U.S. ADVISORY COMMISSION ON PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
MINUTES AND TRANSCRIPT FROM THE QUARTERLY PUBLIC MEETING ON THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY TRAINING
Friday, December 8, 2017 | 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Russell Senate Office Building 385, 2 Constitution Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT:
Mr. Sim Farar, Chair
Ms. Anne Terman Wedner
Ms. Georgette Mosbacher
COMMISSION STAFF MEMBERS PRESENT:
Dr. Shawn Powers, Executive Director
Ms. Jennifer Rahimi, Senior Advisor
Ms. Madison Jones, Non-Resident Fellow
I. Steven Goldstein, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Will Stevens, Director of the Public Diplomacy Training Division, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State
Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, Senior Advisor at the Foreign Service Institute
Sim Farar: Good morning. Hello and welcome to the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s fourth public hearing of 2017. I’m Sim Farar, I’m chairman of the commission. Thank you all for being here. Special thanks to Senator Gardner and his staff for helping the commission secure this space for our meeting. Thank you very much.
First I’d like to tell you a little about the commission. Since 1948, the commission has represented the public interest by overseeing the United States government’s international information, media, cultural, and educational exchange programs. It is a bipartisan and independent body created by the Congress to recommend policies and programs in support of U.S. government efforts to inform and influence foreign publics. It is mandated by the law to assess the work of the State Department and to report its findings and recommendations to the President, and Congress, and of course, the Secretary of State, and the American people.
For nearly 70 years the ACPD has applied insight and critical judgment to the U.S. government public diplomacy programs, contributed to public diplomacy institutions in the years after World War II, the evolution of America’s public diplomacy throughout the Cold War, the integration of public diplomacy into the State Department’s mission, organizational culture, and recently, charting a course toward a more integrated, synchronous, and strategically-oriented public diplomacy apparatus. Throughout, Congress has recognized that the commission’s effectiveness as an advisory body depends on independence, continuity, genuine bipartisanship, and broad professional composition.
Before welcoming this morning’s keynote speaker, I’d like to introduce my colleagues on the commission. We have today Anne Wedner from Chicago. We have Georgette Mosbacher from New York City. And we’re missing Ambassador Penne Peacock, from Austin, Texas, and our vice-chairman Bill Hybl, unfortunately can’t make it today. We currently have two vacancies on the commission.
I have the distinct honor of introducing a special guest today and today’s discussion, Steve Goldstein, who has been confirmed as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the United States Department of State. He’s going to open today’s session on the nature of public diplomacy training with a few remarks. Mr. Goldstein officially started on Monday, though he’s been working closely with the current PD leadership team for several weeks. Previously, Mr. Goldstein was the senior vice-president of BP Global Solutions. His recent work includes serving as a senior advisor to Winning Algorithms, a data science start-up. In his four-decade career, Mr. Goldstein has led communications brandings and social media efforts at several large private-sector companies, including as an effective executive vice-president and chief communications officer at TIAA-CREF and vice-president of corporate communications at Dow Jones and Company, and in the public sector he was assistant to the Secretary Director of Public Affairs at United States Department of the Interior, and served five members of the United States House of Representatives. Without further ado, please give a nice warm welcome to our Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Mr. Steve Goldstein.
I. Steven Goldstein: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here. I have tell you, when I woke up this morning I don’t think I was ever so happy that it was Friday. Normally, I don’t even remember what day it was, but I turned on the CBS morning news and they said it’s Friday, December 8, and I said, “I made it through that first week!”
It’s been really interesting and challenging week. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I did a town hall for the folks in public affairs and public diplomacy bureaus, where about 500 people attended. And then, starting last night, I’m conducting virtual town halls with public diplomacy professionals around the world. Last night we started with the East Asia Pacific region. There were about 20 public diplomacy officers who were there and I had an opportunity to hear what was on their mind, which was important as I figured out exactly the right words to address you this morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for the kind, welcoming remarks. We talked briefly about the California fires and the Chairman was telling me that his car is covered in ash, but so far his home is safe. And I know that we hope everyone in California will remain safe.
I appreciate the commission’s invitation to speak to you today, and the opportunity to contribute to today’s discussion. The effectiveness of the way we train our public diplomacy corps is critical to improving our ability to engage communities abroad. Equipping our personnel to achieve this mission is a priority for me.
I have to tell you about one story which frames a lot of what I do. Like a lot of public affairs, marketing and public diplomacy professionals, I use to believe that I could solve every problem. I said, “If I work for you, you just tell me what you need to solve. And I will figure out a way to do it.” So when I was at Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, and I got a call in 2002 from Paul Steiger, the editor of the Journal, telling me that our reporter, Daniel Pearl, had been kidnapped, I thought there had to be a way to resolve it. Working with his family, working with the FBI—which were terrific—working with the local police in Pakistan, and police in New York, and all over the world, we worked diligently to try and bring Danny back.
But Danny didn’t come back. And I had to tell Danny’s parents how their son died. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I was on board an Amtrak train. There weren’t many people in the car. I got off the phone. And I was just sitting there alone. And it might sound odd to you, but you have to understand that for the previous six or seven weeks, we were getting about 500 calls a day. And this was 15, 16 years ago. My view of the world changed that day. It changed because I realized there are people that want to do harm to America and American citizens and the citizens of our allies. It made me realize why public diplomacy and public affairs and communications at all levels of interaction are so important.
The record of public diplomacy programs advancing American values is long and distinguished. The Marshall Plan helped to rebuild America, not simply through aid, but also by convincing local communities of the virtue of a society grounded in free markets and democratic institutions. I’m a very lucky person. My office is Secretary Marshall’s office. I get to walk in every day and see a picture of Secretary Marshall. Now, that’s the plus side. The other side is that I’ve had 17 people so far asking me if I’m going to develop a Marshall Plan.
The legal, political and economic systems that emerged to help align European and American strategic interests continue to serve our interests today. During the Cold War, the USIA oversaw a multi-pronged effort to confront communism by promoting the virtues of a free market and a democratic system. Exchanges, radio programs, the publications exposed communities behind the Iron Curtain to Western institutions. Today, public diplomacy practitioners need to build on this accomplished path by taking advantage of the opportunities. I like to say, “We need to speak with one clear, compelling, and consistent voice.” But most importantly, for public diplomacy practitioners, we need to speak to people where they listen.
Margaret Tutwiler, my predecessor, told me a great story about when she was traveling and went into a library of a local school and met with young students. They had a terrific bookshelf, comprised of autobiographies of Zbigniew Brzezinski and many other people. But, these weren’t books that 9-year-olds read. And they didn’t really explain much about America and how America operates. She called her friends and she said, “We need to get a thousand books into these schools.” She was able to do that.
But that’s one school. There are many, many schools where this needs to happen. The majority of people around the world are young. In Africa, 50 percent of the people are under 30. In Asia, it’s even more than that.
