U.S. ADVISORY COMMISSION ON PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
MINUTES AND TRANSCRIPT FROM THE QUARTERLY PUBLIC MEETING ON
Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Capitol Visitor Center, room 203-02
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT:
Mr. Sim Farar, Chair
Mr. William Hybl, Vice-Chair
Ms. Anne Terman Wedner
COMMISSION STAFF PRESENT:
Dr. Shawn Powers, Executive Director
Ms. Jennifer Rahimi, Senior Advisor
Maria Skouras, Research Fellow
Alexis Bonnell, Division Chief of Applied Innovation and Acceleration in the U.S. Global Development Lab of USAID
Chris Dunnett, acting Bureau of International Information Programs Deputy Coordinator for Platforms
Michelle Mason, Management Officer for the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs
Aviva Rosenthal, Senior Advisor of the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations
Sim Farar: Good morning, hello, and welcome to the United States Advisory Commission on public diplomacy. This is our second public hearing for 2018 I am Sim Farar, chairman of the commission. Thank you all for being here this morning. Special thanks Senator Carter and Alex Gordon, for helping the commission secure this space for our meeting.
Sim Farar: As many of you are aware, the commission represents the public interest overseeing US Government global information, media, cultural, and education exchange programs. It is a bipartisan and independent body, created by Congress directive in policies and programs in supportive efforts to inform and influence foreign pulpits.
Sim Farar: As mandated by law to assess the work of the State Department, and to report the findings and recommendations to the President, Congress, the Secretary of State, and of course the American people.
Sim Farar: I am joined here on stage today with several distinguished colleagues in the commission. To my right is Bill Hybl, he is our vice chairman from Colorado Springs, Colorado. We have Ann Whitman from Chicago, Illinois down at the end. Georgette Mosbacher from New York City, is unfortunately away on travel.
Sim Farar: There are currently three vacancies on our board right now. I am thrilled to see some friendly faces and some new ones here today. It is very nice, joining us today to discuss our important topic of the future of American spaces.
Sim Farar: Over 650 physical public engagements, venues, and 141 countries. If you have not visited one of these places, it is incredible to get out there in your travels. It’s just amazing the good work they do. Collectively referred to as American Spaces, these venues, are primarily means through which US Embassies and Consulates abroad execute their mandate to engage in foreign, to inform foreign publics in support of United States foreign policy and national security.
Sim Farar: American Spaces offers a significant return on a small investment by the American people. The vast majority of American Spaces, are partnerships with host country institutions that provide rent free space, the office staff, the support the activities of the American Spaces, at no cost to the United States Government.
Sim Farar: Because of this partnership, the United States is able to maintain this robust and effective global network at a minor cost to the American tax payer.
Sim Farar: Moreover, since introducing strategic management and focused modernization investments in 2013, visitor traffic at American Spaces worldwide has increased by 128 percent. Programs are up by 90 percent, this was achieved while maintaining the same budgets for 2013. Very, very impressive.
Sim Farar: Unlike some other countries that operate networks funding programs abroad exclusively dedicated to private, the promotion of language and cultural, the United States is traditionally viewed the funding of American Spaces as an investment in US Public diplomacy, and a promotion of US foreign policy goals.
Sim Farar: The mandated American Spaces do actively cultivate understanding and appreciation of US foreign policy, and to advance US national security interests is very unique.
Sim Farar: The commission has had the opportunity to visit a number of these American Spaces. I personally have, I enjoy very much, because it is fascinating to be at these places. We have been all around the world. We have been to Tokyo, just a few, Tokyo, Seoul, Kiev, Buenos Aires; all look and feel, each base is different. Each base collectively represents a tremendous asset to the United States Government.
Sim Farar: Especially as we, as restrictions, to the free flow of information continues to increase around the world. These spaces represent a cultural conduit for public and strategic engagement. As well as access to high quality, and uncensored sources of news, and information about the United States.
Sim Farar: What I am going to do, I would like to introduce you to our executive director. I am going to hand things over to him so he can introduce our panel.
Sim Farar: Please a nice warm welcome for Executive Director Shawn Powers.
Shawn Powers: Many thanks, Sim and to everyone in the room. It is great to see so many friendly faces. I was reminded that, to plug a couple of things, first we’ve got the 2017 annual report just outside, this is hot off the press. I mean literally yesterday I think, really I think they rushed in order to make the deadline of this event. Hopefully you can grab a copy, if you haven’t already.
Shawn Powers: In addition, selfishly, the commission also has a new report called Optimizing, Engagement, which is also out there. So I am hopeful that you can grab a copy of that too. It is the result of several months of work on assessing the future of research and assessment at the State Department, specifically focused on how we get better at evaluating our public diplomacy programs.
Shawn Powers: Back to American Spaces, I am really thrilled to have wonderful panelists here today. I couldn’t think of four better experts to discuss the state and future of American Spaces. Some brief introductions though, I know full bios were at the desk out front.
Shawn Powers: Chris Dunnett if you could raise your hand, Chris. As the acting Deputy Coordinator for Platforms the office that oversees American Spaces within the Bureau of International Information Programs at the State Department. Chris is uniquely positioned to speak about American Spaces from the 1000 foot level. He has led the division for years and closely tracked the development of these spaces. The uses of these spaces including, documenting growing trends in participation and programming. He has his fingers on the pulse of what’s working, what’s not. I am really happy that he could be here with us today.
Shawn Powers: Michelle Mason, a colleague of Chris’s, is the Management Officer for the Office of American Spaces also, in the Bureau of International Information Programs at the State Department. Michelle has played an especially important role in advocating for the value of protecting space for public engagement within the broader State Department community. Ensuring that other parts of the department understand the need for open access, WIFI enabled forward looking American Spaces, when designing US diplomatic footprints overseas. Michelle can you raise your hand or maybe you did already. Thank you.
Shawn Powers: Directly to my right, Aviva Rosenthal, Senior Advisor of the office of International Relations at the Smithsonian, a former State Department phenom, is with us as well. Aviva has played a crucial leadership role in helping to revolutionize American Spaces abroad, introducing 21st century design principles and technologies, while also helping to train the on the ground staff at how to best uses these spaces and their capabilities for effective and impactful public engagement.
Shawn Powers: Certainly last but not least is Alexis Bonnell, joining us from US Aid, where she is the Division Chief of Applied Innovation and Acceleration in the US Global Development Lab. That is one of the longest titles I have seen, and I think it is directly proportional to how important of a person you are. No joking meant there. Alexis is a leader in every sense of the word, pushing US Aid to continue its innovative spirit and embrace new thinking technology and design principles. We’re grateful Alexis can join us today to speak to the value that American Spaces provide to the broader US Government mission, and how important these spaces are not just to public affair sections overseas, but to our inter- and intra- agency partners across the government.
Shawn Powers: Please join me in welcoming these experts for what I am sure will be a spirited discussion.
Shawn Powers: I’d like to start things off with Chris, who I mentioned has his fingers on the pulse of all things American Spaces. Chris can you share briefly your vision for American Spaces, map the state of American Spaces against that vision. So how are we doing kind of compared to where you want us to be, and introduce some of your latest findings from your report that you have been working on, that talk about the value that American Spaces provide American taxpayers and the State Department.
Chris Dunnett: Yeah, sure thanks Shawn. First of all, I would like to thank the commission and all of you for the interest in the American Spaces program. We really appreciate it. The vision beginning in 2012 was to transform American Spaces into dynamic high tech, distinctly American programmatic platforms. Where, we were actively engaging foreign audiences. Some big positive increases we have seen in the metrics that we track, signal to us that the investments we have made over the last few years are really paying dividends. As was mentioned at 128 percent increase in visitor traffic, since FY 13 through 17 to reach over 59 million last year. So we’ve had a 90 percent increase in programs, and more than double the number of people participating in those programs to over 44 million in FY 17.
