Quadrant of Public Diplomacy,”  in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series


Culture Posts: A New Frame – The U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014

February 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

It is the summer of 2012 and America is debating whether to modernize a piece of 1948 legislation on U.S. public diplomacy called the Smith-Mundt Act. At a time when American officials are racing to keep pace with the new communication technologies and trying to “out-communicate” the terrorists, not just other nations, the whole debate is mind-boggling. Ultimately, the debate is about much more than the legislation and speaks volumes about America understanding of communication in a global era. To get up to speed, U.S. public diplomacy needs the U.S. public, and both need a U.S. Public Diplomacy Act as soon as possible.

A Potentially Dead-In Debate

Yesterday’s analysis of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Actrevealed a battle between two iconic American values. In one corner: “modernization” and the appeal of the future. In the corner: “propaganda” and the threat to individual freedom. So long as these two values remain pitted against each other, the legislation floating on the surface will continue to draw fire from across the political spectrum. At stake are treasured American values. U.S. public diplomacy is caught in cross fire.

The longer the debate continues, the more likely the two competing frames will become entrenched. Already, the battle has moved to the social media, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. As mentioned in a previous post, and quoting Alec Ross, “the social media reward the extremes.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, any reference to “Smith-Mundt” is likely to trigger a repeat of the propaganda-public diplomacy debate. Not surprisingly, two years ago there was such an attempt and it didn’t get far. What’s needed is a fresh start in how the public, officials, and policy makers think about U.S. public diplomacy – which is a good thing.

New Tools: Media Literacy

Many have suggested the Smith-Mundt battle is generational. Actually, it may be more a matter of education and training. What the younger bloggers share with some of the beyond twenty-something bloggers trying to put propaganda in perspective, is formal study of persuasive tactics and media literacy. Learning how to read, analyze and create media content has become as critical as learning grammar. It begins in elementary school now.

The fear of propaganda harkens back to an era when persuasion was a new field of study. Mass media was the “new” media. Both were little understood and perceived as all powerful. Over the years, persuasion strategies have grown increasingly sophisticated. Compared with advanced stealth tactics, propaganda’s one-way “information dissemination” mode probably ranks a 2.4 out of 10 on Richter scale of persuasion. While persuasion strategies today are more sophisticated, so too is the audience. Media literacy and constant exposure to persuasion have made the public, especially the youth, not only savvy consumers of persuasion but producers as well. From the Arab Spring to Anonymous, the communication tables are turning between publics and governments. It’s not just social media. It’s media literacy.

New Mindset, New Frame

If one thing has become increasingly clear from the debate it is the lack of understanding about the critical role of U.S. public diplomacy – and the role of the U.S. public in U.S. public diplomacy. U.S. public diplomacy needs not just a new amendment, it needs a new mindset. With that mindset lays the promises of a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act.

1. Think Global Communication: Global technology & Global publics

The first feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is to think globally. Currently, on several levels, U.S. public diplomacy is defined in national and even inter-national terms. Perhaps a short decade ago, it was possible to think about communication in those terms. With today’s advanced communication technologies, there is no longer a domestic public or even truly foreign publics; but rather one global public. What one hears; they all hear albeit differently. The challenge is not how to separate the two; but how to speak to so many simultaneously. Remember also, that global public is constantly on the move. Global migration means thinking of audiences in terms of media platforms rather national territories.

2. Think Monitoring and Transparency

A second feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is monitoring and transparency. Not only is the communication environment global, it is highly competitive. U.S. public diplomacy may be the leader in the field, but it is not the only player. Numerous countries have established television programming and cultural programs specifically for the U.S. public. There is Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, BBC’s UK-USA and Russia’s Russia Today. If China’s CCTV has not been as successful, its Confucius Institutes are. Where is U.S. public diplomacy in this line up?