I had the opportunity to speak to a group of university students last year about communications and press. I asked them if they knew who Dan Rather was. If they knew Scott Pelley. If they knew Diane Sawyer. If they knew David Muir. Andrea Mitchell. Martha Raddatz. I went down the list. They didn’t know anybody. They’d never heard of any of them. No one. They don’t watch the evening news. I said, “Well, how do you get your news?”
Seventy-five percent said they got news from Twitter or Facebook. Seventeen percent or so said they got it from apps or other mechanisms that were delivered to their phone. And two people told me they got it from their father. And that’s it. That’s how people get news nowadays. And it’s especially true in Europe and Asia and the Middle East and places where America needs to continue to promote its’ own values.
To succeed in this environment, we have to have new tools, we have to have a first class training effort in support of our public diplomacy practitioners. The Foreign Service Institute’s PD curriculum is rapidly adapting to reflect the need for training on emerging technologies and the evolving information ecosystem we operate in. And strengthening this capacity is of primary importance. You can have the greatest message. But if you don’t deliver it correctly, and you don’t deliver it to people where they see it, then no one’s actually going to understand your message. I’ve been in many meetings where people said to me, “I don’t understand. Why aren’t people responding to this?” And I had to politely say, “They’re not responding because they have no idea what the message even is.” It’s not written in a tone that people would get. So strengthening that capacity is critical.
We also need to support a culture in the State Department that encourages PD practitioners to constantly learn and update their skills. To specifically dedicate time for professional development and to reward those who use their new skills in particularly effective and innovative ways.
Focusing on changes in technology and the way in which news and information circulate is critical. We need to improve our ability to define our diplomatic goals and design effective programs capable of achieving these goals. And they need to make sense. Like Georgette Mosbacher, I was raised in Nashville, Tennessee. I look at things and often ask, “Would my family get this? Would they understand it?” Most people don’t understand politics the way people in Washington do. And they don’t speak that way, either.
After I worked for President Bush, and at Interior, I moved to New York for the first time. I didn’t know anybody. I knew my colleagues from Washington, who had moved to New York to get jobs, just like I did. But those were the only people I knew. And so, I did what a lot of people do when they go to a new city. I would try to meet new people, and make new friends. I would talk to them, and they’d ask what I did.
Now, I didn’t know people in New York took politics so seriously. And I would tell them what I did and you know what they would say to me? Every person. “Well, why did you leave?” And I said, “Well, the president lost.” But why did you leave? And when I did interviews, people would say to me, “You did what? I don’t really understand what that means. Like, what does the Department of the Interior do?” And so I finally had to frame it in a different way. I had to tell people that I was in essence the chief spokesperson for 70,000-person entity with a $7 billion budget. Then it was in a language that they understood.
Our planning process requires us to refine our objectives in concrete ways, and to conduct the necessary research. I do believe research, analytics, and analysis is vital. We need to increase what we’re doing in that area. We need to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts, from beginning to end. And we have to integrate those tools into public diplomacy courses.
But most importantly, I want the people that work with me, my colleagues in public diplomacy, to understand that what they’re doing matters. And what they’re doing is important. When I went to TIAA-CREF, Herb Allison, the CEO, hired me and during my interview and asked me if I wanted to be the CEO of the company. And I said, “Why do you ask?” And he goes, “Because I think the primary obligation of a CEO or an executive is to train their successor.” And I said, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it. But honestly, I don’t want to be the CEO.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Because I think the job I do is just as important.” And he goes, “Well that’s not true. I’m the CEO.” And I said, “But were you to remain the CEO, you’d need what my team does.” And he understood that. And that was really the case.
The final challenge that I aim to help overcome is the need for the improved training for all of our colleagues around the department, on the utility of public diplomacy and achieving foreign policy goals. The value and proper role of public diplomacy is not universally understood. Crucial to our effectiveness and achieving U.S. interests is developing leadership that brings public diplomacy into the policy-making progress and fully appreciates the strategic value of the PD toolkit and tradecraft.
I was in a meeting yesterday where we had to fill a public diplomacy opening in one of the bureaus. People who work run the bureau are fantastic, and they said, “We have a public diplomacy opening. We have a resume we want you to see and we think this person is terrific.” Well, I looked at the resume and they are terrific. But they’d never done public diplomacy and public affairs in their entire life. I said, “Well, I think they’re really great. I think you should find a job for them, and I think we’ll try to find you some candidates that might fit and understand what we’re trying to achieve.
Now, they didn’t do this in a malicious way. They legitimately thought that this person could fill that job. And that’s because they weren’t really clear on what the job is. So we have to appreciate that, respect that view, and then try to educate about why it’s important. I need your support and the commission’s support in advocating for these training efforts. And I appreciate the invitation here and I would be more than happy to take some questions.
Matthew Wallin: Thank you, I’m Matthew Wallin, and I’m a policy analyst focusing on public diplomacy over at the American Security Project. You mentioned the need to speak to foreign publics in places that they will listen to. My question for you is how do you see the role of listening from our perspective? How do we incorporate what foreign publics have to say in their interactions with the Department of State, how do we incorporate that into the policymaking process?
I. Steven Goldstein: Right. So, I think we have to do the kind of research to find out exactly where people stand. It’s a two-sided issue, right? How many parents go, “I cannot understand one thing my two-year old child is saying.” And they’re not understanding them. In a very simplistic way, you go to a restaurant, and a parent is arguing with their two year old to put the fork down. Now, a two-year old doesn’t understand why not banging on the fork is not bad. And you sort of want to say, “He’s two. Just take the fork.”
This is the same principle here. We have to learn about foreign publics. We have to educate ourselves. I’ll give you a great example. I had a briefing yesterday that included detailed polling data. So, in America, we have talked a lot about what’s happening in the Philippines, with President Duterte, and what he is doing in terms of rounding up people who are involved in drugs. And in some cases, harming or killing those people. Now, do you know what the polls showed that we saw? In the Philippines, this wasn’t such a consequential issue. Knowing that, when the administration goes to the Philippines or when our public diplomacy practitioners in the Philippines interact, we have to figure out a way to interact and address that issue, while accounting for how the people in the Philippines feel about it. We might have to come to that issue in a different way.
I’m a fan of what’s called anthropologic research, where you actually sit with people and you watch them live their daily lives for a day or two, and you get a much better understanding of what they’re trying to do.
I plan to spend a lot of time and devote a lot of effort to what the Global Engagement Center is doing. And with the social media companies. I’m not on Facebook. So, when they threaten to close my account, I’m going to wish them well. And that’s a component, too. All of this works together. But, I think, to give you a really great example of public diplomacy and where the link is missing, I was in Egypt, on an exchange program, about 12 or 13 years ago. I was part of a group of five people that the Department of Commerce sent to teach Egyptian leaders why an insurance market is so important. You can’t have a thriving business market if you don’t have insurance. They had insurance, but there was one slight problem: they weren’t actually paying when people filed their claims. When I got there, I did something that we were not supposed to do. I separated out with a colleague of mine and we went to the bazaar. We walked around and talked to people.
