On February 4th, I posted a provocative comment sent by fellow blogger Pat Kushlis that drew a parallel between Microsoft’s “Creative Destruction,” as described by a former Microsoftie in The New York Times, and the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. Pat is a retired Foreign Service officer who was with the US Information Agency from 1970 to 1998. Several people in today’s IIP worked for Pat.
That post drew a response from Dan Sreebny, also a friend but more importantly a senior foreign service officer who is now Acting Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs:
Your February 4 MountainRunner post quoted another blogger’s comparison of the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) Bureau to Microsoft. While we would normally be flattered by such a comparison, this blogger made the comparison in order to allege that IIP has “developed a system to thwart innovation.” I believe this claim must have been based on inaccurate or outdated information, for the facts demonstrate that IIP is using a range of innovative and creative methods to inform and engage with audiences around the world. Let me provide just a few recent examples:
- IIP created the Digital Outreach Team (DOT) in 2006. The team’s bloggers broke new ground for the US government by openly engaging on Internet news sites and discussion forums in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian to counter misinformation, explain U.S. foreign policy, and provide accurate descriptions of U.S. Society. They also make use of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, video, and other now media tools. DOT messages have been seen by more than a million readers.
- In 2008, IIP launched the Democracy Video Challenge, inviting citizens from around the world to engage in an online dialogue on the nature of democracy by submitting short videos that completed the phrase “Democracy is ….” IIP partnered for this effort with YouTube, the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Youth Foundation, the Motion Picture Association of America, NBC Universal, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and others. Since its launch, the Democracy Video Challenge has received over 1500 video submissions from people in more than 100 countries, attracting over 1.5 million viewers. One participant commented that, “One of the most exciting and unexpected aspects of the Challenge is the discussion it has provoked. When you go on YouTube, you see pages and pages of comments – not just on the winning videos, but all of the entries… People talking and sharing ideas is already a great success.”
- Working with Adobe, IIP also built the CO.NX platform in 2008, using live Web chats, video, audio, and real-time polling to connect international audiences with U.S. experts and policymakers on a range of topics. CO.NX chats require only Internet access to reach people in their homes or offices, so even those in low-bandwidth countries can participate. IIP has also enabled more than 100 U.S. missions to use CO.NX to connect with their own audiences in 2009 alone, from Baghdad and Kabul to Maputo and Mexico City, and the CO.NX Facebook page has gained over 76,000 fans in less than two years. During President Obama’s November 2009 youth forum in Shanghai, CO.NX provided the only significant unmoderated and unfiltered place on the Web for Chinese audiences to submit thousands of questions for the Presidents townhall. CO.NX also attracted more than 38,000 log-in requests from over 90 countries to have a discussion-viewing of Secretary Clinton’s January 21, 2010 speech on Internet freedom, including nearly 6,000 requests for a Chinese language page, which we set up just two hours before the event.
- When President Obama traveled to Ghana in July 2009, IIP worked with the White House, the Bureau of African Affairs, and other colleagues in Washington and Africa to put together a text-messaging-to-podcast-to-radio program to engage a continent-wide audience. IIP worked with the private sector to get SMS codes allowing Africans from every country to sign up to receive real-time highlights of the President’s speech, and to text in questions, comments and words of welcome to the President. IIP relayed these highlights to social networks worldwide. After the speech, President Obama recorded answers to selected SMS questions from Africans that IIP sent out to our U.S. embassies as a podcast to be delivered to local radio stations for airing.
- When the Haiti crisis broke in January 2010, IIP used a broad range of channels to communicate USG efforts and American public support for the people of Haiti, in French, Spanish, Creole, English and other languages. We initiated special Twitter feeds in French and Spanish and provided web site content (texts, original pieces, and audio-visual content), Facebook postings, and Twitter feeds in multiple languages, with links to multi-language Public Service Announcements (PSAs), information on how to use the SMS 4636 emergency program for assistance, key quotes from U.S Government senior officials, and the full range of IIP products.
- Recognizing the need to use new media tools for greater engagement with foreign publics, IIP is strategically building its capacity to utilize new media in foreign languages. IIP currently uses a variety of new media tools (including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs) in Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. The new media tools complement IIP’s more traditional media outreach products to respond to the particular interests and media preferences of different audiences and regions. In fact, IIP colleagues are constantly experimenting with creative ways to apply new media techniques to traditional media products, such as engaging on-line audiences in the development of new publications.
In short, at IIP we strive to and often succeed at finding innovative ways to more effectively communicate the facts about U.S. foreign policy and American society and engage with foreign audiences. We have not just come recently to the new media party but have experimented with cutting edge technologies as they develop, from working with USC three years ago to explore Public Diplomacy in virtual worlds such as Second Life, to adopting Twitter early on for 2008 election day programs, to developing our webchat platform well before such programs became mainstream. We are pleased that the Bureau of International Information Programs’ fundamental culture of innovation has been recognized by a number of private sector industry awards for innovation, but we are determined to do still more in the coming years. We also welcome constructive ideas from you and your readers on other ways to communicate and engage, by writing to me at email@example.com.
Bureau of International Information Programs
Department of State