The need for a national strategy for Communication and Engagement

It is clear from the general discourse surrounding the terms public diplomacy, strategic communication (and a recommended alternative “Signaling Integration” to be announced), and global engagement that each of these terms face their own inadequacies. None of them can be used to capture the essential elements required to convey the value, importance, and imperative of addressing the failings at the strategic down to the tactical levels, overcoming the institutional friction to adapt to modern requirements that may be simultaneously local, regional, and global. As each of the aforementioned terms are tainted in some way or another, I recommend a new label that is comprehensive, simple, and flexible.

Communication and Engagement captures the essential elements of public diplomacy and strategic communication and moves beyond issues of “ownership” (is it State, Defense, Homeland Security, etc), geography, temporal issues (tactical or strategic, of the moment or enduring), and means.

Communication and Engagement encompasses information activities from government broadcasting to interaction with audiences and media, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, cultural and educational and military exchanges, foreign aid and development programs, global information campaigns on water and food challenges, and more. It is medium inclusive in that it encompasses online and offline interactions without concern of scale from the individual to the global level.

We are mired in definitions and while introducing a new term poses its own risk, Communication and Engagement is generic and simple enough to efficiently and effectively convey its purpose and meaning.

The absence of guidance and direction for the US Government’s interaction with global audiences in the National Security Strategy in favor of a “federated approach” highlights the need for clear national guidance and direction. In a previous post, I asked whether we should have a national strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication. Dennis Murphy, a professor at the US Army War College, echoed Dan Kuehl, a professor at the National Defense University (note a pattern?), in suggesting we need a national strategy on information. Scott gave examples of the absence of “integrated plans and approaches” that consider tactical, on the ground realities.

A National Strategy on Communication and Engagement would naturally sit above the current constrained discourse about what is and is not included and provide the necessary support and impetus to move truly comprehensive and integrated efforts.

What are your thoughts?


One thought on “The need for a national strategy for Communication and Engagement

  1. Matt, I’m on board with you. Keep it basic.Frankly, I’m supportive of any name (within reason of course) that aims, first and foremost, to influence by deed. Excuse the cliché, but words are cheap.
    We need to desegregate policy and communications and start thinking about them as one in the same. To everyone’s relief, Obama seemed to recognize this early on with his Cairo speech. However, initial enthusiasm has all but petered out, as the Administration fails to implement any real, noticeable Mideast engagement.
    On the ground, in places like Afghanistan for example, organizations pump out a cacophony of varying public awareness, PSYOPS and communications campaigns with no overarching narrative or tie to reality. Billboards calling for a prosperous Afghanistan are pockmarked with shrapnel from suicide bombers. Millions have been spent, and continue to be spent, on radio stations that no one listens to. Etc, etc…
    Two worlds have been created: the one that Afghans see on a daily basis and the one that is depicted through glossy posters and TV advertisements.
    Meanwhile, Afghans must decipher from the stream of contradicting and unhelpful messages coming from the US, NATO and the UN: “Karzai stole the election”, “OK, we support Karzai now”, “Wait, Karzai’s corrupt”, “Karzi’s on drugs”, “Welcome to the White House Mr. Karzai”.
    The fact remains, it has been nearly 10 years now and we’re still futzing around trying to figure out what the definition of “is” is. Communications is not a new discipline. It’s not rocket science. It’s about understanding your audience, managing your words and not lying. So Matt, maybe it’s time to go back to the basics, as you suggest.

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