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Diplomacy in Action

United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy


Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) has been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of, and support for, these same activities. The ACPD conducts research and symposiums that provide honest assessments and informed discourse on public diplomacy efforts across government. It reports to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. Currently, the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs supports it. On January 3, 2013, the ACPD was reauthorized and signed into law under H.R. 4310, Section 1280; the authorization is retroactive to October 1, 2010, and continues through to October 1, 2015. After a 19-month suspension, the ACPD officially resumed operations on July 15, 2013.

ACPD’s 2013 re-authorization language mandated the completion of a Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting Activities, which breaks down public diplomacy and international broadcasting activity and spending worldwide. The first iteration of this report was delivered to the President, Congress and the Secretary of State on December 11, 2014.

ACPD serves as a convener for the variety of practitioners throughout the U.S. government who communicate and build relationships with foreign audiences, in addition to the researchers, practitioners and thought leaders outside of the government who can help us rethink the future of public diplomacy. Since its reinstatement, ACPD has worked with outside networks to focus on three issue areas for public diplomacy:

Measurement and Evaluation: Knowing when public diplomacy is working can often be elusive, yet measurement and evaluation of public diplomacy and international broadcasting activities is essential. The first report in this series, Data Driven Public Diplomacy: Progress Towards Measuring the Impact of Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting Activities, examines current efforts underway in State Department public diplomacy bureaus and at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to assess the impact of their activities. It makes suggestions on structures and methodologies needed to make foreign audience research more robust, impact assessment more institutionalized, and feedback loops for strategy and tactics more systematic. The report is based on findings from a six-month study of nearly 100 State Department and BBG research and evaluation documents, in addition to dozens of interviews conducted between February and August 2014 with the staff responsible for them.

Public Diplomacy in High Threat Environments: In 1985, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy published the report, “Terrorism and Security: The Threat to Public Diplomacy” in response to the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security at the State Department. The “Inman Panel” (as it was known in honor of its Chairman) was established after the 1983 attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 17 American civilians and 241 Marines, as well as the one on the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, which destroyed the consulate but killed no Americans. Among the panel’s many recommendations was the elevation of the Office of Security (SY) to become the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the fortification of embassy buildings including the development of a security perimeter. It was also recommended that U.S. Information Agency (USIA) libraries relocate from city centers to the garrisoned embassy compounds.

The ACPD, which supported the USIA at the time, protested that the panel did not take into consideration the unique role that public diplomacy plays in statecraft and the need for libraries and other public platforms to remain accessible to foreign citizens. In an October 1985 op-ed in the Washington Post, “Don’t Let Security Hide Our Light,” Ed Fuelner, President of the Heritage Foundation and Chairman of the ACPD, wrote: “USIA’s public affairs officers know that by retreating … the agency will become inaccessible to most of the people it is trying to reach … wholesale retreat to safe, but inaccessible, enclaves is not the answer. Personal contact with global opinion leaders is essential to the conduct of American foreign policy.”

Nearly 30 years later, we are still grappling with the risks civilians often need to take to fulfill foreign policy missions. At the same time, public diplomacy has never been more relevant or necessary than it is today to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives. Non-state actors – from civil society and religious leaders, to traditional and social media producers, to activists, to youth, to violent extremists -- are increasingly shaping the international system. With the support of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the McCain Institute on International Leadership and the Truman National Security Project & Center for National Policy, ACPD has been conducting research on the views of diplomats, public diplomats, development workers, NGO representatives, military officers, security professionals and Hill staffers of the opportunities and limitations for engagement in these areas. On Oct. 24, 2014, ACPD co-hosted the half-day event “Risk, Recruitment and Retention: Engaging Foreign Publics in High Threat Environments,” during which discussions began to assess how, in an era where "zero-risk" environments abroad no longer exist, we can address the question of risk for American civilians working in public diplomacy, diplomacy and development. A later report will review the structures, processes and laws that govern U.S. officials' ability to engage with everyday people who are rapidly re-shaping the international system.

Future of Public Diplomacy: This umbrella theme allows the ACPD to explore a range of issues that affect how the U.S. government can modernize to better understand, inform and influence foreign publics.

In January 2015, ACPD began a partnership with Ambassador Laurence Wohlers and the Meridian International Center to author a follow up to the 2008 ACPD report, Getting the People Part Right: A Report on the Human Resources Dimension of U.S. Public Diplomacy, which will be released in summer 2015.

In 2014, ACPD partnered with the Atlantic Council to look at how massive urbanization should let us recalibrate our public diplomacy strategy and tactics. The issue brief, Diplomacy for a Diffuse World, examines how key global trends—the diffusion of power and the rise of individual empowerment—significantly impact the way the United States government must conduct diplomacy and provides actionable recommendations to help build a more comprehensive and focused diplomatic strategy to better embrace the changes brought by these trends. Another project in partnership with The George Washington University’s Institute on Public Diplomacy and Global Communications will review the concerns of current public diplomacy officers about the future of their practice.

We will update this page with information on our reports and 2015 planned activities as information is available. For any questions, please contact Katherine Brown at BrownKA4@state.gov and/or Chris Hensman at HensmanCD@state.gov.


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