Applying the Tools of 21st Century Statecraft to Public Engagement

Posted by Luke Forgerson
May 26, 2010
Woman at Internet Cafe in Iran

About the Author: Luke Forgerson serves as DipNote's Managing Editor.

Under Secretary Judith McHale recently convened a series of discussions and asked State Department colleagues to move public diplomacy forward in innovative ways. These discussions focused on several activities, including everything from student exchanges to English-language teaching programs.

I had the opportunity to step away from my day-to-day tasks associated with DipNote and join a dozen colleagues to consider how the State Department is using new media and technology to engage the public. We addressed the Department's current new media efforts (last week, examined the same topic) and brainstormed ways we can effectively leverage new tools and technologies. We looked at online communication trends with distinguished experts, many of whom graciously joined us on short notice via conference call or Skype. Finally, we listened to and learned from each other, as colleagues shared the work they are doing from Korea to Libya, Argentina to Canada. I certainly left the session inspired by my colleagues, and suspect I wasn't alone in my sentiment.

Under Secretary McHale spent an hour with us at the end of our group discussion to listen to our ideas. We were all extremely encouraged to have the Under Secretary seek our input.

Engaging the public -- going beyond government to government communication -- has long held a place in American diplomacy, from the Marshall Plan following World War II to sports exchanges during the Cold War. Today, new tools and technologies enable us to reach more people, more quickly, more directly, than ever before, and activity in the online world is already having a tangible impact on foreign policy priorities.

New tools also allow more people to communicate with us and connect with each other directly. You can send a tweet to Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley or participate in a video conversation with senior officials, such as Ambassador Holbrooke. Exchange program alumni are building an online community through ExchangesConnect, individuals around the world are discussing democracy on YouTube, and millions of you supported Red Cross relief efforts by texting"Haiti" to "90999."

Given these examples, how would you use new media tools to engage the public on critical foreign policy topics and global issues? Let us know your ideas, and we look forward to sharing them with State Department colleagues and leadership.

The new media discussion group included Andrew Cedar, Katie Dowd, Luke Forgerson, Suzanne Hall, Darren Krape, Duncan MacInnes, Bill May, Cash McCracken, Molly Moran, Lawrence Randolph, Victor Riche, Aaron Tarver, Erica Thibault, Scott Weinhold, and Norma Williamson.



Gerald P.
Hawaii, USA
May 26, 2010

Gerald P. in Hawaii writes:

1. Kim Jong I'll is simply a bully and should be treated as such.

2. Blackwater Tactical Weekly reported a strategic alliance of China, Iran, and North Korea.

3. Admiral Mullen's ideas about how to use the military to enhance our diplomatic efforts are excellent.

4. We have 26 Admirals commanding the navies of 26 nations in agreement; we need Standing Navy Force World.This can be implemented most effeciently under UN auspices; tasking the U.S. Senate with ratifying 1 treaty instead of 26 treaties.


New Mexico, USA
May 26, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Hi Luke,

Thanks for soliciting public imput.

I could benefit from one of those English language teaching programs myself (chuckle).

Thing I like about this particular format is that it resembles what it would be like to twitter from Pluto in the delay time for comments to appear, which naturally gives one pause for thought.

I mean this in a totally positive way, litterally.

I'm glad State is not want to neglect the technicly challenged or illiterate in its outreach.

So an Afghan friend of mine years ago in Pakistan was at a relative's house, and when no one else was in the room his son did a perfect Michael Jackson "moon-walk" for my friend.

Our cultural influence is secreted away in some cases, waiting to burst out in the arts.

Right about now I bet there's a lot of kids that could probably say more about the conditions they live in through a drawing than all the experts in think tanks combined.

That may be a fair reason to host an on-line gallery of up and coming artists I think.

It gives kids a voice in foreign affairs too.

Even the illiterate ones.

Best regards,


Internet O.
May 27, 2010

IMC writes:

this is really interesting about 21st Century Statecraft. I enjoy reading the article

United States
May 27, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

An idea to reduce extremism in Afghanistan

If you were a poor, struggling, village farmer and were asked what would you like to study? What would you like to become? and the farmer said, "I'd like to learn how to use and fix farm equipment so that I can increase my yields. And you supplied that village with two used or new tractors and other farm equipment and then told the farmer to tell his other farm friends to come to a special class meeting every Tuesday and Thursday night to learn about fixing farm equipment and other related farm topics. You've immediately made an important change in that farmer and his village friend's lives. Using a combination of direct teaching, mobile computer classes etc. you've instantaneously engaged the farmer in his own learning and made his future life relevant to him. If the farmers consistently attended classes and you gave away farm related "freebies" every now and then as an incentive like non GMO seeds, chicken water feeder and offered him a goat or cow upon graduation, you'd probably get a huge following of interested farmers. If you string out the instruction through various farm related topics over a year, you will eventually have earned that farmer's cooperation and you will have consistently engaged him. Education is good foreign policy because it gets to the heart of improving people's lives. It can act as the basis for development in rural villages. Making educational fun, interesting and exciting draws farmers back every week. This is what America needs to be doing on a grand scale in Iraq. Start in the capital and work in concentric circles outwards toward the rural areas. As you incorporate progress and cooperation from the locals, the circle widens. Education should be occuring at all levels of interest. No one should be left out. Whatever interest a person has, America should brainstorm and provide it. The programs should be constantly improving adding more interesting connections. Such as internships for hard working farmers. They can spend 3 weeks working and learning on different farms like an agro farm, medium sized farm and a small family run farm in the US. The internships should go to poor families who would have never had the opportunity to attend.

Remy K.
May 27, 2010

Remy K. in Ghana writes:

I want you support for education in your National Technical Institute for the Deaf. I hope to hear from you and thanks.

Al T.
Arizona, USA
May 27, 2010

Al T. in Arizona writes:

We visit Chinese restaurants in AZ and WA state when we can and meet the new wait persons, almost invariably from South China. They are learning English. We try to encourage them. This is a great source of contact for us when we want to learn a new word. We don't speak English many of the wait persons only have enough English to take our orders and say thank you. We would like the State Department to consider Chinese restaurants as a window to South China diplomacy here in the U.S. Many of the young people we meet say they have been back to their home province in the last year or two. Is there a handheld device that we could take into the restaurant next time to help us converse?

United States
May 27, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

I'd like to see educational institutions broaden their scope and followers. If the Afghani government partnered with a really good school like Harvard. They could offer online courses and training to Afghani's. The training could begin with beginning Arab alphabet, elementary math through High School

Calculus. Providing a wraparound online education where Afghanis could gain a certificate of learning could potentially reach every Afghani citizen and give them a basic education. In the city, study centers filled with 100 computers could serve a lot of groups throughout the day. 3 hour study shifts is a basis for education. That would serve 600 pupils in an 18 hour period x 5 days/week. Multiplying this concept over the city, would serve massive numbers of students. Studying 3 hours with five hours of extra homework every night keeps people busy so they're not building bombs. Online classes could quickly and efficiently educate and train workers for the Afghani government and train workers in factory businesses. More remote locations could be served with trucks outfitted with computer stations. There's so much we could be doing to promote good feeling among the Afghani's. We need to try every avenue so that they feel we have their best interests at heart.

Tom D.
South Carolina, USA
June 1, 2010

Tom D. in South Carolina writes:

I'm not sure this qualifies as directly engaging the public, but if the goal is to understand public opinion about a particular issue you could data-mine twitter for relevant phrases and keywords. This would give you real-time sentiment of ongoing world issues. Of course the age demographics would limit this to perhaps under-25, under-30 but that may be the demographic you most need to connect with.


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