Defining Public Diplomacy (again)

Here’s my latest working definition of public diplomacy.

The purpose of public diplomacy is to identify, empower, encourage (and possibly equip) self-organizing systems. The self-organizing systems engaged should be those that currently or potentially support, directly or indirectly, the foreign policy objectives of the public diplomacy-sponsoring actor. The support networks of groups that oppose or compete with the same foreign policy objectives should also be engaged as minds can be changed.

Your comments are appreciated.

6 Replies to “Defining Public Diplomacy (again)”

  1. Whats wrong with: diplomacy aimed at foreign populations rather than governments? Methinks you’re getting too complex.

  2. I really like the definition. A quick question, at the end when you refer to “minds” are you looking to incorporate the idea of attitude or behavior change, or possible both. Singular minds are much easier to change that entire swaths or groups….through kinetic and non-kinetic supporting branches and sequels to diplomatic efforts I can impact behavior, but the mind relies too heavily upon culture and experience. This is something we grapple with all of the time in our coursework with students down here at AU. Just an opinion, for what it’s worth. Thanks! Great job

  3. Have to slightly disagree with the previous comment. The populations vice government distinction is conceptually useful, perhaps, but becomes increasingly detached from circumstances when dealing with an enlightened/empowered citizenry. Populations and governments are intertwined, generally speaking, and the self-organizing systems of this definition need not be exclusive to any one sector of society. Embracing, rather than reducing, such complexity is an approach too often avoided.

  4. Matt,Couple of big problems for me in your definition:
    1. The term “self-organizing system” smacks of a jargon that not many understand. Even if it is understood as some kind of special sociological terminology by some readers, it will simply not be clear to others. It also strikes me as far too vague and general.
    2. All of the active verbs directed towards the “self-organizing system” imply somehow “fashioning” the recipient; there is no mention of WHAT they are to receive from the PD actor, i.e., information, policy views, persuasive communications, media output, etc. etc. I sense here a developmental, rather than an informational purpose–molding rather than informing.
    Also, I am one of those who assume that “public” diplomacy has to come from a “public” actor, like a government.
    Cheers, Mike

  5. Matt, public diplomacy, willy nilly, involves the government since, by definition, only governments conduct diplomacy. Thus public diplomacy is governments communicating with foreign publics. (In contrast, traditional diplomacy is governments communicating with other governments.)

  6. Hans “Tom”,I disagree that public diplomacy involves strictly governments. I believe the Track I and Track II diplomacy models were shortlived and had little bearing when you were practicing public diplomacy long before Gullion coined the phrase “because propaganda was already taken” (a statement that was probably somewhat a flippant comment and today is misleading).
    Mike, I agree self-organizing system is an imperfect term: it is both convenient in that it captures the essence of target audiences and inconveniently jargonistic. The value of SOS to me in the definition is to frame the target audience(s), direct or indirect, as an individual or group that is self-mobilizing. A purpose of the public diplomat was to identify and engage current and future public opinion leaders. This was done to develop both understand the local dimensions and to create authentic voices, which in a networking paradigm, be viewed as an SOS.
    The WHAT, as you ask, is all of that you list. The purpose of informing is to influence, if subtly and possibly with bad news. We do outreach for a purpose, if just for economic security or national pride (but my focus is on national security).
    I respectfully disagree that the term was crafted to capture a government aspect. If we want to split hairs, does the UN practice public diplomacy? It is strictly speaking not a state as it has refused to party to international treaties governing, among other things, the laws of armed conflict (which it viewed as somehow taking sides). Thus does a non-state actor practice something else, perhaps public affairs or information operations, until it becomes a state? Hizbollah, Hamas, formerly FARC, and some drug cartels satisfy Max Weber’s definition of a bureaucratic state organization, do they conduct public diplomacy? The focus on the government would suggest, and correct me if I am wrong, that independent actions by commercial enterprises (so-called business diplomacy) or by citizens would be a grey area; so to would proxies promoting our activities within other lands.
    Thanks all for taking the time to comment.

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