Chris Dunnett: It is really that last number that I really want to focus you on as important because to me it really shows that we have moved successfully from what I call a reactive old style library model, where we kind of had information and computers there and we waited for people to come and interact with them, to these more modern dynamic spaces, where we are focused on proactively engaging targeted audiences in support of our foreign policy goals. So we are not all the way there, certainly, but I am proud of what we have achieved so far.
Chris Dunnett: Going forward, I see American Spaces as nodes for connecting to America, really around the world. I think American Spaces can and should be more than public diplomacy, more that State Department facilities. To get the most benefit out of them for the American People, we are actively working other foreign affairs agencies to make sure that they know where American Spaces are, they know what their capabilities are, and that they are encouraged to make use of them in support of their own missions. I am really glad to have Alexis here today to share some US Aids perspective on the possibilities there.
Chris Dunnett: Beyond that we see the potential for American Spaces to become not just whole of US Government platforms, but really whole of American facilities. That is in line with another big initiative that we have been working on, is active engagement with the private sector to pitch what we see as really great opportunities for public/private partnerships, that can be of mutual benefit. These could make the American Spaces and technology and the programs that they offer even better, while also building market recognition, good will, and brand recognition for US companies.
Chris Dunnett: Another key aspect of the vision going forward, Shawn, is to kind of fully leverage the power of networks. So we have moved from viewing American Spaces individual facilities, to really viewing them to country and regional networks facilities. That really helps us to get the most power out of them. We have invested a lot in digitally connecting these facilities and that gives us a lot more return on programmatic investments. Whether its ECA, IIP, or others, now the ambassador, visiting speakers, cultural performers, can be in one place and engage audiences across the country, places they would never get to otherwise. So, we get more bang for those bucks. You can see many examples of that in the annual report.
Shawn Powers: Great, thank you so much. Aviva, you and the Smithsonian have played a central role in turning what were US funded government funded libraries abroad, into hubs of innovation, technological innovation, and learning. Tell us a little bit about the genesis of the American Spaces assessment and redesign project, the partnership between the Smithsonian and the State Department, and what you have been able to achieve in the last six years.
Aviva Rosenthal: Well, can everyone hear me?
Aviva Rosenthal: Thank you again Shawn, and the commission members for having me. So I am going to key off Chris, but I am going to go backwards a little and tell sort of the origin story because I think many people would be like why is the Smithsonian involved in American Spaces? It’s been about 6 years ago the I&P coordinator at the time, Donna Call, had Opened at America, which I hope many people know. Famous face at the time, people were interested in it, but it was hard to get through security, and there were lines, and it was a little bit of a confusing space. So she happened to meet a Smithsonian, a wonderful man named Mike Lawrence, who was the head of exhibition design at our Natural History Museum, and thought you know museums really understand how people move, and how to get through security, and how to define space and place.
Aviva Rosenthal: She brought him over basically to take a look at, At America, and to fix some of the initial issues that were there. From there the idea was, oh wait a minute we can actually through design create a welcoming environment, really help people get in, and offer them a way to start to think about American, and our American values just from the sort of sights and sounds that they were entering the space.
Aviva Rosenthal: From that as we met Chris, and I&P coordinator, and ambassador G Mains at the time, we created a vision that was to really turn American Spaces into places of innovation, entrepreneurship, but to do that they had to sort of speak to those values when you walk in the door. We set out on touring different spaces, touring some British councils, and bits of institutes in the way other people did it. We sat with a lot of the users and did focus groups. In the end we sort of came out with this idea book, that I will speak to you later, but the idea was when people walk into a room that they really got the idea that they were in the United States. They walk into this special place and that our values of innovation, and entrepreneurship, and asking questions, learning, really spoke to the place they were in.
Aviva Rosenthal: Then of course the programming side of things was super important, it was really through Chris’s leadership, that the programming, what people were actually going to do in the space, really was transformed, from this passive experience to a real active engaged experience. Our design aesthetic wasn’t just look and feel, it was also to be able to do these programs really successfully. How does one do that, in a space, that is basically this room. How do you turn a room like this into 6 different types of programming spaces? Do you want lecture style, or do you want to do a makers space, or do you want to do a digital program? How do you do that with flexible furniture, and literally be able to turn it around maybe 4 to 6 times in a week.
Aviva Rosenthal: That was the mindset with which we went into this project. We worked with really wonderful architects including long time Smithsonian partners, to produce the idea book, and what has been the transformation.
Aviva Rosenthal: I guess I could go into the transformation just a little bit, which is, and I know through this book you really see the photos, because the photos really tell the whole story. What were once rooms with some old random furniture, that didn’t go together, and some random posters on the wall, are really now, people all over the world, now have this really easy guide to be able to transform their space without having to be a designer, interior, or an architect, or having any of the tools. It is a very simple way to look at, like paint, how do you make something red, white, and blue in a really creative way. How do you use this flexible furniture? How do you, we offered simple graphics, these big super graphics that people can create, not just posters but actually whole walls of graphics to really envelop people in this idea with quotes and different cities and states featured.
Aviva Rosenthal: From that it is like a tool kit, and what has been really exciting is how the different spaces and directors have been able to take that tool kit and transform. I mean you have the stats, I don’t have the stats, but almost all of the major spaces around the world now are really transformed. Even in the simplest ways you see in almost every picture there is some sort of element, from that idea book that shines through. It has been able to be a turnkey resource, for folks in the field to do this on their own. It’s been really exciting to see.
Shawn Powers: Thank you so much. It is great to hear the origin story, I like that. It is a great way to get the full context. Kind of flipping that on its head to what’s the next step, Alexis, can you tell us a little bit about how you and your colleagues at US Aid see American Spaces as a potential asset, and how they can provide greater service, or opportunities for broader US government agencies in partners?
Alexis Bonnell: I’d be happy to. Thank you so much for having me, and thanks to the commission. I think what is so exciting about where we are at right now as US Government, and specifically speaking for US Aid, our administrator laid out a pretty audacious goal for us. A North star that I am really proud of. That is how do we in essence move countries to self-reliance. That is a pretty interesting question to ask oneself, as an employee of an organization, because the question I am really asking myself is, how do I put myself out of a job?
Alexis Bonnell: That is an important question to say, in doing that how do we have to change how we do business, in order to allow that to be accessible. What it really comes down to is US Aid, and our programming, and our people, we have to be able to be more permeable. We have to be able to become more accessible, for the way we do business, for the way we partner, to change dramatically.
Alexis Bonnell: If you think about the path of self-reliance it is really about a host country governments both will and capacity. So we look at the ability to convene, converse, engage, and change the way we do business as being really dependent on being able to find the ability to engage in the local conversation, to explore different solutions, etc. So I think one of the things that is really important about American Spaces, in some ways it causes me to reflect, how many interesting things we have done and changed and how much more benefit could we have gotten out of it had we been able to use American Spaces at the time.
Alexis Bonnell: I’ll go into an example, one of the critical ways US Aid is looking at how we do our work differently, is the concept of co-creation, getting stakeholders in an area together, to really talk about not only what is demand, but what are the best solutions. I will tell you oftentimes the best solutions are right there in the room, in the country. So figuring out how we can become more permeable to those conversations, how we can have a space to convene, private sector and other actors in that conversation. Again that can be a little bit more dynamic, a little more accessible, then necessarily a visit to the embassy every time is important.
Alexis Bonnell: When I say important, I don’t just mean nice to have, I don’t mean frosting, what I mean is if we are going to change a program from, as an example a traditional RFP, to a grand challenge, where we are looking to harness global collective genius of the world. If I don’t have the genius that is in Agucha, thinking about my challenge, and they are not engaged, then my program is under optimized. My program is not able to realize the intent, and the impact that I want to have.
