Blogging on Public Diplomacy: the UK in the USA

I have been pushing for our  overseas embassies blog, conduct blogger roundtables similar to the Under Secretary’s Blogger Roundtable that was based on a format established by the DOD Blogger Roundtable. And while I was told it is happening in the EUR bureau, I never heard the details.

All the while, the Brits have been doing it here. Andy Pryce, First Secretary Public Affairs Washington (gasp, Public Affairs is Public Diplomacy??), drew my attention to a plethora of FCO blogs around the world. There are parallels here to DipNote, the State Department’s public affairs blog, such as both are published by the respective foreign ministries and both include multiple voices. I think DipNote is doing well and has come along way, but it might look at the FCO effort for tips (including dumping the dark background).

As far as the current (as of this writing) post titled The Importance of Being Credible, I think Nick Cull’s seven steps are missing a tremendously important step (disclosure: I studied under Nick for my Master in Public Diplomacy): understanding. Yes, you must listen, pay attention to the implications of a “say-do” gap, realize you’re operating in a global information environment, etc. But unless you understand what you’re hearing when you listen and the what the target and non-target audiences are hearing when you speak and act, everything else crumbles. This is perhaps the greatest vector that public diplomacy is “not about you” but about them. Especially today, it is not “us versus them” but “them versus them”.

Check out Andy Pryce’s blog and poke around the Foreign Commonwealth Office’s other UK in the USA blogs.

6 Replies to “Blogging on Public Diplomacy: the UK in the USA”

  1. Good news, but what are they doing in the UK itself? Looks like some other elements of the US outreach model could usefully be transferred to the UK domestic audience. Bloggers? What bloggers?

  2. Actually Matt I see the ‘understanding’ as an implicit part of effective listening. Listening without understanding can swiftly enrage whoever one is supposed to be listening to. Listening and understanding also have to feed into policy formation. While it can’t always produce a policy change it may suggest the need for a clearer explanation of why the policy hasn’t changed. Nothing is as complimentary as being properly listened to and nothing is as irritating as a fake ‘listening tour’ by someone who really wants to do all the talking.

  3. Nick, fair enough, but today, I think it has become clear that simply paying attention to both sides are saying in a discourse is not enough. The understanding goes deeper than effective listening to the point it warrants addressing on your list. Fake ‘listening’ tours notwithstanding, we can listen to the feedback and dissect it, but understanding the context of both the conversation itself and elements beyond the interaction are equally if not more important. The implicit inclusion applies to understanding the immediate discourse when the important discourse may be between other groups where we are a third party or not even included at all. That is still public diplomacy as we can still shape that discourse and the resulting perceptions.Thanks for commenting.

  4. Thanks for your post Matt. It is early days for our US blogs – we hope to have more bloggers, more posts and develop a genuine dialogue on a good range of issues as we build momentum.ubiwar: The FCO’s own bloggers – ranging from David Miliband down – cover a range of issues and policy. Our Digital Diplomacy team back in the UK are also planning to expand our online outreach. Our blogs are on the internet and by definition are available to UK citizens as well as overseas audiences. Some of the issues discussed on the FCO blogs, such as the UK’s relationship with the EU, attract more comments from a UK domestic audience.
    We will be striving to continually improve our online outreach over the coming years and months. We have genuinely open minds on how we go about doing this.

  5. Hi Andy,Thanks for your comments. My point still stands however, although I should have made it more clearly.
    I applaud the FCO’s measures, and I’m sure you will be doing more in this field. There is so much scope for dialogue and mutual understanding that it can only be a good thing.
    I know how the internet works. Yes, blogs are available to domestic, as well as foreign, audiences. What I was referring to were the US outreach programs Matt refers to at the top of his post, i.e. the bloggers’ roundtables. I see no equivalent/parallel/analogue in the UK system although these may be in the pipeline. I genuinely don’t know if that’s the case or not.
    It seems anomalous for me to be invited by the US DoD to their roundtables, which are a very useful and positive program, yet to have nothing similar in the UK, where I am a citizen (subject?).
    The DoD program in particular has been a great opportunity for state and public to engage with one another in ostensibly transparent fora. I appreciate you can only speak for the FCO but I can’t yet imagine the Home Office, DFID or MOD undertaking such schemes.

  6. Ubiwar:Thanks for clarifying. I agree with your views on outreach.
    The FCO in London are encouraging all of their bloggers to reach out to the blogosphere.
    They have invited bloggers into the FCO (see – http://ideapolicy.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/i-could-blog-this-but-id-have-to-kill-you-civil-service-blogging/ ). We held a teleconference with bloggers prior to Jim Murphy’s summer visit to the US.
    We clearly need to do more in a systemic way. David Miliband has been very clear on the direction he wants our online outreach to go. We are happy to work with a range of partners and listen to your views on outreach.

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