Rather than keeping the U.S. public in the dark about official U.S. communication activities, U.S. public diplomacy needs more exposure and transparency. First, for those who worry about U.S. government takeover of the American people, unfettered access to U.S. public diplomacy is exactly what’s needed to monitor it and make sure it doesn’t get out of control. Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation picked up on this point early. It needs underscoring. Second, U.S. public diplomacy could benefit from domestic feedback, especially from one as ethnically diverse as the American public. Other countries have been quick to appreciate the importance of not only their domestic public but their diaspora in the global communication equation.

3. Think Collaborative Diplomacy and Citizen Diplomacy

A third feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is moving from the old public diplomacy to the new public diplomacy. Once upon a time it was enough to craft messages and shoot them into stationary target audiences. It worked once. It doesn’t now. Governments are no longer the only players competing against each other. And radical activists rarely play by the rules. Soft power is transforming into what Anne Marie Slaughter called “collaborative power.” Public diplomacy is becoming more networked, more collaborative public diplomacy.

To be effective or even stand a chance in such a dynamic communication arena U.S. public diplomacy needs an expanded vision beyond its official itself. The U.S. public needs a voice in the conversation that is U.S. public diplomacy.

Already, the U.S. public is trying to be more involved. Witness the thrivingcitizen diplomacy and public-private partnerships. They are mushrooming across the nation. In one of her first statements, the new Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine spoke of the link between people, policy and U.S. public diplomacy. Citizen diplomacy along with collaborative public diplomacy exemplifies the new vision of U.S. public diplomacy.

More than ever, the U.S. public needs effective U.S. public diplomacy. And, more than ever, U.S. public diplomacy needs the U.S. public. Rather than competing against each other, both can embrace the challenge of change and innovation in a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014. That is, if it can be achieved sooner.

FROM Culture Post Series:

Zaharna, R. S. (June 7, 2012). “Culture Posts: A New Frame – The U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014,” in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series


Culture Posts: Exposing The Battle of US Values in the Smith-Mundt Debate

February 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Greetings from Washington. Along with the warmer temperatures and afternoon summer thunderstorms, a firestorm has erupted over a Congressional amendment related to U.S. public diplomacy. I put this post under Culture Posts, because the ferocity of the debate has had little to do with the technical aspects or merits of the legislation itself. At stake, and what the argument was really about, were iconic American values. The debate also reveals a surprising lack of understanding about just what is public diplomacy in the modern era of global communication. Indeed, rather than amending an old law, U.S. public diplomacy needs a new mindset.

At first the amendment seemed like a no-brainer update from the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. As the foundation of contemporary U.S. public diplomacy, there is a ton of background available on the original Smith-Mundt. A good running start is at The original legislation established the U.S. Information Agency with the mission of “informing and influencing foreign publics.” While the USIA has since been dissolved, the implicit understanding that public diplomacy targets “foreign publics”—not the domestic public—has remained a cornerstone assumption in U.S. public diplomacy practice and scholarship. Interestingly enough, numerous other countries assume the opposite—effective public diplomacy begins with the domestic public.

The reason the bill seemed like a no-brainer was because the Internet had made the distinction between foreign and domestic publics irrelevant and the bill effectively obsolete. Legally and philosophically, however … and this is where the debate takes off …

Anatomy of the Smith-Mundt Debate 2012

As is often the case when debates take on an outsized proportion there is usually buried symbolism. The raging battle on the surface is often a cover for issues that have deeper emotional significance. Trying to douse emotional flames with intellectual reason often only further fans the fire while submerging the original emotional triggers even deeper. Indeed, how the commentators spoke about the Amendment or tried to frame the issues only fueled the debate.

I decided to look take a closer look at the anatomy of the debate.

The debate grew exponentially in terms of quantity and intensity. On May 15, Representative Thornberry issued an 836-word press releaseannouncing the amendment (HR 5736). The first news article went out within hours. The battle of the blogs started on May 18 after a posting on with the headline, “Congressmen Seek to Lift Propaganda Ban,” The post not only changed the language from the original press release from public diplomacy to “propaganda,” but made it sound as if the reporter had obtained a news scoop rather than a press release—A sure tactic for generating interest among a wider audience.