Alexis Bonnell: I think one of the things that I am really proud of, being involved in a tremendous amount of US Aid’s digital transformation, and the work that we are doing there is incredible. Digital power, as we heard already, is huge and hugely impactful, but you have got to match it with people power. Right. Until someone believes that you want to work them, until they believe there is a way to be heard, and we do that through a lot of different electronic means. But there is something that is different about sitting there, leading a conversation, having someone be heard, and engage. It changes the nature of the relationship. It really exercises the people power, and give a confidence to the local partner that we really do intend to change, and that they are a part of our future.
Alexis Bonnell: I would say a few other things that have been interesting reflections for us. Number one is that we are looking for different types of solutions. Let’s say we have identified a technology, or a different intervention, imagine if instead of just saying Alexis thinks this a good idea and we should do it. Being able to take that technology, or that product into a space, have local people touch it, feel it, give feedback, advance the designs, think about the way that we might deploy it. My guess is the times that we have done that well, our adoption rate has skyrocketed. The time we have taken that for granted has been less impactful. So again thinking about what are these synergistic resources that as USG, we can blend together, we can combine together.
Alexis Bonnell: I’ll also say that there’s a really simple interesting barrier to co-creation, and it’s going to sound silly, but when our implementer or someone at the mission has to find a space to do this in, has to contract something, has to put out and RFP for a space, it sounds sill, and those are all the right things to do. If you remove those barriers, if you make it more simple to administrate co-creation, to allow someone to pull something together more dynamically, it’s just also more fun. It is more likely that someone is going to want to do that, to not have to jump through a lot of cost, or administrative hurdles to convene a conversation in a way that we want to intend to.
Alexis Bonnell: So for all of these reasons, I think it is really critical, I think also as a final note, looking at future programming as an example; I don’t know how many of you have read the New York Times, but I think a couple days ago the front page spread was on something called the Eye Alliance, which highlighted vision spring and a lot of the work that US Aid has supported around getting people in glasses. It is a transformational element of their lives. What was funny is, I was having a conversation with Vision Spring about how do you bring that testing to a community, how do you do those types of things? So I might, you know circle back with Chris, and say does that make sense for a company or an organization like Vision Spring to be able to do some eye testing out of an American Space. Are there programmatic ways that we can bring real benefit to a community, that just otherwise have been difficult or challenging, or barrier.
Alexis Bonnell: The third thing I would end on is just that, when we look at recent grand challenges we’ve done, the Women Connect Grand Challenge, the Communitarian Grand Challenge, we were so lucky in the Women Connect Grand Challenge to have more than 500 applications from 87 countries around the world. That is amazing, but imagine if we had actually been able to during that open period to host a conversation around why closing the gender digital divide mattered. Why a woman should expect to be a digital citizen, the same way as a man. Imagine just what that community conversation would have done to stimulate even greater ideas. Even more submissions. In all likelihood a number of globally deployable solutions, that not only US Aid could use, but UNICEF, AIDS Foundation, and others.
Alexis Bonnell: For all of these reasons, I think if we are going to be true to the idea of evolving our programming, we have to understand that that includes connecting with people differently, engaging with people differently, and hopefully be better at using resources like this in the future.
Shawn Powers: It is terrific, and conceptually it makes tremendous sense the aligned missions and goals of US Aid and the public diplomacy aspects of the State Department, naturally align, so it is wonderful to see this coming together.
Shawn Powers: Are there specific examples of where these programs have actually come together and worked on the ground?
Alexis Bonnell: Yeah, absolutely. In Nigeria, we’ve been able to work with a number of partners, including State, on our Pet far 15 year anniversary review. In Miramar, we were able to stimulate the US Aid sponsored peace process, highlighting a book called The Crying Peace, just to speak and post a conversation around peace. In Honduras, I think it’s really important for the ability, that we have collectively as a partnership, to convene government stakeholders, local players, and others around issues like gender based violence. In West Africa, being able to really have a conversation about what land use has looked like, how it’s changed. I think what we’ve done so far well, is use the convening and conversational power. What I would love to see us do in the future is start to add the programmatic elements, and things like that to our work. The customer feedback loops, that we are really hungry for, but we haven’t yet optimized.
Shawn Powers: Terrific, thank you so much. Michelle I can barely see you from over here, but you’re still here, that’s good. In 2015 the advisory commission on Public Diplomacy issued a report; Public Diplomacy at Risk: Protecting Open Access for American Centers, raising concern about the potential closure of free standing, open access American center to secure and seek destruction and counter terrorism act of 1999.
Shawn Powers: The act requires all US agencies to be co-located on the embassy, consulate, and annex compounds, and maybe automatically applied to US controlled public diplomacy spaces, including American Spaces, in Mexico City, Jerusalem, New Deli, and Shanghai. Since that 2015 report what has changed? What are you doing to prevent these spaces from being closed, or moved to locations that are far removed from urban centers, or city centers?
Michelle Mason: Alright, so several things have changed since 2015. I think one of the most important things, is there is now a dedicated person in the management office, in the office of American Spaces, who is a liaison between OPO and DS. To talk about these exact issues. We also have a permanent establishment of a ROPO DS working group, where all of us get together on regular basis to discuss upcoming projects, existing projects, and where we need to make changes. What this has done is now, our and IIP, are now included in this thoughtful strategic process of whether or not to move these off compound spaces, on compound. When they do need to be on compound, implementing different design standards to ensure that they maintain their open access and their forward modern strategic thinking.
Michelle Mason: We work in concert with OPO and DS, we have a very good relationship with them now. We are contacted when OPO is designing a new embassy, a new consulate, or a major renovation that would involve an American center on the compound. We are included in those design elements, we work with our colleagues at post, and we work with our colleagues at PD bureaus to ensure that all the needs are met.
Michelle Mason: There is also a 2009 sense of Congress, where Congress acknowledged that public diplomacy needs to be out, and open to the people and publicly accessible. What this does is allow the secretary to look favorably upon co location waivers, when they are necessary. We know that our off compound centers are very costly. We do look that this very strategically, and where it is absolutely necessary. Then just this year we have updated the OVO design standards, for all American Spaces going forward, anything that is designed in a new embassy compound or new consulate compound, will implement the open access principles that were established by the RODO working group back in 2016, for unescorted access, for locating in a way that is far enough away from our sensitive areas so that they can have WIFI. To include WIFI infrastructure, to allow people to bring in their electronic devices. All of these elements are now included in OVO’s design standards.
Michelle Mason: As well as incorporating the Smithsonian, American Spaces, design standards for the color schemes to make all of them around the world very similar in look. When you walk into an American Space, no matter where you are at, you will know that you are at America.
Shawn Powers: Cool, fascinating. Given that nearly 85 percent are partners spaces, this is to say spaces that are hosted and often operated by partners that are not US Government employees, how important is this kind of large chunk of American Spaces, in protecting this crucial aspect of America’s capacity to engage with foreign public’s.
Michelle Mason: Well, these spaces are very important, they are two legs of the three legged stool that we have for our American Spaces, our two partners the BNCs and the Corners and that are American centers. So we know that the cost of building, or running American centers is very high, so when our security conditions permit, and we have the flexibility, we think that we can have the platforms in the local environment to have the best balance of security, and access, and cost efficiency.
Michelle Mason: So the Department makes a conscious effort to be prudent with the tax payers dollars, to have these partnerships models. However, we do have some very restrictive environments, due to security reasons, or local government restrictions, where we need to have diplomatic facilities in order to advance our public engagement platforms. These are the countries where we focus then our funds, and our resources on the American centers. It really is a joint effort, we need all three in ordered to advance our public diplomacy goals.
Shawn Powers: Great, thank you.