When I was talking to this gentleman named Mohammed, about 20, 25, he kept calling me a rich American. And I said, “Mohammed, why do you think I’m a rich American?” And he goes, “You have very nice shoes.” And he said, “I want to ask you a question.” And he goes, “We have a very famous singer here. She’s very famous. But no one’s really ever heard of her outside of Egypt. But she is famous.” And I said, “Well, tell me who she is, because maybe then I can go back to America and I can talk about her and we can make her famous.” I said, “Is she Egyptian?” And he goes, “I don’t think so, but she’s very famous.” And I said, “Tell me.” And he started singing this song, and I said, “No, you have got to tell me who she is.” And he looked at me and he goes, “Celine Dion.”
I said, “Well, sir, you know she’s Canadian, by the way, and she’s very famous. Very famous in America and famous in France. And famous in Bangladesh. And famous all around the world.” And he goes, “You’re kidding me.”
I thought about this exchange when I took this job. We have to do more in using entertainers, using people that are already influencers. Not just writing manuals, and sending people out, but we need to use Twitter, we need to use Telegram, we need to use Facebook, we need to communicate with people all the time. And we need to explain to our colleagues around the world that this doesn’t all solve itself in a week. That it takes time. And I can get you where you need to be, which is what I always tell people. Every person for whom I’ve ever worked, I always said, “I can get you where you need to be, but you have to let me get you there.” And what I want our public diplomacy specialists to say to their ambassadors and colleagues is, “You don’t have to support what I do. You don’t have to come to work every day saying, ‘Thank goodness we have a public diplomacy officer.’ You just have to let me do my job. And if you let me do my job, you will benefit, too.”
Omari Fualkner: My name is Omari Faulkner. I’m a former sports envoy for the Department of State. And I wanted to see if you could elaborate a little bit more on how you see a role in the Department of State helping Americans truly understand what public diplomacy is and really understand the value of those programs. I know we look at the Department of State as a very internationally-focused organization, but how do we get more Americans to support and understand what our envoys do, what our public diplomacy officers do each and every day and why these programs are so important?
I. Steven Goldstein: There needs to be a role, because in truth if your internal audience, which in this case is the American people, doesn’t understand what you’re doing, you can’t expect your external audience to understand. And so there definitely has to be role marked for that.
We have to do a campaign, not just oversees, but here, too. Now, I’m not talking about a TV campaign, where someone says, “I’m a public diplomacy officer.” That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about internally, within the State Department. As you work with the different bureaus, WHA, EUR, and all of the different bureaus, showing accomplishments and showing what we’re trying to achieve. I’m stirring it up a bit, I have to admit. We’re going to do more sports diplomacy, too. That’s a huge. By the way, besides Celine Dion, do you know who else Mohammed knew and the number of people that we talked to in the bazaar? The only people he knew were Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Oprah Winfrey, and Celine Dion. Those are the four people that everyone asked me about.
Audience Member: I worked at Voice of America Iranian Service, Radio Farda and one of the major challenges that we faced was how do we tell the American story, not just with this administration, and with previous administrations, but how much do we reach out to the American people to tell their stories? I was wondering how can we as reporters, international broadcasters, help you help us to solve this problem. And just to reach back, I also worked in Afghanistan and a lot of people, even the military, didn’t know what public diplomacy was, and a lot of our embassy folks just showed glorious power points to visiting officials. I talked to one of the local Afghans and he said, “I don’t understand why you need all these Congressional members to come here if they just eat kebab and leave.”
I. Steven Goldstein: So on that last note, when I met with the folks from Burma and other places, people who invited me to their missions, I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll come to your region and I want to go to orphanages and to refugee camps and other places where we can make a difference. I want you to choose places that no Academy-award winner has ever been to.” Places that matter. The Middle East is a complexing issue. Because there is no easy answer to resolving its problems. There is a clear lack of understanding on both sides about where things stand and what’s important to people. And so that’s a perfect case study of where we need to communicate within the United States, as well as overseas.
We need to focus on explaining why our values, including the value of a free press, is vitally important. The freedom to worship, or the freedom not to worship. Independence, democracy and the right to dissent matter. I had a great opportunity yesterday morning, I spoke to 400, teaching assistants who were Fulbright Scholars. Most of them in their 20s, and they’re teaching at different colleges in the United States as teaching assistants.
It was so heartwarming. Some of them came, and they stood up, a woman, and she goes, “I’m from Kenya. And I’m a teaching assistant at the University of Mississippi.” And I said, “Well, what do they call the University of Mississippi?” And she goes, “Ole Miss.” And all of these people are going to go back to their home countries with a better understanding of how America operates. But you know what I told them was the greatest thing they were doing? They’d given all of their classes, to whom they’re teaching, a better understanding of what happens in their country.
When I was young, I played tennis. And my great goal in life was to go play tennis overseas. And my father told me go to a tennis camp in Paris, Tennessee. Well, I didn’t even know what Paris, France was. And I saw a movie called A Little Romance with Diane Lane. And in that movie, Diane Lane and the boy that she fell in love with travel through Europe to get to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs. My whole life, I wanted to go to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs. I wanted to go to Paris, France. I told my parents after seeing that movie, “I want to go to ninth grade in Paris.” I didn’t know these places existed. I didn’t know. We’re a very insular country in some cases. We have to go part of the way, too. We can’t expect other people just to accept what we have to say if we’re not willing to accept what they have to say.
I always talk about politics, I have my views and you have your views. I respect you, I want you to respect me. But you are surely entitled to your views.
Kathy Fitzpatrick: I’m Kathy Fitzpatrick, and I’m a professor at American University. I’m wondering, based on your review, what would you say we’re doing really well in public diplomacy and what would be the biggest priority you have for change, especially as it relates to training?
I. Steven Goldstein: Well, I think we have a very committed workforce that cares deeply about the work they’re doing in public diplomacy. I think Nicole, who is here, and her team, at the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), understand the importance of social media, understand the importance of YouTube, understand the importance of doing the video work that’s required to reach people where they need to be reached. I know the GEC understands that, too. And, I also believe that we’ve done a number of really terrific campaigns, because I’ve heard about them over the past four days.
I want to do probably three things within training. Number one, I want to emphasize the importance of public diplomacy and give practitioners the tools to do what’s right and let them feel empowered so that they can go in and say, “Here’s a better way to do it and you need to listen to me.”
Number two, I want to increase the metabolism. We have to move faster. Our polling’s got to be done a little bit faster, our research needs to be done a little bit faster, the decision making has to be done a little bit faster, and we have to move in a way, where at the speed that people move in 2017, 2018.
And number three, I want to look broadly at the training programs and make sure that they are up to date. I would love to have, and hopefully with the commission’s support, because we need that, a mechanism that almost requires the training programs to be reviewed every few years, to make sure they are current.
Things have to move faster. One of the things we’re most concerned about are the locally-employed staff, and that some were leaving quickly. They were being educated and they then would leave. I asked Jeff Daigle who works with me, he’s fantastic, I said, “How long have they been trying to resolve this in terms of the job descriptions, and all the work reallignment?” You know what he told me? Four years. We’re on our fourth year. Four years. Four years is a long time. We need the locally employed staff to do their job because they are really the ambassadors to the field.