Within a week, Technorati listed nearly 30 blog entries. had more than 60 entries on the topic. John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review and Blog, perhaps the meeting ground for the debate, grew from one entry in third position on May 18, to more than 11 entries in a single day, to 54 entries totaling 16,642 words. And that was the first week. The original post had gone viral with close to 200,000 views.

The debate grew in intensity. Bloggers on the right as well as the left attacked the amendment. Perhaps another indication that the debate was deeper than ideological differences was that opposition to it crossed the political spectrum. The emotionally charged language was similarly indicative. There was talk of “sock puppets” and “brain washing.” One prominent Progressive blogger warned of “the creeping fascism of American politics” that “would allow the Department of Defense to subject the U.S. domestic public to propaganda.” Suddenly, the military was included, which was not a far stretch but nevertheless inaccurate.

Adding to the debate were those trying to figure out what the fuss over “propaganda” was about. The word “propaganda” appeared to evoke a visceral response in older commentators, some who spoke from “personal experience.” For many younger commentators propaganda just seemed like another form of persuasion, which was reflected in their blog titles: “Propoganda? So What?” “Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’“; “Dial back the outrage.” Again this happened from the liberal Mother Jones to the conservative The Blaze. The Blaze, which features a promo for the Tea Party movement on its video, actually switched its feelings about the amendment from “Disconcerting and Dangerous” to a roundtable history lesson by a panel of young commentators. They all had to read from their research notes and struggled to keep a straight face. (Video here)

To foreign observers, the Smith-Mundt debate may have looked rather confusing, if not odd. Public diplomacy scholar Robin Brown at Leeds University tweeted as much:

Robin Brown ‏@rcmb: From outside the US Smith-Mundt domestic dissemination ban looks a bit odd. But apparently if you lift it US is doomed (May 20)

The intensity and speed with which the debate was spiraling suggested that the underlying, deeper issues at stake were significant. Indeed, the debate pitted two iconic American values against each other.

Appeal of the Future: Innovation & Opportunity

The very name of the bill – the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 – resonates strongly and positively with future orientation that has long been a prized American value. Anthropologists have documented it. American politicians have catered to it. And, American immigrants who left the “old country” behind have embraced it. As a young nation, vision meant looking forward to the quest for the new, the improved, the opportunity for change, or the challenge of innovation. While there may be the tinge for nostalgia here and there, the appeal for Change and Hope (of the future) tend to triumph.

So, in the one corner, there is the appeal of future orientation. This explains the “history lessons” about Smith-Mundt as well as the references to “modern”, “advanced” communication technologies and the need to “update” or “modernize” the “obsolete” or “outdated” “decades-old” 1948 bill.

American Individualism

In the other corner is an even stronger American value orientation: individual freedom. If one peels back the language about “propaganda” it is about the fear of a loss of individual freedom and autonomy. The government will “take control,” the public will be “vulnerable” or “fall prey” to “brain washing” and other powerful forms of control.










If one looks closely, propaganda is often linked to an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, as was the case of the Thornberry press release. The anti-authoritarian appeal goes back to the American colonists and their rebellion against the King. Propaganda is also associated with deception, or more bluntly, lying by the authorities. Deliberate deception on the part of the government? Heaven forbid. America’s Founding Fathers built “checks and balances” into the foundation of the U.S. government structure. And lest the government forget its place, there are “the people” and of course, the “watch dog” press. While U.S. public diplomacy may be okay for “foreign” publics – including specifically targeting the youth of other countries, to expose the U.S. public to U.S. public diplomacy is a call to arms.

The images echo these iconic American values. There is the appeal to the modern, represented by technology. The image below was featured by the Mother Jones piece mocking the new “brainwashing” law.

Pitted against the fear of loss of individual freedom, are the images, albeit dated, of government “propaganda.”