Shawn Powers: Aviva you started to sketch up the kind of scope of the relationship between American Spaces and the Smithsonian, but I was hoping you could tell us a bit more about the idea book and the programming book. In addition to that some of the in person virtual training that the Smithsonian has done to make sure that all of these principles and ideas are actually filtered all the way to the folks that are actually running these places. In addition to that can you talk about lessons learned what worked, what didn’t work, and how can we get this even better moving forward.
Aviva Rosenthal: Thank you, to start with I think I was, there was a learning curve on the Smithsonian’s part, having to learn what OVO means and how, all the acronyms we had to learn. We also had to learn how do people in the field actually receive and use information. This is a process to understand how do people in American Spaces, do they download it, is it on a website, do they get it in a newsletter, do they have the bandwidth to run video, and all of these different things were taken into account. So we developed two different tool kits and they are quite different, one is this idea book.
Aviva Rosenthal: The idea book is really a design book, and that one is a little bit simpler, although we had to learn how procurement is done. These were all things we really had kind of work, at first we recommend all these wonderful products, but nobody could get them. Then they were useless. We spent a lot of time trying to understand the State Department, procurement, how people in the field received information.
Aviva Rosenthal: What is really important, and again learning for us is something that we have done on a content side, who’s actually using this material? Is it State Department, public diplomacy employees, is it local employees, is it a local American Spaces director. How many different people do they end up talking to before the content actually gets into their hands. I think one thing IAP has done really well, and we have done it together, is we have come up different resources on a website, and different platforms by which people can communicate and share best practices.
Aviva Rosenthal: First of all the in person training, has been really invaluable because we have created this literal kit, that contains all kinds of content from the Smithsonian. Everything from free downloadable exhibitions, to material that you could use for Women’s History month, or Black History month, or during Presidential election. All the great content and resources of the Smithsonian, had to be kind of looked at and adapted for American Spaces, not knowing who was going to be on the receiving end.
Aviva Rosenthal: A lot of our content is meant for teachers and teachers who are used to teaching in a class room setting. We had to take that content and look at the English language level, look at how long it would take to turn it into an actual 45 to an hour long program, make the content really easily available, everything that needed to be passed out was part of the package. If it was video, if you didn’t have the bandwidth to download it, or to view it, stream it, you could download it on a stick. We went through all these different issues to make sure our content was able to get out to as many people, and training them on how to actually use it was important.
Aviva Rosenthal: There were so many different kinds of training, again in person training in different parts of the world, virtual training. It’s one thing to say here, your content is available to you, it’s another thing to actually have to use it, and feel comfortable with it. The training was very hands on, we ran through different scenarios and we pretended like we were actually doing the program, so that people really start to feel comfortable using it. Tell their other colleagues they could use it, and really sharing best practices. It has been really great.
Aviva Rosenthal: Now where we are, is seeing how many posts and American Spaces around the world, how they are adapting this content. I think another key to content, is that everyone wants to use it slightly differently. They want to adapt it to the local context. It was really important for us to deliver that Smithsonian content, but in a way that could be slightly adapted, added on to, and utilized. We’ve been following a lot of different places around the world and watching how different spaces take our content and adapts it to create Summer camps out of it. They create workshops out of it, they are using it in all different ways. We created an entrepreneurship incubator, it was a 15-part series out of our Smithsonian Art Lab, from Hirshhorn Museum, and that is a piece of content that has been used in many parts of the world really successfully.
Aviva Rosenthal: It was meant to be modular, so people could use a single part, or they could run it as a 15 session course. For us the training of everyone from PD officers, to American Spaces directors, to program programmers, has really been invaluable. It is something that continues to this day. We are still talking to people all around the world, and making sure they feel really confident and really comfortable using that programming.
Aviva Rosenthal: I would say just as a note on the idea book, at the beginning we were training people, and we said okay you can do this too, you can redesign a whole space. It was like people were panicked, I think over this idea that they had to sort of remake an entire space on their own. This book was really able to point them into very specific directions and with some help from us at the beginning but people are doing it themselves. It has given people confidence to know that they can remake and reshape these places, completely on their own, and have this wonderful Smithsonian content to use.
Shawn Powers: Chris one of the questions I get mostly from not the State Department is that sure these are nice places, great that we have them, but do they really contribute directly to US National Security priorities. So I was hoping you could speak a bit as to how American Spaces and the programs that are hosted there, help us to further our goals to counter balance extremism, counter disinformation, promote young entrepreneurship, rule of law, good governance, things that really matter to the broader community of national security professionals.
Chris Dunnett: Yeah, sure and this has been a big focus of us and the American Spaces program, and really IAP as a bureau, and kind of how to move beyond mutual understanding, which is still important, engaging people overseas to getting at specific policy issues. It can be challenging, but first I want to give a little context, a little sort of prevention versus cure perspective for you.
Chris Dunnett: So the entire cost of the American Spaces program is equal to less than 5 hours of US presence in conflict areas abroad, if you use the 2017 OKO budged of 64.6 billion dollars as a proxy. Just a little bit of perspective there. How American Spaces are advancing US national interests, I think what’s most telling is how embassy, our embassies and consulates overseas are seeing how valuable their modernized American Spaces are. Just in the past year we have received over 50 cables, reports, from embassies and consulates really highlighting and bragging about how valuable their American Spaces are in supporting their mission goals. Let me tell you that’s not usual, that never used to happen.
Chris Dunnett: These aren’t just reports from public diplomacy officers like me patting themselves on the back for doing wonderful programs. These cables really show integrated efforts across multiple embassy sections, and agencies that are really effectively using American Spaces networks to address top policy issues. Such as, some of the ones Shawn mentioned countering corruption, extremism, and disinformation. Empowering women and girls in support of US human rights and economic developing goals. Reducing cross-border tensions by virtually connecting through American Spaces. Afghans and Pakistanis, Pakistanis and Indians, Israelis and Palestinians, all of which is happening through American Spaces.
Chris Dunnett: So just some illustrative examples, if I can Shawn. One is really a compelling is our American center in Moscow, some of you may know that we, the origin of kind of the American corner partnership model, started in Russia back in the 1990s. We used to have a bunch of American corners all across Russia. Today we have zero, American Spaces externally in Russia. In 2015 our last remaining American center, that had been a Stall work facility through communism, through the soviet era, through everything was forced to be closed by the Russian government. So we had to quickly scramble our mission there, and set up an American center on the embassy compound in a temporary building.
Chris Dunnett: What happened was kind of really impressive to us, and now we’ve had record breaking growth in visitors, and engagement through that center. It really shows its importance as a place where young Russians feel like they can freely gather and discuss professional and social issues affecting their daily lives. It’s not easy, they have to go through the Russian security officials who check their passports and stuff before they even get into the embassy compounds. You have to show an active interest in engaging with the United States to come there.
Chris Dunnett: Since 2015 the Moscow American center has hosted over 1100 events, had 25000 visitors. I like this quote from a Russian university student who was visiting the American center who said, “Visiting the American center gives me a great opportunity to plunge into American culture. It is also a good opportunity for cultural exchange between Russia and the United State. It makes me happy that the center is located on the territory of the embassy, right off the street you are immersed in a little slice of America.” That’s kind of what we were going for.
Chris Dunnett: Just a couple of other examples, Ukraine, so there we have a big network of American Spaces, that really offer a tangible counterpoint to relentless Russian propaganda and misinformation efforts. They do this by offering daily events about the United States. Access to accurate information, the latest technology, and other resources. English improvement, to allow them to access other forms of information, directly. This helps to inoculate those Ukrainian audiences against disinformation. That American Spaces network in Ukraine in 2017 had over a million visitors, which was a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
Chris Dunnett: Another is our mission in Morocco, used its priority American Space to engage with thousands of Moroccan young people, to produce productive partnerships and connections. Those young people tell the staff there that US culture interests and influences them. That they want to experience the American Dream for themselves.