Milena Angelova: I’m a lawyer with the Coast Guard, here on my own accord. Sir, you said something that is very peculiar to me. You said that we have to teach first amendment liberties, and freedom of expression, around the world. My question is two-folded, how do you teach first amendment liberties to people that don’t have a culture and history of these practices? And the second part of my question is: why do you have to? Why is that a pre-condition to teaching American values” I don’t believe that they have to implement our values to be able to understand our values.
I. Steven Goldstein: I completely agree with you, by the way. I didn’t say we have to teach first amendment, I said we need to show what American values stand for. So that people understand that there are other countries that do things in a little bit different way in some cases. Now, I don’t believe that we should go into a country and tell a country how they should operate. That’s not an American value.
An American value is talking about how we operate in America, and letting that country decide if some of those are beneficial. So we have free elections. We believe it’s beneficial for countries to have free and open elections. So explaining how free and open elections work allows other people, and people to see how free and open elections work. It’s very important. We allow dissent. Some countries don’t allow dissent. Showing that we allow dissent, showing that people are allowed to express a different view is an American value, and it’s a value of many countries, by the way, and we should be open to discussing that, too.
But we also have to do this with respect and regard to the country that we’re in. I’m not a fan in any way of going into a nation and operating a certain way. You can’t go to a Louis Vuitton store in China and steal sunglasses. You shouldn’t go into a Louis Vuitton store in New York or Washington and steal sunglasses. But the consequences of stealing sunglasses at the Louis Vuitton store in China are far different than America. One of the big issues we have and I will readily acknowledge this is that many Americans believe that it is America around the world. And it isn’t. We have to be respectful of other people’s culture. But we can’t be afraid to talk about what we believe is the way we operate and to try to help people.
Yesterday when I was with those teachers, they were fantastic. There was a gentleman from Libya who stood up and said, “I learned a lot here. I’m going to go back and I’m going to talk to the people in Libya about what they need to do. And I’m going to run for president of Libya in about 10 years.” And I said, “You know what? I’m going to give you my card. There’s my email address on there, and if you run for president of Libya, I will come to your inauguration.” And so, I don’t think he’s going to go back and say to Libya, “Look, we need to be just like the United States.” But he might go back and say, “People in the United States are not that bad. There’s some things they do that are good. And it was very interesting to me, I learned a lot.”
Stacy Ingber: My name is Stacy Ingber, and I’m with the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. I have two points. One is we look forward to hopefully hosting you in the early part of next year; we’ve hosted all the other Under Secretaries, so look forward to having you come visit us in Los Angeles.
The other part is: the center has been doing training for the last 12 years with public diplomats globally, but also working very closely with FSI and the other departments and we look forward to hearing your remarks and your thoughts about the research and the evaluation of training programs and the ability to work nimbly with the department on meeting some of those needs. We have 200 strong alumni who have gone through the program and look forward to hearing what more you have to say about evaluation.
I. Steven Goldstein: That’s great. I will be happy to do that. And also, for those of you who are teachers, or teach classes, I love talking to students. I taught school for five years when I graduated from college and I’d be happy to speak to any classroom. I hope you’ll extend that invitation to me, if you don’t mind. And I just want to say thank you very much. I want you to hold me accountable. Hold my words accountable, especially for the first five days. Give me the chance a year from now to show you that I’ve grown and learned and educate myself even more. Thank you very much for your time.
Sim Farar: Thank you, Mr. Under Secretary. Please welcome our Executive Director, Shawn Powers.
Shawn Powers: I see a couple folks standing in the back. Feel free to grab a seat in the front, we’ve got some extra seats.
Thank you, again, Mr. Under Secretary. I’ll be very brief in introducing our next two speakers, who I am thrilled are here to talk about the future of public diplomacy training. First is Will Stevens, who is the Director of the public diplomacy training division at the Foreign Service Institute, Department of State. Full bios, of course, are available at the desk outside. Will received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in 2014, for his work leading the U.S. government’s inter-agency taskforce in countering Russian propaganda during the Ukraine crisis. And most recently, before his position at FSI, he was the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, from 2014 to 2016.
I’m also going to introduce, to make things a little quicker as we transition through the speakers, Ms. Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, who I’m thrilled to have here as well. Elizabeth is a career member of Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor. She is currently a Senior Advisor at the Foreign Service Institute. From May 2016 to October 2017, Elizabeth was the Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretaries Kerry and Tillerson. Elizabeth previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs and the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
If you could help me give a warm welcome to Will Stevens and Elizabeth. Fitzsimmons.
Will Stevens: Good morning. There’s nothing quite like having the under card after the main event. We’re going to try to cover a lot of topics, but I think, more than anything, when we talk about public diplomacy training, we need to talk about the tectonic shifts that are happening in the influence environments all over the world. Something we’ve all probably all witnessed first-hand, from watching the Russian government and other actors manipulate and take advantage of the growing information disorder that we’re all seeing. This is something that we’re all having to deal with, a very rapidly evolving environment, and our training has needed to evolve to accommodate that.
That said, I think the fundamental aspects of public diplomacy haven’t really changed. It is still our job as public diplomacy practitioners, to do three things: we need to understand in operating and influence environments where we operate. We need to be informing foreign publics about what we’re doing and we need to be influencing them to get them to do the things we want them to do or maybe refrain from the things we don’t want them to do. This fundamental mission really hasn’t changed in my 15 years as a public diplomacy practitioner, and looking back at the mission of this commission, it really hasn’t changed at all.
So I am going to use that frame: understand and inform and influence to talk about what we’re doing in training. Before I do that, though, I thought it would be helpful to layout some of the changes that I’ve witnessed at FSI, the Foreign Service Institute. For those of us who have gone through the Foreign Service Institute, unfortunately, we often retain images of the Foreign Service Institute from when we went through it 15 years ago, a decade ago, 20 years ago. I will tell you, that much like Oldsmobile, this is not your father’s Oldsmobile. This is not your father’s Foreign Service Institute. The institute has undergone dramatic changes in the last five years.
They’ve instituted a lot of important policies and procedures that require regular, almost every year, annual updates of all the training curricula, active engagement lists and all of our stakeholders both inside the Department of State as well as outside, something that I take an active role in, I just came from Fort Bragg, where I was speaking as the commencement speaker at the school for information operators, for PSYOPS folks. They come and talk to our classes, we talk to their classes. We do the same thing with the DOD PA folks, we do the same thing with USAID operators. This is a critical part of what FSI is today.
Also, FSI brings to bear the very best practices in adult learning. My deputy Clare Ashley is here today. Clare is the institutional memory in the public diplomacy training division, but she’s also an expert in adult learning. So, she’s not an expert in how do you go and talk to Russians – she doesn’t speak Russian. But she knows everything there is to know about adult learning and how it is that you can get people to actually pay attention in training courses and how we can make curriculum tailored to the needs of our professionals. It’s something that you see interspersed all over FSI, and the school of professional area studies, it’s the very best way to do it.