The Smith-Mundt debate Illustrates how unexplored historical and cultural dynamics can have direct policy implications in public diplomacy. So long as the debate remains framed as a battle against two iconic cultural values – the appeal of the future versus the threat to individualism – the legislation may struggle.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for suggestions for cultural appeals that can reframe the debate for a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act.

Blog from Culture Posts Series:

Zaharna, R. S. (June 6, 2012). “Culture Posts: Exposing The Battle of U.S. Values in the Smith-Mundt Debate,” in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series

Public Diplomacy Teaching 2.0

April 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

When my AU colleague Prof. Robert Kelley invited me to pop in and see what his undergraduate class in public diplomacy was up to I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For those trained in the “old school” — that is, pen, paper and notebook — let me give you the #hashtag — #SIS419AFG — so you can review the feed of what happened in class. I was the only one offline so I have to go back and review it myself.

So I get to class and the four student presenters are loading their powerpoint presentation on one computer and getting reading to follow the online discussion on another computer. The students at their desks all have either computers, iPads or phones to follow the class discussion. Yes, it is an in-class discussion that takes place online as well as offline.

Prof. Kelley (@agencychange) enters and sets the scene. Last week, Dr. Sherry Mueller spoke on citizen diplomacy. At the end of that class a 4-member team was given a public diplomacy scenario on citizen diplomacy. Their task was to recruit American families to host visiting high school students from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a week’s time, the student team read up on citizen diplomacy, students exchanges, U.S. State Department youth programs – and they created their own organization, “U.S. Afghan and Iraq Student Exchange Program.” The student team added social media tools, with the disclaimer that the organization was a practice imaginary organization for class.

After the student team presentation, the other students in the class play various roles, ranging from the media to concerned citizens. They take turns pounding the presenting the presenting team with questions. One student, assigned to play the role of an agitator, was from the New York Times. She asks about how the students are selected for the program. Another student, playing a father in Oklahoma, wants to know about costs. A mother from Texas is concerned about insurance coverage for the exchange students. Another student expresses his concerns about the importance of a good Christian upbringing for the exchange students from predominantly Muslim countries. Prof. Kelley, playing along in the role of an excited parent, wants to know what happens if his charge runs across the border to Canada – then what?! “I am the guardian!”

The student team has to keep their cool under fire and answer questions – offline – and online. Each time the team responds to a hand raised in class, the whole class is live tweeting their impressions. Part of the presenting team responsibility is to monitor and respond to the online discussion.

For the uninitiated, this is the world of the digital natives. Having lived their lives in a post-computer, post-internet age, they do not separate “technology” and communication. The technology is seamlessly integrated into their daily communication habits. What they learn and practice in class is how to use those tools more professionally and strategically. For this class, they are required to tweet five times per week. In class, they live tweet.

Welcome to public diplomacy teaching 2.0.

Thank you Prof. Kelley and the whole class – especially the dynamic presenters – for a great learning experience. I learned that grad assistant and PD blogger in her own right, Willow Williamson (@willowfw), secretly masterminded some of the crisis scenarios for the students. Prof. Kelley credited Prof. Nick Cull at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy with the saboteur plants in the audience (totally believable).

But the real credit goes to the presenters. Hard work is still hard work. And their 14-hour days over the past week shows. Just take a look. Their presentation, which included the created videos, integrated US State Dept videos. They created a  blog. And, for their alumni network … “Join our community on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: @USAISEP_SIS419.”

Even better, you really need to see about stopping by class to join them or watch them in action to get the rush of what participating in a public diplomacy 2.0 class feels like. This is the future of PD!

Heteropolarity, Wicked Problems, and Collaboration in Public Diplomacy

February 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Over at, Daryl Copeland was prepping for an upcoming symposium at the London Academy of Diplomacy by unpacking his thoughts on the implication associated with the emergence of a heteropolar world. His thinking about the shift from bipolar to heteropolar world got me thinking about the shift from negotiation/traditional diplomacy to collaboration/public diplomacy.

