category archive: Public Diplomacy

How Power Works in the 21st Century

We live in stories.  That is, we are always in the process of trying to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.  That process drives us – to vote, to go into the street and fight for a nation, to make changes in how we consume, or to do none of the above.

Political leadership that understands that stories, perceptions, values, ideas, culture are present wherever there is human activity have a powerful tool for understanding what drives both change and apathy.

There is no name more firmly associated with linking political power and values and ideas than that of Joseph Nye. He coined the term soft power, which is power that stems from the intangible sources such as “institutions, ideas, values, culture …” as he explains in The Future of Power. 

Earlier this week, The Globalist published my article, How Power Really Works in the 21st Century: Beyond Soft, Hard and Smart. In it, I explain how, in a networked, information driven age, the power of symbols and ideas is always an important part of the strategic landscape. Nye’s insight that culture, ideas, perceptions, stories has been deeply assimilated into strategic thinking—a great tribute to him. But the insight has outgrown the categories that once described them. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Measuring National Power

Has the Eurozone crisis led to a loss of European Union power?

Washington D.C. was even more full of diplomatic cars and dark suited men than usual this weekend, as the the World Bank and International Monetary Fund held their annual spring meetings. Historically dedicated to shoring up ‘developing’ regions, this year’s focus was on the Eurozone crisis, that ongoing ripple of effects from the near financial collapse of several EU countries.

Some policy makers think that the EU’s loss of economic power will reduce its power on other issues, as the New York Times has reported: Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, International Politics, Marketing & Branding, National Security, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, Public Relations Tags: , , , , , ,

Announcement: U.S. State Department Strategic Narratives Public Meeting

At the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA, November 29

From the State Department Announcement:

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy will hold a public meeting on the topic of strategic narratives November 29, 2011, in Santa Monica, CA, in partnership with the RAND Corporation. The meeting will take place at the RAND offices at 1776 Main Street in Santa Monica, CA, in the Forum Auditorium. It will begin at 9:00 am and end at 3:00 p.m. with doors open for registration and continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. The event will be webcast live and will emphasize open-forum question and response periods with the audience.

To attend, contact the RAND Corporation no later than November 21 by phone at (412)683-2300 ext 4906 or email to and provide your full name, citizenship (U.S. citizenship is not required to attend), and institutional/organizational affiliation. Continue reading

Posted in: Conferences, Narrative Research, National Security, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Narrative in Complex Decision Making: an Interview with Mary Crannell

Mary Crannell is one of those people whose broad intelligence and enthusiasm are hard to contain, as I learned when we met recently through a shared acquaintance.  As the president of Idea Sciences, a decision-making support consultancy based in Alexandria, VA, Mary spends much of her  time thinking about what technologies and processes will help her customers—such as the IMF, NATO, QinetiQ, the US Army, the UK Army, Verizon and Herman Miller, to name a few—arrive at good decisions.  She is a frequent traveler to sites of conflict, as in a recent visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, where decision-making is an urgent, complex and ongoing task.

I was gratified when Mary agreed to share some of her thoughts on the role of narrative in decision-making generally, and in directing the American role in the world in productive directions, which is a concern many of her clients share.

Mary Crannell, President, Idea Sciences

AZ: How do you use narrative frameworks to help people make decisions?

MC: It is important to give people a way to define the vision of what they are trying to accomplish whether they are leading a state, a nation or an international organization. Is the system you are leading “on purpose?”  We start with a vision.  Continue reading

Posted in: Decision making, Information Systems, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Middle East, Narrative Research, National Security, Public Diplomacy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

U.S. Should Stop Asking if “They Like Us”

The September 11 attacks spawned a public mania in the United States for uncovering whether people in other parts of the world “like us,” and if not, understand why they “hate us.” Ten years later, the U.S. State Department and, more broadly, national security community is still using this uninformative metric.

It is time to break down what the question “do you like the United States” actually means to those who we ask —whether directly through polling, or through the interpretation of symbolic actions (signs, flag burning) or the aggregation of media statements, or in any other fashion.

Most people in the world, especially those of greatest strategic interest to the U.S., cannot answer whether they like the United States based on personal information or knowledge. Despite rising international travel to the United States, most of the 60 million foreign visitors last year came from just five countries: Canada, Mexico, the UK, Japan and Germany.

The number of those who can answer based on a sense of intellectual or cultural proximity is equally small. The common wisdom since World War II is that American popular culture—movies, television shows, McDonald’s—is loved abroad, even when American policies are not. Globalization encourages competition and hybridization of cultural forms. Economics professor Tyler Cowan has argued that the “21st century will bring a broad mélange of influences, with no clear world cultural leader.” Continue reading

Posted in: Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Middle East, National Security, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy Tags: , , , , ,

How to Market an Unpopular Cause

Kosovo Albanian ethnic costume/dance, courtesy of WikimediaKosovo Albanian ethnic costume/dance, courtesy of Wikimedia

How do you market an unpopular cause?

In a world crowded with attention-worthy causes, why do some get the backing of the international community, while others languish? This good question is being asked by the recipients of this year’s Hope Fellowship, a fund established by the National Albanian American Council to strengthen the role of women in policy and decision-making in the Balkans. They are seeking recognition for their largely unrecognized country, Kosovo, which split off from Serbia and declared independence in 2008.  In order to help them in an upcoming training session, I went looking for new models that might help structure the challenge of making their so-far-unpopular country more widely understood in the European Union and beyond.

There are no easy models or quick fixes for a people seeking to establish a legitimate identity among other nations, as Kurds and Palestinians well know. And an over focus on media and message dissemination (should we have a Facebook page? How many radio stations?) while important, is no replacement for the deeper work of developing a national identity story that resonates in international channels.

While seeking models, I found two excellent books that shed light on how embattled causes get attention from the international community. Although they are both specific to politics, they offer valuable insights for any organization seeking to make an impact on another.The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media and International Activisim by
Clifford Bob has been highly regarded since its publication in 2005.

Bob seeks to answer the question: “How do a few political movements challenging Third World states become global causes célèbres, whereas most remain isolated and obscure? He answers answers by looking through the dual lens of marketing and globalization. The marketing perspective, as he puts it, “denies that there is a meritocracy of suffering,” in which NGO backing and international sympathy lie—as we would hope—with the best causes. Instead, “local movements insistently court overseas backing, and their promotional strategies count.” Continue reading

Posted in: Books & Films, International Politics, Marketing & Branding, Public Diplomacy Tags: , , , , , , ,