We’ve shifted away from what we’re doing today, which we would derogatorily call “sage on the stage.” We don’t do that at FSI anymore. Or very rarely. And in our courses, 70 percent of our courses are instructor-led. I actually hear about that all the time when I go to the bureaus in the department, they say, “Why don’t you invite anyone to speak anymore?” Well, having a sage on the stage is probably the least effective way to train an adult. People don’t learn by listening. You’re probably only going to remember about 15 percent of the things that were said today. And that’s by the end of tonight. In six months, you’ll probably only remember maybe my tie.
So, what we are doing, instead of having sages tell old war stories, is we’re teaching people skills and then immediately giving them a chance to try to apply them. Immediately having them practice and practice again and practice again in different environments, so that they have the change to actually solidify that knowledge. We’re cutting edge, sometimes leading edge, in trying to get technology into the hands of our people in the classroom.
We have about 80 iPads that we hand out in all of our courses; laptops, and wifi. We’re using all kinds of computer interactive training quizzes and tests and simulated Twitter environments so they can practice tweeting during a crisis. It’s all happening in the classroom. And I think, for me, this is where I’m going to spend a lot of my focus as the director.
We’re not interested in one and done. We don’t want people to come to the course and then never engage with the Foreign Service Institute again. This is one of the biggest difficulties we have as an institution: people come, they do their course and truthfully, we probably won’t see them again for 10 years. Maybe 20. And some people, may never come take a PD course again.
So how do we continue to train them? Because I can tell you, Twitter is different today than it was six months ago, much less, you didn’t even learn about Twitter when you went to the FSI course on how to be a press officer a decade ago. So how do I get that training to you in the field in a way that helps you when you need it? And that means directly partnering with our colleagues in IIP, in ECA, making sure that we’re getting these, we call them “training snacks.” Training snacks to people when they need it. How do we provide that training in the field, on-demand. And that’s something that is a big challenge for us and something that I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to get great at, because FSI is very focused on courses. But it’s something we need to do.
I’ll lay out what it is we have at FSI so you get a broad understanding of what we do and what we don’t do. FSI is not a degree-issuing program, so unlike in War College, you don’t go and get a master’s degree in public diplomacy. What we do offer is kind of a robust training continuum for our public diplomacy practitioners. We have entry-level courses that provide foundational skills. Things that I wish I had learned, truthfully. How to give a speech. How to facilitate a round table discussion. How you staff a senior official when they’re giving a speech. All these basic skills, foundational skills that all too often foreign service officers in the past were just sort of thrown out and said, “Figure it out.” We practice that stuff. We teach that stuff. We actually have a mock scenario with press attachés, where everything that could go wrong does go wrong intentionally, so they have to deal with crisis on the fly.
We have a number of what I would call mid-level electives, courses that help people focus in on specific skill sets. Social media, strategic planning, managing public diplomacy resources, advanced social media, visual diplomacy. I think the digital diplomacy courses are some of my favorites. Clare often makes fun of it, she says, “Look, Will, in five years, our kids are going to make fun of us for the fact that we teach a social media course.” New PD practitioners of course will know how to use social media, live and breathe it. But we have to get those skills to people, so we can teach them how to do it. We have a new, very highly regarded course for senior public diplomacy practitioners on how to become senior members of the Department of State leadership. And getting PD’s voice heard at those senior ranks. And last year, we rolled out a new course where we take our social media practitioners, the best in class around the world, to industry conferences.
So we’ll be in San Diego in early March at Social Media Marketing World. So we take people out, we do, sort of bookends. The first day is the site training, we talk about what we’re doing, the next two days, or three days, they go to the conference, they talk to the industry about what they’re doing, they listen to sessions, and then at the end, we bring them all back together and we wrap it up. What did you learn? And we try to send people to different sessions so they all come back with different stories. This is how industry learns and it’s how we need to keep people up to date.
So, that’s a very brief overview of what we’re doing in public diplomacy. I thought I would touch real briefly on how to understand, inform, and influence. To me, understand is probably the most important and unfortunately often the most neglected aspect of public diplomacy. If we are to have a seat at the policy table, we need to do a better job of understanding influence environments and articulating how we understand that environment. There are so many data points. So many pieces of information flowing into our PD officers, overseas and in Washington, and we need to do a better job of consuming that information, articulating it to a policy maker, why it matters.
I’ll give an example. When I was in Moscow, I often heard, “Hey, you know, we really need to talk about corruption in Russia. Corruption is so bad there. And this is a really good way for us to talk about some of the things that the Russian government is doing, why democracy is important. Corruption, corruption, corruption. So while I was there, there was this great public case of the Kremlin spokesperson who gave his wife of a $450,000 watch on their wedding day. How in the world could a spokesperson for the Kremlin, who makes $60,000 a year afford a $450,000 watch? This is an obvious example of corruption, and Washington’s calling me, saying: “Will, you need to publicize this and talk about this and insert it into speeches, it’s a really big deal.” And we said, “Oh, guys. Russians think this is great.” Every Russian I ever talked to was like, “Hey, good job, I wish I could get a job in the Kremlin so I could get a $450,000 watch.”
We were able to push back, and say, you know, Washington, this is a topic that matters in Washington, and it maybe matters in Europe. But Russians don’t get upset about high-level, senior-level corruption to the extent that we would think. They do get bothered by the fact that they can’t get their kids into the right schools, or when they have to pay to see a good doctor, that bothers them. But, they kind of expect it, anticipate it. This type of local insight is the type of thing that public diplomacy practitioners everywhere in the world know.
When we talk to people every day, we can get that information. But we need to be able to articulate it. So what does that mean in training? That means teaching people how to consume polling data. It means teaching people how to use the analytics tools that we love to talk about. What is the difference between impressions and reach? What does CrowdTangle actually provide you? It means teaching people how to write policy cables. Teaching people how to write the things that will articulate what it is we’re learning and hearing in a way that will influence policy. And it means teaching our people to cooperate at the inter-agency level.
Because, I can tell you when I was down at Fort Bragg yesterday, they handed me an 85-page slide deck on all the analysis they had done of Peru. They have 230 in one battalion focused on PSYOPS in Europe. We have eight, I think, or nine, in PD. They are doing this tremendous about of research and information, and we, as PD practitioners, need to learn how to cooperate and talk to them. In my previous career, I did consulting and project management, and they have this phrase in project management that’s called go slow to go fast.
That, to me, should be and will be the tenet of all our PD training. We need to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before you can actually do it.
When it comes to inform, I think the basic tenets haven’t changed much. What has changed is exactly what the undersecretary said. How do we, where do we go to inform? This is all predicated on understanding. Do you understand the local media environment? Do you understand that, say in Russia, there are really only two million active Facebook users? And like 1.8 million of them are in Moscow and St. Petersburg? So if you want to talk to people on social media, Facebook is a good way to reach the elite, but not a good way to reach people in the Urals[?] and other parts of Russia. Do you know that? Is that where your campaign is set? Or are you using Facebook because that’s what you’re comfortable with, because you know how to use it.
