Questioning the Difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy (Updated)

imageWe live in a world in which everyone who must manage and marshal public opinion, which ranges from democratically elected politicians to terrorists, rely on new and old media to stay relevant. Organizing for this information environment requires requires forethought and planning. The resulting functional structures and audience segments shapes the purpose, nature, and outcome of the engagement, regardless of whether it is one-way or two-way or one-to-one or one-to-many.

With getting further, here is an open question:

In your opinion, what is the difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy?

Please respond in the comments. Also, feel free to extend your response to include the difference between Defense Public Affairs and Information Operations or Psychological Operations.

I asked this same question on Twitter. Here are the answers received so far:

AFPADude: some would say audience, I would argue there is no difference anymore due to several factors

FantomPlanet: What are the differences btwn civil affairs and civil diplomacy?

Steve_Schippert:Affairs is about image, releases, projection while PubDip is about engagement, discussion, 2 way comm on issues. Methinks…

T M Russo: interesting question! my thoughts: public affairs= the workings of gov’t, public diplomacy communicates those workings

The following responses came through Facebook:

PA/PR: Channel based information outflow with the goal of message transfer. PD: Information outflow with the goal of message engagement (discourse,discussion, processing and retransmitting in new forms). Dependent on social media.

Well, the state department says PA is working with U.S. media and PD is programs overseas! Go figure.

Same as the difference between "Tactics" and "Strategy". PA = short term engagement, PD = long view.

No wonder nobody understands, unless we’re all talking tongue in cheek.
Logically, diplomacy applies to non-Americans. President Obama doesn’t conduct diplomacy when he meets with the governor of California. That’s politics. It is diplomacy when he meets with Mubarak. The "public" part refers to anyone outside a government. Thus, anyone outside a government outside the U.S.
Then, logic doesn’t often work and Smith-Mundt was originally written with domestic constituencies in mind and before "PD" became a working term.
Maybe, Matt, it’s time for a new conference!

Already in the works…

See also: see Nick Cull’s Engagement Is The New Public Diplomacy Or The Adventures Of A Euphemism Of A Euphemism

8 Replies to “Questioning the Difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy (Updated)”

  1. Just to confuse the issue slightly, in many areas outside the US, Public Affairs means something totally different – as in the lobbying of government!

  2. Whether their is a difference between public affairs and public diplomacy is an important area of exploration to me as well. (I am writing my doctoral dissertation proposal on government-citizen relations in US PD.) The comments on twitter and facebook demonstrate that a reasonable answer is “it depends.” ‘Not a very satisfying answer. Perhaps most people reading this would agree that the main State public affairs organization deals with “domestic” publics and media. But wait–international journalists participate in the daily press briefings and read main State press releases, right? At the same time, as mentioned, US embassies identify press/cultural officers as “public affairs officers.” Both of those organizational interpretations of public affairs operations have in common that they serve the “local” public. That organizing principle is very logical. However, it confuses PD and PA work from time to time, as the respondent who mentioned the Smith-Mundt Act recognized. What is global/foreign and what is local/domestic is subject to interpretation. However (again), as Clay Shirky writes, here comes everybody!, and public affairs and public diplomacy officers everywhere are constantly re-interpreting the meaning of “public.” I think it may be much more helpful to intrepret the organization of public affairs and public diplomacy as diplomacy governance. That is, governance with a bigger space for cross-sectoral and transnational relations. It makes sense, to me, anyway, given the dynamic and nuanced meaning-making of public and private, local and global, state and non-state organizations.

  3. Most fundamentally, I think, including the word ‘diplomacy’ implies a certain semblance of legitimacy.The EU and NATO use the term ‘public diplomacy’ to refer to their communications with publics of member states and (in NATO’s case) publics in whose countries they are engaged in operations. This is because talking of ‘diplomacy’ rather than ‘affairs’ implies that they are legitimate international actors, on a similar level to states.
    Within the United States’ political discourse ‘diplomacy’ is usually referred to as being in opposition to militarism thus it is generally seen as the peaceful, liberal option. Talking of public ‘diplomacy’ then also invokes this implication. Any historian of diplomacy will tell you how weird this interpretation is (one neat aphorism among many on diplomacy is that it is the art of ‘saying good doggie until you can find a rock’) but that’s how its generally talked about nevertheless.
    In short, public diplomacy is a phrase used when people want to legitimise and give a liberal sheen to their practices – public affairs is when they don’t feel the need to do that so much.
    Ultimately PD is whatever anyone says it is. Its most widely held definition is that spoken by the loudest voice – simple as that.
    Or as Nietzsche said, “only that which has no history is definable”

  4. Public affairs is a government’s–or any organization’s, group’s or entity’s–outreach program to the public. Public diplomacy is a government’s–rpt government’s–process of communicating with foreign–prt foreign–publics.Example of public diplomacy: The Washington Post lead editorial (June 5): Obama’s “address in Cairo offered an eloquent case for American values and global objectives–and it looked to be a skillful use of public diplomacy in a region where America’s efforts to explain itself have often been weak.”