Chris Dunnett: In Tajikistan, young people through the American Spaces in Dushanbe, and the network of American Spaces there, really highlighted to the staff there the importance to them of closer ties with their Central Asian counterparts. We use the network, and adapted its capabilities, technology, and programming to have regional programming across Central Asia. Also, a lot programming connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan, because there is a large Afghan refugee community there, it’s been very successful.
Chris Dunnett: At America was mentioned earlier, it was sort of an originator and remains a star. Just in 2017 over 400 thousand visitors there. They really program, they have a mission committee, that is led by the Deputy Chief of Mission, and participates with all the different agencies there, that decides what the programming is going to be and how they are going to use this facility. A great example from this last year, that you will see in our annual report is they had a month long program to promote US Aviation, both civil and military aviation, in this important market. They partnered with Lockheed Martin, and brought and F-16 flight simulator to At America. People could come there and directly experience this technology. They had a whole range of programs around US aviation technology, and civilian aviation, and other sorts of issues.
Chris Dunnett: It really got to the policy interests and all of those kinds of things help to dispel the negative narratives and reinforce the value of the United States as sort of the preferred partner there in Southeast Asia. There are just a few examples and again you can find more in the annual report.
Shawn Powers: I was going to say, I think you could probably go on and on Chris with examples, but thank you for sharing those.
Shawn Powers: I genuinely mean it’s great to hear how it works on the ground.
Shawn Powers: I’ve got a question I’m hoping you can answer somewhat briefly, which is the office of American Spaces annual budget is approximately 17 million dollars, and that resulted in an approximately 58 million participants in American Spaces in 2017. One of the lesser known facts, is that foreign governments actually contribute a lot of resources to supporting the American Spaces, both in terms of human resources, but also just the buildings themselves. Can you talk a bit about the scale of those resources and how much we’re getting for our relatively small investment vis a vi what other governments are contributing to these spaces.
Chris Dunnett: Yeah, sure. Just to reiterate what Sim said earlier, in our view American Spaces offer a huge return on really a remarkably small investment by the American people. It was noted before that 84 percent of American Spaces, so 554 of them, are partnerships with host country institutions. Again it was said earlier what does this mean, it means that they give us the space for free, and most of the time they give us staff to operate them for free.
Chris Dunnett: That’s the model that allows us to have this extensive network around the world. Because of that, because most of these partnerships are with foreign public institutions, public libraries, universities, all those things. What that effectively means is that the United States is leveraging foreign government resources to support US public diplomacy. So it is kind of interesting model there. It is really different from one other example you might think of is Fulbright, right. So the foreign governments contribute to the Fulbright program, but really that’s a two way street. Because they are getting their own public diplomacy benefit out of that by Americans coming and spending a significant period in their own country.
Chris Dunnett: Whereas the American Spaces model, those foreign governments don’t sort of directly contribute to sort of fund, they may not even know or appreciate that they’re doing it. The very fact that they are paying the salaries and they are providing the facilities for this, they’re underlying US public diplomacy. You might think why, why would they do something like that? Really it is an unusual opportunity for us, it really exists due to the United States place in the world. It’s that enduring draw of the American ideal and the associated desire of those foreign institutions to have a relationship with the United States through our embassies and consulates.
Chris Dunnett: So if we were to say, what would it cost us if we had to operate this whole network that we have on our own. So we haven’t totally gained this out, but a rough calculation that doesn’t even include salaries would cost the US at least another 130 million dollars a year, to operate the number of facilities that we have. Again that doesn’t include paying the people to run them.
Shawn Powers: Well, that would be a substantial increase in your budget Chris, so we will see what we can do.
Shawn Powers: Alexis it’s great to hear, the US Aids advocacy and favor of American Spaces, I’m also curious though what can we do better. How do we make these spaces more accessible, more usable, more attractive to you and other partners across the US Government.
Alexis Bonnell: Sure, so I’m a pretty plain talker and thinker, what I found is that as you are looking to evolve behavior thought process, there’s three things that have always worked for me. Number one make our lives easier, number two make them look good, and number three help them be more effective or efficient. So in the name of those, a few practical thoughts.
Alexis Bonnell: I think number one in the making their lives easier, the more that American spaces can actually put in a digitally accessible format exactly what’s available in what space. So to this point what types of format, how many people can you seat, those details for people like me when I am looking to convene are really the ones that I have to answer. So the easier you make that on me, the more I can see my need in your space, and the more I don’t have to talk to anyone, I can find that, absolutely the better.
Alexis Bonnell: The second I think is, helping us figure how we get the word out to partners. I think a lot of people just don’t know that this spaces is accessible to them, that they could qualify for it. So certainly from a narrative lens, whether that’s the US mission director, ambassador, or others, you are making it clear in the community that these spaces exist.
Alexis Bonnell: I think number three, again making the lives easier, a welcome wagon, or kind of concierge booker. So if I know I can send an email, and I didn’t get an answer back really quickly from someone telling me what’s available and pointing me in the right direction. We’ve certainly see it at AID, when we’ve wanted to influence behavior change that, that has been helpful.
Alexis Bonnell: I think another one is interestingly enough being able to actually, you talked about 58 million visits, those visitors represent an incredible amount of access to a local community. One thing that I would love when I’m doing my next Grand Challenge, and US Aid is tackling another issue, is that if the local American Space can also maintain a list of opted in local people who want to know about things, and I can see that almost as a marketing tool, to be able to get out messages, opportunities, I had never thought about leveraging that, but that concept of meshing the real people with the digital access is something that would be great.
Alexis Bonnell: Finally, I think the program of agnostic nature of American Spaces, is really important to making sure that people can see them as a use for many things. But I would say a consideration of potentially, maybe each year, outlines some major themes that the rest of USG might see themselves in or be able to provide programming to. So as an example, and in a relevant to the local community, so maybe digital literacy, or financial literacy. There are many organizations outside the USA that I think have things to contribute there. So carving out agnostic programming and keeping a space for that while allowing there to be themes that we can participate in or potentially gather around would also be welcome.
Shawn Powers: Those are great and I think I got them all. I also love the idea of a concierge booker, at the office of American Spaces, that’s wonderful.[crosstalk 00:49:31]
Alexis Bonnell: I’m sure there’ll be a budget increase, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.
Shawn Powers: Yeah. I’d be a pretty terrible concierge.
Shawn Powers: Michelle in 2017 your office established a new agreement with consulate affairs, sort of expanding the reach of some of the design principles that you all have been finalizing, and cultivating. Can you tell us a bit more about that partnership, where it stands, and what is your goal in working more closely with CA.
Michelle Mason: Sure, so this was Chris’s brain child being overseas in embassies, you are always vying for space to hold programs, space to hold meetings, space to bring people in for different things, and the consulate waiting room after consulate hours is empty. It is usually just a white institutional waiting room, with fixed chairs or fixed benches. So Chris saw this as an opportunity to partner with consulate affairs to use the Smithsonian American Spaces designs and create a more welcoming space, not only for the consulate visitors during the day, but also after hours to provide additional floor space, additional meeting rooms, additional programming space for anybody in the embassy.
Michelle Mason: After numerous discussions with consulate affairs, and laying out the groundwork, and not interfering with their flow of traffic, we put together a joint memo to ODO, establishing Smithsonian American Spaces design elements, into the design standards for all new consulate waiting areas. What this will do will just bring in a little splash of color, some red, white, and blue. Maybe some sliding screens or pull down shades on the interview windows, so that they can be covered during programming events. To transform that space to include the infrastructure for WIFI, when it becomes available to the use in our embassies and consulates. To include more outlets on the floors for podiums, and for speakers. Spaces for our graphics. Also, including connections for large screen TVs to connect technology to use Chrome bits, to not only put up the Visa information and also maybe the ambassador’s Twitter feed, or the Facebook page of the embassy.
