Written by Andrew Kneale, Cultural Relations Project Manager, British Council USA
Photo by tuppus
If you are a member of the professional public diplomacy community, you are guaranteed to have developed a love-hate relationship with the discipline. If you are like me, you have sat in conference upon conference, hoping to gain valuable lessons about successful case studies and have been disappointed to find that, yet again, the value of its contribution is called into question. We are intimately familiar with the argument that “soft power” is too soft because it supposedly lacks an evidence base, is driven too much by intuition, and cannot provide the short-term returns which are so important to the day-to-day political process. (It is no wonder that we practitioners develop a complex about what is it that we do). I would argue however, that while our practices may not be uniform, or uniformly understood, there is a new surge in international engagement activity driven by an enlightened recognition of the necessity for public diplomacy and cultural relations. I would assert that we are in the midst of a Public Diplomacy Enlightenment.
The rate of global information flow has drawn more attention to the world’s cultures and value systems, thereby creating space for the slow-burn of mutually-beneficial international engagement where there had previously only been room for short-term wins and zero-sum game thinking. Many of the common complaints with our discipline are being addressed with more sophisticated metrics and targeted strategies. And, while our conference discussions may sometimes feel painful, they are the precise evidence that we are grappling with the refinement of a truism, and ultimately, the means by which we create a fairer, more mutually beneficial globalization.