I still believe as I stated in an earlier post this summer that “Collaboration in public diplomacy may well become the strategic equivalent of negotiation in traditional diplomacy.”

Copeland talks about a shift from multipolar/bipolar world that seeks balance of power based on similar power attributes to a heteropolar world where diplomats try to juggle the balance of differential powers. His description of mutlipolar to me suggests a communication environment ripe for negotiations. His description of heteropolarity may suggest a new communication dynamic: collaboration.

Let me unpack my thinking. Pardon the roughness, this is an idea still swirling.

From Mutlipolar and Bipolar – Negotiations

Here is Copeland on multi and bipolar. I am struck by the focus on power (over), stability, equilibrium, and balance…

“For the past few hundred years, high-level statecraft has been concerned mainly with attempts at balancing power in an ever-changing world. From the age of European empires through to the end of the Cold War, the indicators of national power – armies, navies, missiles, warheads, economies, populations, territories – were carefully calculated, and then balanced and codified in an attempt to engineer stability.”

And …

“From the Congress of Vienna through the Treaty of Versailles and beyond, the search for international security turned on the efforts of diplomats to calibrate power in a manner which produced a workable form of equilibrium. .. For the likes of Metternich, Castlereigh and Bismark, not to mention Churchill, Stalin and Kissinger, power was essentially a function of the ability to compel your adversary to submit to your will. Stability was engineered by fine tuning relationships within and between alliances, first in a multipolar, and then, following World War II, in a bipolar system dominated by the US and USSR.”

To me this type of communication environment is ripe for negotiation strategies and tactics. I am struck by the focus on power (over), stability, equilibrium, and balance. There are far too many books on negotiations to summarize any one here without doing injustice to all.

However, if one looks at the communication dynamics of negotiation they revolved primarily around separate players in a competitive give-and-take trying to safeguard and promote their national interests. Individual player. Individual countries. Individual national goals and interests. Individually-devised communication goals and strategies. Separate. Individual. Competition.

Heteropolarity – Shift in Communication Dynamics

When I look at Copeland’s description of heterpolarity, I see a very different communication environment. The stress appears to be on dissimilarity, diversity, differences.

“An emerging world system in which competing states or groups of states derive their relative power and influence from dissimilar sources – social, economic, political, military, cultural. The disparate vectors which empower these heterogeneous poles are difficult to compare or measure; stability in the age of globalization will therefore depend largely upon the diplomatic functions of knowledge-driven problem solving and complex balancing.”

Aligning Communication Strategy to Communication Environment

Whenever there is a new communication environment existing strategies – especially those that have worked so well in the past – need to be reassessed. The main thesis of Battles to Bridges of why post 9/11 public diplomacy was failing: the strategy was out of alignment with the communication environment.

Copeland ‘s explanation of his choice of heteropolar over multipolar makes the new dynamic – differences – even clearer. But it seems that the focus is still on competition to achieve balance.

“Among the commentariat, and in both the academic and scholarly press, the mainstream view is that world politics have returned to some kind of a multipolar dispensation. The prefix multi suggests the existence of multiple poles of more or less the same type, as was the case in Europe, for example, in the 19th century. From that observation it follows that traditional means can again be used to establish some kind of new balance, one based largely upon conventional assumptions about the nature of power and the use of influence.”

And, the focus appears to still be on individuals. Copeland adds:

“With the advent of globalization, international power and influence have become atomized.”

This is where the neon lights start flashing: “atomize”

Atomized Reduce (something) to atoms or other small distinct units “ – Merriam-Webtser Dictionary

The atom is the icon of the 20th century. The atom whirls alone. It is the metaphor for individuality. But the atom is the past. The symbol of the next century is the net.” — Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy

That is net as in networks.