Michelle Mason: To give a little more of America, to those people who are sitting there, they want to go to the United States, that is why they are there, so let’s give them a little taste of America. In addition, for the after hours, we can transform this space by using functional furniture, by using the moveable stackable chairs, and now we have a very large open meeting space where we can have programs.
Michelle Mason: One of the, in Lima, the public affairs officer and the consulate actually got together, and they transformed their outdoor waiting area. It just had a metal roof cover and some cement benches for people waiting to go into their visa interviews. They took some funds from post, from public affairs, from CA, and from IIP American Spaces, and completely transformed this space. They call it the V space now, for virtual and visa. They have these touch screen TVs, they have iPad bars where you can get information, not only about the United States, but also visa information, schedule follow up interviews if necessary. They have these red, white, and blue and big, the Statue of Liberty at the entrance. It is just fantastic, and some big picture books about the United States for when people are waiting.
Michelle Mason: So if you see the photos of Lima, that is one that has been completed. We are currently working with several other consulate sections to mini face lifts, incorporating, using the idea book, and that is what we direct them to. To use the idea book, there’s your colors, there’s your furniture, there’s your designs, to incorporate this into the consulate waiting rooms. So we are at the very beginning. Lima is the only one that is completed, but we have several others that are in progress and we hope to move forward on this.
Shawn Powers: Terrific, great. I have just one more question, then I am hoping we can open it up to questions from the commissioners and the audience. Aviva sometimes people ask me why do we even need physical spaces anymore to engage with foreign publics, everything is digital, digital platforms are more robust, digital engagement strategies are becoming more sophisticated. Why would the US Government want to invest all these resources to in person engagement, if everything is going online. I am curious how you think about that issue, from the perspective, both as someone who pioneered this partnership, but also the Smithsonian.
Aviva Rosenthal: Wow, you’re asking a museum person why people should come to a museum. No I think nothing is going to replace in person experiences. I think from a Smithsonian perspective it is very obvious, if you’re that 8 year old kid that goes to the Air and Space Museum and sees those planes in front of you, you imagine yourself being an astronaut, or a pilot. You are not going to get that feeling if you just see a picture online, it’s just not possible.
Aviva Rosenthal: Having said that, you know American Spaces, part of the magic is the sense of community, it’s why people leave their houses to be with other people, meet other people, and have a communal experience. To Chris’s point I think the physicality of American Spaces has become so important when, you realize that people have to leave their house at a point in time, they have to go through security, they have to get their passport, they have to have their bags looked at or even in many cases taken away to enter the space. By the time they get in there, they want to be there, they are really dedicated to what they are going to learn and the experience they are going to have. That is really where the magic happens.
Aviva Rosenthal: However, I think digital programs are really important, A because people can talk to other communities that they just really wouldn’t have access to without the digital experience. The digital experience helps to broaden the types of programs that you can have, you can be able to talk to all kinds of really compelling speakers, who are in a different country, or a different place. There is like a blended approach, is the way I would put it, it is being mostly employed in these spaces and it’s employed at museums, which is that you still come to the space, even if you are seeing that digital speaker, it is still an experience. You still come as a group and you meet other people, and you talk beforehand, and you talk afterwards. You are still able to have that in person experience, even if that program is digital.
Aviva Rosenthal: I think that a lot of lessons around MOOCs, the Massively Open Online Course, is a great example, that anyone can sit at home and take a MOOC at their own pace, but when a space has actually introduced MOOCs in the spaces, people knew that they could go, they could talk, there was facilitator, there was a person they could ask questions to. It made the experience richer, people were more engaged, they finished on time and they remembered the information.
Aviva Rosenthal: I think it’s the communal experience that deepens the relationship with the US. Actually I want to go back to one thing if I could, I repeated something Chris said, but I happened to be there, so it was so compelling. Which was, in Casablanca, in Morocco, it speaks to the switches, we did a focus group, with a lot of these young maybe early 20s, late teens early 20s, and I was really struck with what one of them, they all said some amazing things, but one of them specifically said that they come there because this is like their home. They felt really comfortable with the people there. I acknowledged that their economic outlook wasn’t so bright, there really weren’t any jobs for young, especially for young men there. There was a lot of temptation amongst their friends to go out and be attracted to some other things. He said but being here gives me hope, I see my future, I see the other opportunities that I have, and this is why I come here.
Aviva Rosenthal: It is a startling, this is why these physical places need to exist. You’re not going to have that depth of interaction just digitally.
Shawn Powers: Wonderful, wonderful. I would like to invite the commission members, up if you please.
Anne Wedner: Okay, so thank you guys all for a really great presentation, really, really outstanding. Shawn thank you for putting this together. I am a gigantic supporter of American Spaces and we’ve spent a lot of time as commissioners traveling around to them, including many of the ones mentioned today.
Anne Wedner: I do think, you know though, I have two takes on it, which I wish we could focus on as we talk about the value of this, I agree that we touched a little bit on the American Dream that is American center, of course the retail value of having actual locations is underscored by decisions like online marketers like Amazon, now opening retail spaces. You understand it has a different place in all of our hearts and mind.
Anne Wedner: But one thing that we don’t do well enough in the State Department, and as we thinking about international relations, and I think to our detriment, is that we haven’t had the American people understand how important a projected presence of America is for the economic vitality of our own country. I think sometimes well pull numbers like the 10s of billions of dollars that are brought to the American shores, through Study USA and what having foreign students come and study in US institutions of higher learning. This is real money that adds to the bottom line of our economy.
Anne Wedner: I think the same thing, and I think it’s under exploited in American Spaces, is the potential for private/public partnerships. Chris, you and I talked about this, and to not have a robust effort, as far as I am aware, the Commerce Department doesn’t have anything like this, and in many ways, it may seem crass, selling American product is another reason why we have a forward presence throughout the world. We want people to like our brand, and buy our product. I think we all I know, I come from a private sector background, but Proctor and Gamble understood the value of brand very much. So, if your mother used Tide then you use Tide. If your mother likes United States, you like the United States.
Anne Wedner: The younger that we can get the people, that we are teaching English, the younger we would be able to insert ourselves into the hearts and minds of people. I think these centers are critical, not only for the success of our national security objectives, but also our economic security. To disengage from that would be to the detriment of our collective wellbeing. I don’t know if we make that point often enough and strongly enough.
Anne Wedner: To show exactly how much comes to the United States from people learning English, wanting to study here, wanting to do business here, wanting to trade with us, being interested in American solutions, American companies, being able to extend their presence. I guess the other part of it is, I would like to see more, I know some of this happens but I don’t think it’s ever enough. To coordinate with private companies and private foundations in their efforts abroad.
Anne Wedner: For example, you have the Schwarzman Institute in Beijing, how often do we ask Schwarzman’s callers to come to our American Space in China? Ever, probably not. Schwarzman has gone around and picked up people that are unbelievable representatives of the United States, and we’re not using that asset. Similarly, you know there are departments like Seeds of Change, in Israel and Palestine, or the Palestinian territories that bring people to the United States on exchange programs, how much do we follow up with that back in country, and allow them to do programming through our centers. I don’t know is the answer, and I don’t know about so many of these private experiences.
Anne Wedner: What I would love to do is see if we can do a better job of pulling together these private experiences, along with our infrastructure that we’ve got out there that forward deployed. And also think about then do we convince American corporations, and private entities they have a much more robust funding interest in these efforts. I think it’s really long over do, and I don’t know why, I know Chris is helping, but we don’t have personal staff for it.
Anne Wedner: I would love to see us say, okay one of our recommendations as a commission is to actually put some thought into having someone who is working on gathering funding for this and supporting it, employing the private sector into the public efforts. Any way that is more a comment that a question.