So, the actual activity of providing content on what we’re doing changes in two ways. It’s the platform of how we deliver it and the design of what it is that we’re saying. We are trying to teach people a lot about the design. The platform tends to be quite specific to countries and we broadly talk about social media as a strategic approach, but we don’t focus in on individual platforms. Because, we don’t want to get in the business of teaching the latest updates to every technological platform out there. But we do talk about storytelling. How can you figure out what those important areas are in a country and how to tell a story that will resonate and stick.
I’ll also tell you a little bit about some of the video work we do. The under secretary talked about the importance of video. By … I was reading this the other day, by 2022, it is projected that 75 percent of all mobile content will be video. The consumption of mobile data will be video, 75 percent. Right now it’s about 52 percent. We need to be doing a better job of video.
I went, two weeks ago I was down in Mexico City, observing one of our courses on video, and was blown away. This is a course we teach overseas to primarily our experts. Most embassies now have a videographer, and have the high-tech equipment, and this is a course that we developed many years ago to teach them how to use their equipment and be strategic in the video. So I went as a neophyte. I don’t have fancy camera, but I have this iPhone. Can you teach me how to do videos on this? And the course manager said, “Absolutely, we’re focused more and more on that.” So, within a week, they had me produce four videos. One of the video assignments, they said, “Oh, we want you to go walk around the city and do sort of an entrée of what’s great about this city. You have two and a half hours to shoot, edit, produce.” I did it all on my phone.
That’s where we need to be. I love the idea of increasing the metabolism. The idea that we can’t shoot a video at an event and then wait three days for them to take it back, edit it and then produce a five-minute video. Nobody watches a five-minute video. All the videos we were doing were 30 seconds. Forty-five seconds. So we’re there, we’re gonna stay there, on how to produce cutting edge digital content. And I hope you can help us along that way. There’s always something new.
When it comes to influencing, I think this is where we get into being strategic. We have a whole course on strategic planning, but truthfully, every single one of our courses underscores the idea that we are doing something because we are trying to achieve a goal.
If you cannot define what that goal is, if you cannot define what you’re trying to achieve, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s in the social media course, that’s in the resources course, that’s in the IO course, the cultural affairs officer course, the PA course. Every single course. The LES course says, “what’s your mission’s objective, how does what you’re doing relate to that objective, what are you trying to achieve?” And that leads into probably the most painful aspect of public diplomacy, which is measurement and evaluation. I think everyone likes to talk about it, but it’s also very painful for us, right?
To me, and in our courses, you can’t measure if you can’t set a goal. So we talk a lot about setting a very clear and specific goal. Even if you don’t reach the goal, at least you’ve known that you tried to get somewhere. And then the second aspect of measurement and evaluation is we teach something that our IC colleagues brought to us, which is how they assess foreign influence operations in other countries. Can you detect your message? Is an external person able to look and say, “Okay, here’s what the embassy’s doing. This is what they’re trying to accomplish.” Or do you have a speech on corruption followed by a speech on female genital mutilation, followed by a cultural jazz group, followed by this, followed by that, and there’s absolutely no clear message. So, is your message detectable, one? And two, if you have a specific set of groups and activities, is there a specific goal? And then don’t be afraid to say, you know what, we didn’t reach that goal, but we tried for it. And here’s all the outputs that we had to get there.
I’m grateful to be at FSI. It is the most challenging and interesting job I’ve had. Very, very different from being out in the field, where you have a very clear boss and set of structures. My boss is here, he’s very clear, but at FSI, you have a lot of bosses. And it’s great, it’s really good to have a lot of bosses. I’m excited to be part of the future of public diplomacy, I think it’s an exciting future. I think the importance of what we do is going to continue to increase every day. And thanks for your time.
Shawn Powers: I‘m sure I’m not the only one in the room that is eager to see the video that Will put together! Now, please welcome Elizabeth Fitzsimmons.
Ms. Fitzsimmons: And I feel like people need a seventh inning stretch right here, after listening to people talk at you for what, we’ve been sitting here an hour now, so I have 20 minutes of prepared remarks that I am going to really abridge because I see an enormous number of really talented public diplomacy practitioners and friends is sitting here and I think some more dialogue would be more interesting than anything. And I see a lot of people nodding, so that’s good, or they’re possibly just falling asleep, so I will try to be both dynamic and as abridging as possible. I’m obviously grateful to be here and thank you to the commission and to Shawn Powers for inviting me.
So, a wise man, an Italian diplomat, once said that diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way. I love that and I think that public diplomacy is the art of someone, letting someone have your way and think that it was their idea. And so, as we talk about training in the future of public diplomacy, the two of which are inextricably linked, there are four areas that I would like to just briefly talk about, and they are places in which I think we are doing good work, but can sharpen our training rubric. And they are reporting, relationships, resources, and regional approaches. So there are my cliff notes. If you remember nothing else but Will’s tie, I’d like you to add that to the list.
So I’m going to start briefly with reporting. This is probably a somewhat controversial view, because I think there are a number of us over a number of generations who have thought that public diplomacy is effective when it’s the section that throws the great concert, or puts out the well-written press release. But I would argue while we can and should do those things, we really need to make sure we’re only doing them when they’re relevant, getting our policy messages to the audiences that we need to influence. We have to train ourselves to instinctively integrate PD with policy making. Clearly, embedding public diplomacy task officers at regional desks was a great start at the State Department. And I think now, we have to figure out how to create that training link.
One place to begin, I think, would be integrating the first-time section chief training so that new political, econ chiefs, management, consular and public diplomacy chiefs, are trained together. It would help them understand each other’s individual roles, to see themselves as a network, and figure out how to use their tools in a collaborative way. I have lots of examples here, you can all think of many. You’ve got consular sections that have enormous audience reach. Are you using those to talk about key policy issues? Anti-trafficking, anti-corruption. Those are both audiences with natural fits. Are your political and econ section chiefs reaching out to the PAO to suggest questions for your public opinion polling? If that isn’t happening, I think it should be.
And public diplomacy officers have to develop strategic plans which integrate PD programming with integrated country strategy goals. Reporting cables are the currency of the State Department and the inter-agency. PD sections have to have strategic reporting plans and be contributing to the reporting of other state sections in other agencies. This should be, in my opinion, a basic expectation. No exceptions, not something extra, part of your core work when you’re running a public diplomacy section.
You also, in addition to writing your own cables, need to be contributing to the reporting coming out of your embassy. You should be asking to clear everything that is being written at your embassy, and you should be adding value to it. If you’re doing PD right, then you have something to contribute, I would argue to almost every cable that leaves your embassy. And if you don’t, then probably, it’s time to stop and reevaluate and say, “Is my programming actually strategic?” And I think we need to share this expectation from the first days of training, when you join the foreign service, if you’re in A-100, you should hear about it, and then you should hear about it through the training curriculum, not just in public diplomacy courses, but as an expectation that we set for diplomats.