  5. Woah Matt you’ve got me started.Given that we’re in organisations, roles or specialities that are for the most part about shaping perceptions and influencing you would think that we could get terminology sorted.
    Like most things, PA and the term PAO crept into the Australian military because we think the US does this stuff better. Originally we had PROs (which is a term I’ve also equally come to despise) who for the most part were limited to what the Brits now describe as Media Operations. More recently we’ve become MPAOs (M for Military) to make the distinction between the very few uniformed professionals and the hundreds of civvies. What we don’t have is the FA30 equivalent which leads to everyone utilising ‘IO” to push their own bandwagon. For some IO is a euphemism for CNO (please see the fleeting reference to it in our latest Defence white paper) while for others it just means Psyops and Int stuff (a historical legacy as our Army’s intelligence corps is the home of our Psyops capability, everything is done in a SCIF making it all dark, mysterious and completely misunderstood by all.) Then we too jumped on the IO bandwagon by cutting and pasting your doctrine without really looking at what limitations and constraints the US put on itself in this field when developing it … most don’t apply here. We even developed an “IO Squadron” in our Air Force which at the time did little more than COMSEC monitoring. And then of course we got to the point that doctrine had been published, including all of the terminology, but it proved to be so far outside of actual practice we don’t use it. Our IO doctrine in this area is essentially pre-2001 and no lessons from recent operations have been captured. So where does that leave us? Flying by the seat of our pants. Not really, we’ve made some important advances in recent years and really the biggest sticking point we have is seniors that come back from SAMs/ US Army War College who try to apply what they learned there to here. I don’t know how many times I’ve had arguments because our IO plans target more than just the enemy.
    At the Strategic Level we practice Strategic Communications using a definition that we stole and changed some Z’s for S’s and added in some U’s. Strategic Communications is acknowledged as a Whole of Government responsibility in which a lead agency/department will be identified and through an official IDC, the Strat-Com Working Group, a Strat-Com Guidance is developed and authorised for use. It essentially sets the strategic narrative, aligns departments and provides the left and right of arc for activities within the information domain. It also clearly sets out who is the supported organisation and who is supporting i.e. identifies a lead agency for information domain activities.
    Below that is where the military takes a turn. Most Government departments then utilise this within their PA (because in Govt, PA = PR) sections and areas who are involved in engagement/diplomacy. It, for want of a better term, jumps straight to the tactical. The military, just to be different, pumps it into the operational level, and linked together with targeting guidance, an Info Ops plan is developed. For us IO is an operational level activity that coordinates and synchronises available information effects with an operation’s ME. IO is not strategic nor is it tactical. IO’s key role is synchronisation of lethal and non-lethal effects and assessment of those activities.
    At that tactical level we then get into Information Actions. IA is about the tactical use of effects-generating organisations whether they be Psyops, CIMIC, targeting etc. IA is that actual employment of these capabilities rather than figuring out what effects they will generate … that done in the IO annex to the opord you’re working off. Thankfully we have some useful recent doctrine in this area but it is Army only.
    In a perfect world we have a nested approach that allows practitioners to get on with their jobs knowing that it is coordinated right back up to Government. Sounds simple but that’s where we come back to your original query. Terminology and the perceived associations with that term is what kills us.
    What’s the difference between PA and PD. From my perspective everything and nothing … they’re both tasks. Just because some of them are enacted at the highest level doesn’t automatically make them strategic … they’re still tasks which are done to achieve a Strategic Communication effect i.e. the information effect is generated to support the strategy outlined and agreed to in the Strat-Com Guidance. PA is about mass inform/influence tasks while PD is about targeted engagement, inform, influence tasks (in a military sense it’s just key leader engagement). Diplomacy infers a higher level of two-way communciation but its still about getting a message out there. Doesn’t matter whether the target is offshore or domestic, one just has a wider scope than the other. They’re both tasks that support the overall Strategic Communications intent that need to be synchronised and coordinated to achieve the ‘dominant narrative’ that we’re such fans of these days. Admittedly, for us at least, we lose some coordination control when it leaves departments and enters the offices of elected officials but for the most part it keeps us at least in the same song book. And when an elected official heads of the reservation the strategy is revised.
    Similarly, whats the difference between IO, PA and PSYOP … easy. IO is a planning function nothing more, nothing less. PA, PSYOP and everything else in the inventory are task elements that can be employed within a plan which has been developed to support the ME (or if you’re really lucky someone says that IO is the ME). Trying to define IO in terms of capabilities (COPED) and focusing on them is, to me at least, counterintuitive. We should be framing it in terms of what it does, not what it uses despite the cap badge and rice bowl issues that go along with it. We’re somewhat lucky because as out doctrine hasn’t been updated IO is still everything … not just COPED.
    Wow I filled your comments section … sorry.

  6. MattAn interesting debate. A key issue that has led to the rise of new forms of Public Diplomacy on the web and now on Twitter is the increasing tendancy of the 4th Estate (the media)to focus on human interest stories and the entertainment culture rather than explaining the political issues of the day. 24 hour news coverage has not led to more analysis and over the past 20 years the number and quality of current affairs programmes has dropped markedly. This means that informing the public about these issues has become increasingly difficult.
    The mix of Twitter and Blogging is a way for governments to speak directly to the world public and get around Editors who no longer think their role is to inform the public about the big issues of the day.
    For the moment we seem largely to have avoided pure propoganda; perhaps because officials know that they can be challenged very quickly by the blogging community.
    I have been involved in PsyOps in the past and have to say I have real doubts about its effectiveness in terms of changing opponents views. Telling the enemy how to surrender eg in the Kuwait conflict is something different, but I am open to correction if someone has done some serious post conflict research.
    Readers can follow my thoughts on Twitter jduncanMACD or on the blog or on Reuters great debate

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