Then there’s Stephen Borgatti and Pacey Foster  in their survey of organizational research they found “a shift in the second half of the 20th century away from individualist, essentialist and atomistic explanations toward more relational, contextual and systematic understanding.”

And, Thomas Malone, who described a shift from from hierarchies that “command and control” to networks that “coordinate and cultivate.”

 Atonomized Bipolar to Interconnected Heteropolar

Rather than “atonomized,” I would say “interconnected” heteropolar world.  A heteropolis is a world of differential powers that are interconnected and interpenetrating. In a heteropolis, negotiation as an individual, competitive communication strategy is difficult at best. This is why there may be balancing problems.

In an interconnected heteropolar world the goal is not stability, or balance and power over. If everyone is connected, the idea of competition, power over can be counterproductive. Submitting others to one’s often engenders resentment, which can be self-defeating in the long term.

Rather than balance, the goal is adapting to constant change and accommodating differences. And, rather than individual “knowledge-driven” problem solving, it will more likely be “relations-driven” problem-solving. Why? Because of the nature of the problems that need solving.

The True Beauty of Herteropolarity: The Diversity to Tackle Wick Problems

Added to the interconnectedness of differential power players in the heteropolis are the interconnectedness of complex “wicked” global problems. Lucian Hudson in his study “The Enabling State,” on collaboration for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, talked about how governments increasingly have had to join hands with corporate and nongovernmental organizations to tackle complex or “wickedly complex” global problems.

Complex problems may be the impetus behind Anne-Marie Slaughter’s suggestion of collaborative power.

Complex wicked problems, as Jeff Conklin explains, cannot be solved in a linear, individual manner in which one proceeds to study the problem, gather information, develop and implement solutions. Tame problems can probably be tackled through negotiations and solved by treaties. Wicked problems require ongoing monitoring because the problems evolve along with the solutions.

Wicked problems are so intertwined that trying to solve one aspect of ‘a problem’ creates new problems. Wicked problems also contain socio-cultural dimension. To address wicked problems one needs diversity. Differential perspectives and differential powers.

And this is may be the true beauty of heteropolarity: differences provide the differential power to solve wicked problems.


Daryl Copeland, “Heteropolarity, Security and Diplomacy: Not the Same Old, Same Old,” January 16, 2012 Guerrilla

Stephen P. Borgatti and Pacey Foster, “The Network Paradigm in Organizational Research: A Review and Typology,” Journal of Management 29, 6 (2003), pp. 991-1013. p. 991

Jeff Conklin, “Building a Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems,” Rotman Magazine, Winter 2009, pp. 17-20.

Jeff Conklin, “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity,” Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, (Chapter 1) October 2005.

Lucian Hudson, The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, 2009.

Kevin Kelly, New Rules for The New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies For A Connected World (New York, Penguin, 1999), p. 9.

Thomas Malone, The Future of Work:  How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004).

Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New Theory for the Foreign Policy Frontier: Collaborative Power, The Atlantic, Nov 30 2011.

The Cultural Underbelly of Public Diplomacy

July 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

Culture as an underlying force that shapes global public diplomacy remains curiously unexplored. Yet, every aspect of an entity’s public diplomacy, from the values and ideals buried in its political goals to how it tries to communicate with publics is touched by culture. Intercultural scholars have cautioned that to overlook culture’s influence is to remain vulnerable to its power. Conversely, with the benefit of cultural knowledge, one can more effectively harness that power.

At present, scholars may only be scratching the surface of culture’s presence in public diplomacy. In the major public diplomacy readers, discussions of culture are contained primarily under the heading of cultural diplomacy. Here culture is not only visible, but it is viewed as a positive force in fostering mutual understanding. Jan Melissen does hint to the importance of culture for public diplomats who serve as boundary spanners across traditional divides. Interestingly, one piece that does focus on the influence of culture down plays its significance.

The attention paid to culture in public diplomacy lags well behind the exploration found in public diplomacy’s sister fields in both communication and international relations (IR) studies. Since the early 1990s, scholars have been exploring culture’s role in political theory, conflict resolution, security studies, and traditional diplomacy.