PD officers, I know will hear that my suggestions are mostly somewhat controversial, here’s another one, need to be trained to view the intelligence community as a partner. Will also condensed his remarks, I know otherwise he was going to speak about information disorder. And I think we as PD officers really need to have training in identifying and responding to propaganda, to disinformation, to misinformation. This is our world. We can wish it was different, but it isn’t, and we have to figure out how to operate effectively in it. And that means understanding the messages and the tools of our adversaries. We need to see the intelligence community as a partner in that effort.
It’s also critically important, and those of you who know me know what I am no shrinking violet, but PD officers have to take their seat at the table. The public affairs officer and the spokesperson must always be at the table when policy issues are being discussed. And I don’t just mean showing up a country team, again that’s a basic expectation, I mean anytime that the ambassador, the chargé, the deputy chief of mission, meets in a small group to talk about a policy goal, the PD section needs to be at the table and contributing. Every effective ambassador I have seen and worked with does this, and if yours doesn’t, ask for access on a trial basis and demonstrate the value of you being in the room. You need to know what your ambassador’s top three policy goals are and have an elevator pitch for the PD resources that you bring to the table and your strategy to get those goals across the finish line. If you do that, I predict that trial basis will become a permanent invitation. Because nothing breeds success like success.
We also really need to get used to using and thinking of the whole embassy team as a PD asset. I think it’s fantastic when you work for a media-savvy ambassador, but we need to train ourselves to look beyond the chief of mission as the chief spokesperson, and find other people in the community who are willing and able to do public diplomacy work for you. And so that means we need to be training other people to make contributions to our public diplomacy efforts.
A former undersecretary for public diplomacy had as one of her mantras that every diplomat is a PD officer, and I 100 percent disagree with that. Public diplomacy is a specific skill and it certainly can’t be done as effectively by non-PD professionals. But I do think that every diplomat can and should be supporting PD efforts and to that end, I would recommend that diplomats from other areas of specialty have course content in public diplomacy, so that they understand not only our role policy planning, but the benefits of PD in relationship building and the importance of messaging to policy outcome. And I think it’s also important that that training include content so that everyone is clear on the fundamental limitations of social media as a tool of persuasion. I think we’ve all been there, right? You are working for someone who came from another environment and said, “Well Twitter was the best tool for outreach in Kenya.” And now you’re in Kyrgyzstan and it’s just not relevant, and so I think we need country teams that stay focused on strategic policy goals and let those goals drive the PD tools that we’re using, not the other way around.
All of this means that we really have to collaborate more effectively, which is the relationship piece. We have to stop wasting resources by duplicating efforts. The best example of this in my recent past is if your military colleagues are teaching English, in a particular operating theater, why are you spending your state public diplomacy resources to do the same thing? If DOD doesn’t have their student audience right, then you need to work with them, first to understand why they picked that audience, and then use data to show them why they’re wrong, if you think they’re wrong. I think this is really important when you’re scheduling as well. You need to make sure that you are not competing with yourself for the news cycle. I too often see that happen and good programs, good policy initiatives get drowned out by the mutual good efforts of other sections of the embassy. But again, those are two missed opportunities, or four missed opportunities then, so you really need to think about that.
I also think, and again this is controversial for some, that we need to take in PD sections, responsibility for internal embassy communication. If you do not have effective internal communication, and I mean this in an embassy or in the state department as a whole, that’s going to be a big detriment to your morale and your operational effectiveness. And if you have poor morale and poor operational effectiveness, I would argue, you are not going to have as much success achieving your big policy goals. We are the experts in communication, we’ve got the training, and so we should be encouraging our colleagues to use those resources to make their prerogatives and their efforts more effective.
We also have to learn to leverage our resources more effectively and I mean everything. I mean your time, your staff time, your money, and the audience attention. The eyeballs on the screen. All of those are PD resources. We’ve heard a lot of examples about the need to be responsive, to increase the metabolism, to have the ability to quickly respond. There’s no question, when Will talked about adult learning styles that at FSI, the PD training is already including more about this experiential kinetic component. And the need to do that not just at the beginning of your career, not just that one time when you take spokesperson training, but throughout.
And one of my truisms has always been, it is kind of tough love, but here it is. You have to ask yourself the question if the media won’t cover your PD program, why are you doing it? I think you really have to ask yourself that. Because even if you pack the largest venue in the country, you’re only reaching a tiny fraction of the population, and you aren’t necessarily reaching the people that you need to influence and inform. I also think in terms of media, we’ve thought too long about relationships in terms of I’m the spokesperson, I need to know reporters. Yes, you do. But you also need to know editors, and producers, and news directors. It’s great to have a lot of cameras at your event, and we always see those pictures on Facebook. “I had a great press conference.” And you see the number of microphones on the podium. But that isn’t really success. What’s really success is with the coverage of your event on the air, was the headline your strategic message? And you need to write it yourself in advance. That’s how your message is going to get out.
I mean, think about an example like the headline, “Repairs to historic mosque begin.” Okay, fine. But what that needs to say is, “United States invests in Pakistan’s heritage.” That is the strategic message. That’s leading you to the policy goal. So it’s the same story, it’s the same footage, the same b-roll, but there’s an enormous different in the impact. And then you need to have that TV story on your social media platform and your surrogates need to amplify it.
So that brings me to one of my other kind of key relationship points. And this is a reference to another of the undersecretary’s predecessors, Rick Stengel, who, one of his mantras was, “Curate, don’t create.” And that’s not just true about content, that’s lists of surrogates as well, because you need their networks and if you’re going to use their networks, you have to know who they are. You have to evaluate your top policy goals and have a list of surrogates and influences for each one. You need to also be using the networks of your embassy colleagues when you consider who your key advocates are. We have to accept that we are, in this day and age, often not the best messenger. Again, hard to hear, but true. So, I think it’s really critical that we also are harnessing the power of local networks. We have a sports, or we did, have a sports envoy here, I mean, I think you need to be thinking about those folks, you need to be thinking about American citizens who have been helped by consular affairs colleagues, by the artists that are producing the art that’s hung in embassies, you really need them to speak about what we do and the impact that we have in their lives. You’ve got to get them onto your social media, got to connect them with your local media, and train yourself to see everyone as a potential influencer.
I feel like I’m starting to lose people a little bit, and I know we’ve had a lot of sitting, so I’m just going to kind of move on to make one other point about resources, talk briefly about regional approaches and then we can have a bit of a conversation.
We definitely would benefit from more training to use measurement and evaluation tools to show results for the Hill. We’ve got to figure out how to capture the work that our economic and foreign commercial service colleagues are doing so that we can demonstrate that when you send an exchange program participant, we get back X dollars in their direct investment. What they spend on their hotel and their airfare and eating at Ruby Tuesday. And then related expenditures, the kind of indirect investments as we build long-term relationships with influencers. That’s how we’re going to get more resources for PD work. By demonstrating that there is a bottom-line value of interest to people who make decisions about our budget.