Anne Wedner: My question to Chris basically, I visit a number of these American Spaces, and very, very impressive. One of my examples is being in Mexico and I think I mentioned to you before the meeting, the access for these people to get off their buses, and there’s a lot of foot traffic coming in and going in and out. Hundreds of people visiting while I was there during the day. It was wonderful, but unfortunately because there is no embassy being moved, into a very, not a suburban place, where it is really difficult to get to. I mean it is going to be very hard for people to have access to get to, this specific American Space, and the American Embassy, which I said was being constructed by them.
Anne Wedner: My question to you is the American Spaces that you’ve created now, or going forward are they going to be in more foot traffic places or are they going to be, people need access to these places, it is very important. Again my question is what’s the plan for the future?
Chris Dunnett: It’s a good question, and I mean not everybody would agree with this, but I look at Mexico City, not as an example of failure, but as an example of success, you know, sort of what Michelle has talked about, where that was the first time where there was a conscious process of planning that involved public diplomacy professionals back in Washington, to sort of look at what is the strategic vision for what we need to do in Mexico City, for the next few years.
Chris Dunnett: Combined with you know security regulations, and laws and things like that. So the new Benjamin Franklin Library that’s been designed as part of the new compound, was specifically designed with all these open access principles that Michelle talked about. That is where they originated, was in the discussion, because the embassy wanted to keep that facility off compound. They applied for it, and diplomatic security didn’t approve it in that case.
Chris Dunnett: Here’s also a case where the embassy isn’t located like the equivalent of Dallas Airport, it’s in a reasonable place. Yes there isn’t quite as good public transportation today, as there is where the Benjamin Franklin Library is, but I would bet true that, that changes. The same as we’ve seen in our embassy in London, whenever the United State built a big thing, it’s like building a metro stop, things grow up around it. So there we designed in a separate access control facility, so that people can come in, that they can have unescorted access, if there’s WIFI people can bring in their types of things, so it provides the American Spaces experience that we want people to have.
Chris Dunnett: But again we sort of thought about that carefully, as to when we do that and when we don’t. Because it costs a lot of money per square foot to build, US Government facilities. We have to always look at what is the best way to accomplish our engagement, is it through a US Government facility, is it with US Government staff, do we have adequate partner staff that we could do it with. Again because that facility has been run so well, and so successfully over the years, the decision was it is in our interests to keep this a US government facility. So we need to adapt, we are planning in accordance with the law that we have to abide by, to in the best way we can accomplish the public engagement goal.
Chris Dunnett: I think that’s the way, as Michelle said, there are various different models we’ve had other ones, where we’ve talked about in Iman, Jordan, so they had to close down a facility due to security. If you’ve been to the embassy compound there it’s a not a new compound, it’s stuffed full of five times as many people as it was ever meant for.
Chris Dunnett: Then there was a model that going to be built, and it was going to be very expensive, and the security couldn’t be met and so we said let’s rethink this. Can we do this in a partnership model, is this the best investment of US Government resources. I think that’s really what Michelle said, the fact that we’re a part of the process now. Consulate affairs has always been part of the process, whenever they design a new embassy or consulate they talked with CA here in Washington. The way it used to work, was if they were designing a new embassy or consulate, an ODO team would come out and talk to whoever was the mid-level or junior public affairs officer there and say what do you need 20 years from now. There was no engagement with the strategic leadership in public diplomacy. We’ve changed that, really Michelle has changed that. I think we’ll at least be thoughtful going forward.
Shawn Powers: Great, thank you. I think I’d like to open things up to the audience and our first hand Mr. Brian Gibel if you could wait for the microphone and introduce yourself that’d be great.
Brian Gibel: Thanks, yes, Brian Gibel, House of Foreign Affairs committee. I want to thank Shawn and the commission, and the commission members for hosting another great public meeting, and for the panel here for your comments. I am detailee to the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am coming from the State Department, and 16 years in the field. Worked at many of the spaces you’ve talked about, the one big one in Seoul that you visited, it’s an excellent one. I’ve helped brand the one in Shanghai, that later, then had some issues in security, that I can get into later. We’ve really transformed the space with your help, actually the guide book, and we rebranded it using the furniture and everything else to really change the not the space, but also how people come in utilizing it.
Brian Gibel: What you’ve done, the innovations that you’ve made, have really done so much to make those spaces more accessible, more impactful, but really to get to Chris’s point was more programs that are aligned with our US policy interests.
Brian Gibel: Couple questions to throw out, and if they’re too many you can take which ever ones you want. First just how would you answer, how would you respond to people who talk about the old days, the USA libraries, these large facilities where many people come through, even just for the air conditioning, and probably for the WIFI, but they were large spaces filled with lots of people. I remember seeing one of the last vestiges of this in India, some years ago, I remember the big space, there was a line out the door to the big step back, down the street and around the building. They’re all in our target age for what we’re looking for, that 25 to 35 year individuals.
Brian Gibel: So if you could answer that question, what do you say or respond having crossed the Rubicon, have we gotten close to those numbers or are we getting close to maybe something is even more effective than the past. How do you respond to something like that. And also if there’s more time the resources that we put into it, we spend a lot in the old days on books. I remember being in a space once and pulling down all the law journals that we spent thousands of dollars for that nobody was reading, I thought maybe wasn’t good steward of tax payer dollars, but we do spend still for these very expensive data basis, which when they were first set up was really one of the big advantages to these spaces because you get mined for all sorts of information about the United States.
Brian Gibel: Are we still funding them, are they still of uses in this new digital age for your information. And I was also thinking about this concierge model, IRC director, the Information Resource Center director, is really I see the person as that, that fulfills that role, if they’re not doing it maybe that position needs to change.
Brian Gibel: I also want to ask about security, but it’s probably too much. Maybe I can ask you later Michelle about how things are going in Shanghai or these other posts.
Shawn Powers: Thank you.
Chris Dunnett: Yeah, I can quickly take a couple of those and it would be good to get the security point. To the first point to sort of the change from the style big places, and why people are coming. If they’re just coming kind of for the air conditioning or the WIFI.
Chris Dunnett: I think it’s not sort of either or, it’s sort of both and, we can do all those things. It sort of gets to the importance of what if even the Smithsonian team has done in terms of creating, sort of a user experience as we call it. Because like Apple thinks about this, right, you’re going into the Apple store just to play with the stuff there at the table, but they are communicating something to you whether you want to or not. When you walk through the door you are getting messaging from them, that’s what we’re doing now. So even if that person just coming there to study for some exam, its taking better advantage of creating a user experience with graphics, with messaging, with using digital signage on TVs, whether it is there or in the consulate waiting rooms, to deliver messaging to them.
Chris Dunnett: Then also the flexible space, having more than one thing going on at the same time. Again I was in New Deli, and I may have come here just to study for my thing, just because it is nice and air conditioned, but oh there’s that thing going on over there that I can’t help but overhear. Wow that’s really interesting. So either I might go to that, or at least I see that there are things going on like that all the time. So I might come and engage with that, oh I see there’s a thing going on and I can maybe study at university in the US. Oh okay.
Chris Dunnett: So it’s that flexible space that we’re not sort of cloistered off in separate rooms, but you can tell that there are other things going on.
Chris Dunnett: Then just on books and sorts of things, I want to recognized that we have several of our regional public engagement specialist here, Paula Kittendahl, who’s the acting office director. Allen Efentop, he’s the top one that heads up our field support, and Rose Jackson who has been a big part of the team for a long time. So they used to be called information resource officers, but these are the folks that are out there. We have 24 of these folks based around the world, that really advise the embassies and consulates on how to best use it.
