Monday, October 5, 2009

New Approaches to Global Outreach, and New Voices...

The October 5 public diplomacy doubleheader at George Washington University got off to a fine start this morning thanks to the contributions of scholars, policymakers, and hands-on practitioners alike who took part in our "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach" conference. To kick things off, GWU's own Bruce Gregory sketched out many of the key issues confronting the Obama administration in redirecting and retooling America's global outreach efforts: how to encourage more and better "listening" to foreign audiences and stakeholders, how to redress the interagency disparities in funding, and how to make the necessary transformations in the U.S. approach -- changes everyone inside and outside government say they support -- happen sooner rather than later.

The day's first panel, moderated by Kristin Lord, demonstrated more comity than conflict on the question of whether U.S. government agencies could respond to the challenge. State's Dan Sreebny stressed that the most important ingredient was in place -- a shared determination at the top to get it right. Yet now the hard work of putting into practice the vision of a new Administration committed to dialogue and a "whole of government" approach, lay ahead. OSD's Rosa Brooks agreed, and made the point that this type of transformation in organizational culture and decisionmaking would inevitably take time, like any serious cultural shift. The U.S. needed to get "dramatically better," she stressed, in factoring in stakeholder attitudes abroad, at all levels of government, or otherwise it would pay a steep price. SOCOM's John Carman made the case that today's practice of strategic communication and information operations has learned important lessons about cultural awareness and measuring effectiveness, including in Iraq, that are now part of the Pentagon's established doctrine. But House Foreign Affairs Committee counsel Dan Silverberg expressed concern about the degree to which DoD's strategic communication programs have advanced far beyond the Pentagon's traditional terms of reference in information operations -- and done so at the expense of other actors and without sufficient Congressional consultation.

Our second, "Ground Truth" panel was devoted to the view from the field, where civilian and military communicators are engaged in the nitty-gritty work of engaging foreign audiences, building partnerships, and influencing attitudes -- hopefully -- in a positive direction. We heard from State's Ciara Knudsen, who emphasized the importance of prior training and preparation in stitching together a shared approach to communication on the ground, as well as Foreign Service officer Aaron Snipe's passionate argument for plenty of good, old-fashioned retail PD and personal engagement on the ground. SOCOM's Maj. Ed Fisher highlighted the dilemmas of seeking short-term results when sometimes progress could only be measured in the long-term; a "poker-hand" mentality was not the right approach, he said. AFRICOM's Mark Swayne spoke of AFRICOM's pioneering efforts at combining civilian and military leadership at the top of the command structure, and General Ward's emphasis on making AFRICOM a "listening and learning" command.

More to follow on their specific contributions, including some conference highlights in video form.

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