The example of traditional diplomacy is revealing. Originally, diplomatic scholars maintained that principles of negotiations were “universal.” Raymond Cohen’s landmark study, which was soon followed by others, found that culture does matter. He demonstrated, what seasoned diplomats instinctively knew, namely that Arab, Japanese and U.S. diplomats do not “negotiate” the same way or necessarily from the same premise. The distinctive styles were traceable to the differing cultural and intellectual heritages. The benefit of exploring culture ultimately led to diplomats being better able to “negotiate” across different contexts.

Similarly, in communication subfields, scholars are excavating cultural features buried in public relations, marketing and advertising practices and scholarship. It is not only a matter of what sells – a double-chocolate doughnut in Denver or the dried pork and seaweed doughnut in Shanghai – Dunkin’ Donuts discovered it matters how they are sold. For health communicators, knowledge of cultural nuances can literally mean the difference between programs that falter and those that save lives. Public diplomacy, as a form of international communication, spans not only across national but also cultural borders. It is exposed to similar challenges in communicating with culturally diverse publics.

The reasons why culture is often overlooked makes the need to explore it even more compelling.

In international studies, culture was seen as an “irrational” element that, like religion, did not fit nicely in rational models. In 1993, Samuel Huntington ’s influential piece the “Clash of Civilizations” sounded alarm bells about the inevitable consequences of cultural differences. Research in culture mushroomed. That new research revealed that conflicts are more likely to stem from economic factors, particularly competition over scarce resources, rather than purely cultural differences. And, rather than being the source of conflict, cultural contact led to cross-fertilization of ideas and rejuvenation of civilizations. The polemic lens may highlight the battles of the Crusaders, yet the Islamic scholarship and innovations they brought back was the wellspring of the European renaissance.

More recently, cultural knowledge, including the other irrational component of religion, is being used in “faith diplomacy.” Rather than being the source of conflicts, culture has become a strategic tool for mitigating conflicts. Without an understanding of culture, scholars were vulnerable to not only overlooking its significance, but over exaggerating its power. In neither instance was culture seen as a potential tool.

Lack of cultural self-awareness is another problem.  The tendency is to view public diplomacy as “culture free,” something the audience has but not the sponsor. While officials may overlook culture’s affect on their public diplomacy initiatives, foreign publics often find the cultural overtones glaring and even inappropriate. U.S. public diplomacy in the Arab world could have avoided costly mistakes with greater cultural knowledge.

Culture’s role in public diplomacy has also has been somewhat controversial in that it challenges notions about universalism and cultural variation. The tendency to view the dominant perspective as universal is not unique to public diplomacy.

Even such assumed universals as cognitive processes are being debated. On the one hand, CPD professor Kelton Rhoads cites research that cognitive processes are widely viewed as “universal.” However, an international team of researchers led by Richard E. Nisbett claimed, “assumptions that cognitive processes are universally the same and biologically fixed may both be quite wrong.” As they explain, “even if all cultures possessed essentially the same basic cognitive processes as their tools, the tools of choice for the same problems may habitually be different.” One might add that there may be even difference not only in what tools, but how those tools are used.

That culture’s role is controversial and that controversy is coming from different vantage points may make the need to study culture all the more warranted. Not only public diplomacy scholars but even Wikipedia have brought attention to the U.S. concentration. Charges of systemic bias challenge not only US dominance, but indirectly question the universality of the US model and perspective.