Chris Dunnett: These are the folks that have been weeding out books, for years. Getting collections down, and it’s not because we hate books. People used to think, oh you hate books you only want iPads now, not true. What we want are books that people are really using. That are relevant to our mission, and what is our function. Our function is not to be the public library, in this society. It is not to be the university library getting to your point of data bases. We have cut a lot of those real hardcore research library type of data bases, and replaced them with things like Canopy, which public libraries used to provide short videos, a curating collection that get at American values, American history, and other sorts of things to use this programmatic tools. Press reader, which provides digital access to American newspapers and magazines. So using the technology effectively to just, to provide people access to information in different ways.
Shawn Powers: Michelle do you want to take a stab at the security question?
Michelle Mason: We do have security concerns and issues around the world, especially with the DS ban on laptops, and our government facilities. That has probably had the most negative affect in the last year.
Michelle Mason: Many posts misread that cable and they banned all electronic devices, even USBs. So this is where getting this information from the field, from our reps was vitally important, as these cables were coming in. Being able here for myself to have the relationship that I do with DS, and talking with DS and their desk officers. We said okay we need to reeducate this is not a ban on everything. At posts, it is up to the emergency action committee to determine whether or not they allow electronic devices on their compounds.
Michelle Mason: What we need though is for our reps and public affairs officers to be educated and say look this is what the ban is, it is with laptops, not with cell phones. All we need is to do these screening requirements, which DS pays for the equipment, and we are working with DS in Shanghai to get that equipment installed there so they can open back up. They need this equipment, we screen the devices, and they can be allowed, DS says it right here. It’s educating our public affairs officers, but it’s also educating our security officers overseas, and coming together in the middle, where we do here in DC, and bridge that gap.
Michelle Mason: So they understand our programmatic needs, we understand the security requirements, and we work in the middle so that both can be met.
Shawn Powers: Great, Chris I think wants to add,
Chris Dunnett: Yeah, I just briefly, I mean it is always good to be attention between security and public engagement, for both, for good reasons on both sides. But this is really an issue we need to figure out and tackle going forward, because the confluence of technology in humans is only going to get more so. It’s just not sustainable to tell people that they can’t bring this with them, when they come into your thing. That’s a big thing that we’re just going to have to figure out before there’s a chip in my head and you tell me I can’t come in.
Alexis Bonnell: Can I add something, I wanted to do a pile on, because I think this concept of connecting, like almost doing a product preview week, or other things. Whether those are American companies or products. The really interesting one where there’s probably more synergy between US Aid and Commerce, then we might imagine or anyone would imagine from the surface. I would just love to follow that suggestion. The other thing is I promised my step-mother that I would say something, that what she asked me how I was spending my time today, you never want to disappoint your step-mother. So what actually she asked me, and I didn’t know the answer to this, but she’s a retiree, she’s incredibly patriotic, she’s an incredible woman, she’s really proud to be an American, she’s fairly well traveled, and she said well do those spaces ever do something, where someone like me can have an ask an American moment.
Alexis Bonnell: An ask an American, so I think about other organizations in town like AARP or universities, or even social media influencers in the US, I would just put out there that thinking about the spaces as connective tissue, to real human beings, I think that we might be surprised how many real human beings, like my step-mom, would love to just to come an hour and man a booth, and be American. So just putting that out there because I promised mom.
Shawn Powers: That’s terrific, thank you so much.
Julie McKay: Hi, I’m Julie McKay, I work at the State Department for the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Public Affairs, I’ve been a public affairs officer in the field, with help of IIP and some people in this room, we remade a tiny little space in Lesotho, in a library with boring furniture, and everything using the Smithsonian guide book, into an amazing American Space, a piece of America. People came, the embassy, Americans used the space.
Julie McKay: But what I am interested I knowing is how do we evaluate the effectiveness, the impact of the spaces? I think often I looked at the number of visitors that came, the number of programs we had, and I’m wondering how can we best know the impact of what we’re doing. Is there something we’re setting up, what is the future of that kind of valuation?
Chris Dunnett: Shawn, has more expertise but I can take that on, and we’re very well aware of that and that’s a challenge for public diplomacy in general. One of the things we did in our American Spaces support funds proposal process this year, is added and actively asked embassies to say hey what do you want to invest in program evaluation and increasing your capability. Taking from USAIDs good example, I think it’s like you should spend 3 to 5 percent or something like that, on program evaluations.
Chris Dunnett: We want to do that, we’ve worked with our folks. We need a better data system to develop, you see the statistics we have in the annual report, I mean they are all fine and nice, but they don’t tell us enough. We’ve gone through a lot of work, it’s surprisingly hard to do this when you’re not technical people, like we don’t know what kinds of programs are going on. We know that we have two and a half million programs, but we don’t know a breakdown of what kind. If somebody asked us how many entrepreneurship programs, I can’t tell you that, and that’s ridiculous. I need to be able to tell you that.
Chris Dunnett: We need to invest more in technology, and thinking through some of these things. Again remembering that 84 percent of our places are non USG, right, non USG facilities operated by people we are not paying, so we need to make it as easy as possible for them getting to Alexis’ point. So that means some technology solutions where appropriate, but technology doesn’t work everywhere so we also have to consider that. We realize that this is an area where we really need a lot of investment. I think that we have an even better story to tell, than what we are telling right now, but we need to get some hard data behind it.
Chris Dunnett: Some of our places, like in Kiev and At America, that have the resources are doing some amazing focus grouping and regular kinds of surveys, and things like that, that do really return some amazing things. Again we have to make it easier for the little places to do that because they don’t have as much capability, and just one more point on little places. I kind of came in with a prejudice, well maybe we need a dramatically smaller number of these American Spaces, and as I went out around and went to South Africa where Apollo was.
Chris Dunnett: When you visit these small places and it is just amazing, the return on investment that those little tiny places give is astounding. I was totally converted, for some of these places it’s like ten thousand dollars a year, and what you are getting out of that is huge. I think that we need to look at the appropriate solution and not be all about the glamour and the glitz and realize that there are appropriate solutions in every environment.
Aviva Rosenthal: Can I add a follow on, so we did track how many people were coming in but we didn’t have a data base to keep all of that information, and I know that IIP is working on a CRM, a contact management system, but it would be great to have that available in the spaces. Then it could link up to everyone, or region, or into the networks or something. We struggle to use Excel and keep our acts, whatever. We didn’t do a great job and we wished we had. So I didn’t know if maybe there were some plans to provide some of that to the spaces.
Shawn Powers: This is a great way to connect some issues, so the third recommendation, and the optimizing engagement report, which by the way, I am still encouraging you to grab a copy if you haven’t already, outlines a knowledge management system, that just like you described, cross the thresholds across bureaus, collapses all the different systems we have now, into a single one.
Shawn Powers: I am thrilled to share that the Office Policy Planning and Resources within the Public Diplomacy family is already starting to build this system, and as using our recommendation as some kind of guideline. So hopefully 12 to 24 months from we’ll have a great answer on that.
Shawn Powers: Unfortunately we are really out of time, I did see some hands go up at the end but I want to be respectful of everyone’s’ schedules so I am sorry but hopefully you can connect with people after the panel ends.
Shawn Powers: I would like to invite chairman Mr. Bill Hybl to offer some concluding remarks.
Bill Hybl: Thank you, Shawn, on behalf of the commission we want to thank all of you for being here. We thank Shawn and certainly our speakers today on giving us a real view of American Spaces, and the public diplomacy effort. Interestingly enough this is the 70th year for this commission, and I think that it is our goal to make sure the public component of diplomacy is represented, and I think represented well, as it has been.
Bill Hybl: We have our next meeting September 13th, which will have our annual report this a certainly a comprehensive view of public diplomacy around the world. We hope you’ll join us. We hope you’ll join us for that report. For those of you that haven’t seen the report, it really does take a global view, in a comprehensive way of public diplomacy by the United States. Thank you for joining us today, we hope to see you in September, or maybe sooner.
Bill Hybl: We are adjourned.