Just briefly, I want to talk about, moving on now, to a regional approach. And I’m sort of glad that the undersecretary departed, because, I have to be honest about the fact that in my experience, one of the biggest impediments to effectiveness in the field is instructions from Washington to do specific program or place an op-ed that’s absolutely tone-deaf to your local environment. You have to spend time on it, you have to spend relationship points with the editor of the newspaper getting them to place it, so it costs you not only in those terms, but also you don’t have that resource, staff time, energy or relationship left to work on your key policy priorities. But I think the secret is having better metrics so that you can explain to Washington, “I’m not saying no. I’m explaining to you that I’m going to spend this relationship, my time, my effort, and my budget on achieving one of the things that is relevant in my local environment.”
And we have to do much more on a regional basis. We should, as a matter of course sending speakers to multiple posts, and I think it’s really critical also to coalesce exchange travel around common challenges. If you send a group of young female tech entrepreneurs from Rio and Beijing and Helsinki, you’re going to get a lot more, I think, than if you just get a group of Brazilians together and send them to the U.S. I think that PD can really lead the way for the rest of the department by thinking outside of these artificial regional stovepipes that the department has organized around.
I also would really like us to look at the model of mid-career externships for PD officers. There’s no question that if we could understand better how the private sector leverages its communication assets, we could identify tools like large-scale media platforms that we’re not currently using, that could be incredibly effective, again particularly on a regional approach.
And the title of this talk, I think on the agenda, was Thinking Outside the Box. I would love to see us consider having PD officers spend time on local political campaigns to get exposure to the creative use of messaging resources at the local level. Obviously this would have to properly structured, it would have to be bi-partisan, but the focus would be on tools and tactics, not on partisan political messaging.
So I want to close just by encouraging us that we train ourselves also that it is 100 percent fine to make mistakes. One of my personal mantras is, let’s just make a new mistake tomorrow. As PD practitioners, we need to be learning from mistakes and moving on. We’ve all been there. We’ve used great analytics. You use your network, you propose a bold program, it’s aligned with a key policy goal. And it’s a total flop. Please nod and say I am not the only one who has had this life experience. This is tough, because in the State Department, our culture rewards success pretty much exclusively. I think this is a key place that PD could train itself to really change the culture in the department. By sharing the learning when things don’t go well. Don’t hide it. Write cable. Use your analytical tools to figure out why it didn’t work. Share the experience. So that way, my mistake in New Delhi doesn’t get repeated in Brussels. We try something and the learning is our whole core of PD colleagues, not just the few of us that happen to be in the line of fire.
I think it will require a culture change in the department, but in this as in many things, I think PD can really lead the way. So, it’s been a pleasure, I look forward to hopefully having a little bit of dialogue now, I thank you all for your attention and thank you.
Shawn Powers: Thank you. We really are short on time and I do want have an opportunity for at least one or two questions.
Audience question: I want to thank you guys, that was awesome, really interesting and of course the undersecretary was incredible. But Elizabeth, you do push the boundaries and I love it, it’s really great. I just had two things I wanted to say. When you talk about something not being worth doing unless it could be on air in the larger sense, when I was in the foreign service, back in the Stone Age, there was a sense that there were two audiences.
There are elites and there’s the street. And elites aren’t necessarily wanting to communicate through larger media. And so, is it possible to say that yes, for 85 percent of all the activities at PD, it is connecting with the larger public? But isn’t PD still important in terms of cultivating relationships with elites who have influence?
Ms. Fitzsimmons: I’m sure like anything else, it’s environmentally based, you have to understand your local culture. I’m sure there are places where that one meeting with the minister of culture is the secret to getting something done. In the environments I’ve worked in most recently, in south and central Asia, yes, clearly, I did still work closely with the government, and so did the rest of the mission. But I felt like if we were talking about attitudinal change on things like corruption and trafficking and complicated multi-faceted issues, we really had to get our message out, using radio, TV and social media.
Audience question: That’s a great statement then, in favor of the democratization and the influence and the importance of people everywhere, right? The other thing that I also want to shade a little bit, which is showing results for the Hill. We don’t want to show results to the Hill. That we have results that are compelling will make people on the Hill sit up and say, “Wow, that’s a really great program.” But the point isn’t of showing results to have the Hill notice it, it’s to have effective programming in and of itself. That the research and the feedback is to help us develop better programming, to help us understand what it is that we’re doing. Yeah, the side benefit is that the Hill better understands the value of PD, but I don’t want anyone to take away from this, that all of the results that we’re showing are just because the Hill is looking for it. Because I think that is an outcome and a benefit, but I think the real focus should be on how we use assessment tools to improve the effectiveness of our programs.
Ms. Fitzsimmons: Of course, we want to effect policy change, but for me, the budget situation is pretty dire. And I love it when I can connect with a CODEL (Congressional Delegation) and say, we sent six exchange visitors to your congressional district and they had these experiences. I’d like you to meet them and by the way, here’s a fact sheet on over the last decade, the investment in your district, indirect and direct that’s been brought by our exchange visitors.
I agree they’re not a primary audience, but I love to be able to kind of personalize that for someone who ultimately is an appropriator, potentially.
Audience question: I would like to make a comment there. I come from the business sector, I think metrics are very important. Whether it’s for the Hill or for your investors or for your shareholders, you have to prove results. I think that this is something that we can work better on. I know when I first got to the commission and read the first report, there wasn’t any consistency, in being able to look at the program and really understand what the numbers meant.
I think, the idea that you can take an accounting program off the shelf, for most of these programs. These are programs that are a million, two million, three million. And you can take it off the shelf. If they all have the same accounting program, it would be so much simpler to deal with these metrics, but we don’t. We feel that part of what we should be doing is not always necessarily doing what the Hill asks to do, but rather tell them what we think they should be asking us to do. And that was particularly … Because I do believe, we want these appropriations because things cost money. But you can only get them if you can prove that they’re successful. It builds on itself. But we have to do the metrics now.
Shawn Powers: Unfortunately, we are really out of time. But hopefully some of the speakers can hang out a few minutes afterwards if you do have questions. I do want to mention, on the question of metrics that the commission takes metrics very seriously and is actually organizing a research, evaluation and learning summit in February to convene all of the expertise needed to synchronize and innovate our assessment efforts across the PD cone. I’d like to invite Anne Wedner to come up and conclude this terrific session.
Anne Wedner: On behalf of the commission, I’d like to extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you to the Under Secretary, who sadly had to leave before he heard his fine colleagues speak. But Mr. Stevens and Ms. Fitzsimmons, that was really fantastic, thank you so much.
We’d like to thank you everyone in the audience because it’s super important for us to have a place to talk about these ideas and to keep working on all of our skills and if you weren’t here, it wouldn’t exist. So thank you for participating and I’m sorry we didn’t have as much time for questions or to have more of an exchange. I think that the basic takeaway is that the public component of American diplomacy, that is explaining U.S. policy, it is communicating ideas, sharing our diverse and historic national experiences and engaging foreign communities through collaboration and exchange, is increasingly central to the effectiveness of our foreign policy. The commission will continue to advise on ways to improve the effectiveness of our PD efforts as well as the coordination and synchronization processes throughout the entire federal government.
We hold our next meeting on March 20th. And I hope that everybody will return and be a part of this continuing discussion. Thank you for coming and send us any ideas that you’d want us to look into.