The predominance of U.S. scholarship as a cultural force in public diplomacy cannot be underestimated. First, the U.S. perspective represents a mono-cultural perspective in what is undeniably a multicultural world of diverse publics and perspectives. Second, the U.S. model, with its buried assumptions, may not be the best fit for other countries that may have different political values or communication styles. Chinese Professor Yiwei Wang, for example, noted that Chinese public diplomacy had used “U.S. public diplomacy as a major model even though he believed the Chinese approach was closer to the cultural exchange/cultural diplomacy of the French than to “American-style media diplomacy.” Third, if the U.S. model is posed as the standard, approaches that reflect elements of other cultural heritages may appear lacking rather different. Prof. Wang described the Chinese culture as a “considerable obstacle to effective Chinese public diplomacy.” Finally, the dominance of one cultural perspective may overshadow the rich contributions that the intellectual heritages of other societies can offer to expand the vision of public diplomacy scholarship and practice.

These lessons about the need for cultural knowledge take on greater urgency for public diplomacy given two trends that are likely to intensify.

The first trend that will require greater cultural knowledge is the growing salience of cultural identity by publics. Public diplomacy, like other forms of communication, is inherently about identity and image in that it says something about how each party sees itself (identity) and the other (image). Public diplomacy has focused primarily on one side of the equation; that of a sponsor protecting and promoting its own image. However, a public may also have a shared sense of collective or cultural identity. Communication that is perceived as challenging or violating a public’s cultural identity can inadvertently trigger a backlash. Such incidents involving the mass media, because of its magnifying effect, can spiral out of the sponsor’s control. The 2005 Danish cartoon incident was a vivid example. For public diplomats to avoid such cases in the future will require a sophisticated awareness of the cues and strategies for navigating the dynamics of cultural identities and representation in the international arena.

A second trend that is also likely to intensify and require greater cultural knowledge is the move within public diplomacy toward collaboration in an effort to tackle complex global problems. The recent mantra of relationship-building, networking, alliances, partnership and engagement are all part of the vocabulary of collaboration. Collaboration in public diplomacy may well become the strategic equivalent of negotiation in traditional diplomacy. At the heart of collaboration is the ability to bring people of diverse backgrounds together and get them to combine their efforts to achieve a unified goal. Recent research reveals that cultural and ethnic diversity are the biggest sources of friction – and synergy – in collaborative teams. A public diplomat’s skills in invoking culture’s blessing or curse will rest on cultural knowledge.

Cohen, R., & United States Institute of Peace. (1991). Negotiating Across Cultures: Communication Obstacles in International Diplomacy. Washington, D.C: United States Institute of Peace.

Nisbett, R. E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (n.d.). Culture and Systems of Through: Holistic Versus Analytic Cognition. Psychological Review, 108(2), 291-310.

Wang, Y. (2008). Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616(1), 257-273. doi:10.1177/0002716207312757

Ethics & Credibility in Public Diplomacy

June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Been reflecting on the difference — if there is one — between ethics and credibility in public diplomacy. Why I raise the possible distinction has to do with the focus on messages/informational PD approaches and relational/networking PD approaches.

I do not see the approaches as mutually exclusive, but rather a matter of emphasis.

Similarly am thinking information-based PD initiatives would tend to emphasize credibility. Source and message credibility would be the pivotal element of an effective information-based PD initiative.

Ethics, specifically ethical behavior, would be the pivotal element of relation-based PD initiatives.

Why the different emphasis? Credibility associated with believability. Greater credibility enhances the persuasive value of a message (basic persuasion theory,back to Hovland).

Ethical behavior may have a component of credibility, such as action matching words. However, the real power of ethical behavior is that it tends to engender trust. Trust is the basic building block of relations and network.  Trust is also the most frequently cited component in organizational-public relations literature.

My general sense from the PD literature is that credibility and ethics feed into each other and reinforce each other. However, the distinction is not as pronounced, or discussed.  Credibility perhaps receives much more attention, which is perhaps not surprising given that information/messages tend to dominate the literature.

I think this may  change. I think there is more, or we need to delve deeper into the distinction as the PD field moves from information-based to relation-based strategies. My guess, is that as relational and networking PD initiatives receive more attention that “ethical behavior” will gain prominence in PD discussions.

Still a thought-in-process, appreciate the synergistic ideas as well as research leads readers may find.

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