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From Where You Sit

A person’s outlook often changes more based on the perceived future than on the present reality.   That has certainly been true for me ever since I found out about my assignment in Brazil and I think this is very good.   I have been much more aware of the consequences of our Washington actions and products on our posts overseas and on our ultimate audiences there.   It is very easy to get cosseted into the Washington mind-set.   But so much of what we do here never really gets out.   We meet with each other and discuss our own urgent issues.  We sometimes provide wonderful products and services that nobody can use. 

It is very easy to be sure you know how to do something when you know you won’t really have to do it. I was aware from my past experience in overseas public diplomacy.   But my future as a public affairs officer – where I will have to USE the kinds of things we talk about here in Washington – has focused my mind on the more pragmatic aspects.    

I don’t have much confidence in the “new media” as a disembodied force.   It has to be tied to programs, people, goals and content.  But it is so easy to seek the immediate gratification of reaching large numbers of people.   It is similar to video games in that way & it is no coincidence that gaming is one of the driving forces behind new media.   The games give you immediate feedback and seem to show immediate results.  But this can be true whether or not you are making legitimate progress.   You can easily have the experience of achieving an online goal and then wondering why you spent all that time to get there.    There is a good South Park episode on World of Warcraft.  Watch it to the end. 

The combination is the key. A live speaker program, along with Co.Nx, along with Facebook or other social media, announced on twitter, with a blog about the speaker’s journey, and followed by the posting of online materials, that would work. I would also add that we would need to prepare the ground by making contacts in advance and reinforce the results by keeping up and following up later. 

Public Diplomacy is not rocket science, but it does require a diligence and a holistic approach that is continued over time and adjusted to local realities and changing conditions.  This is simple to say, but really hard to implement.    It is much easier to shortcut with social media, claim you have reached thousands and have some kind of automated response follow-up.    The short term results look great, it probably looks better in the immediate term than the holistic approach which takes time to bear fruit.   That is the seductiveness of these kinds of short cuts.

Our system encourages the short term by demanding prompt reports.   We generally write up the report of an event the next day.   What information do we have at that time?  We can count numbers of participants and the reach of the immediate placement, but we have no idea whatsoever if anybody actually thought about the program or if it opened some minds.   And our reports never follow up because the next urgent report pushed all thoughtfulness aside.    And assessing public diplomacy requires thoughtfulness.   Much of what we accomplish is indirect.  A person not at the event might have heard from a friend and that provoked an important idea.  

And time is the major factor.  It takes time for an idea to develop and mature.   I wrote about how I was influenced by a public diplomacy contact twenty-five years ago.  No measuring system would ever catch that, yet it was lasting and profound.

I know that it is a tough balance especially because in the present, you live off the work others did before you.  In the future others will benefit from what you created.


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