Saturday, July 31, 2010

Public Diplomacy (@IndianDiplomacy) division begins to tweet

India's Public Diplomacy division at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) recently started its own twitter account - @IndianDiplomacy. The first tweet appeared on the morning of July 10:
“Official twitter account of Public Diplomacy Division of Ministry of External Affairs, India @IndianDiplomacy”.
News reports quoted Mr Navdeep Suri, PD division's top guy that the ministry is testing social media as a tool to conduct PD. He said everybody is using social media hence it is important for MEA to have a presence there. On content, he was of the opinion that depending on the response received, the twitter account and other social media usage will evolve. It shows Mr Suri understands the importance of engagement, interactivity and content creation on a platform like social media and also the dynamism of the medium. 

The PD division has, since then, posted its MEA's bi monthly magazine - India perspectives to twitter.The number of followers are growing everyday and in 20 days it has nearly 2000 followers and been listed 82 times as well. The approach to experiment with social media shows in the twitter account which is laudable There are also prompt responses to messages from other 'tweeple'. A recent interesting tweet was: 
"Visit facebook page of PM Dr. Manmohan Singh"
However, a majority tweets are either responses or information on MEA activities, visits of foreign dignitaries, information on summits and agreements etc. Then a tweet on July 15th attempted to define PD's objective as 
"PD seeks to engage directly with the public in India and abroad to foster better understanding of Indian foreign policy"
This reflects a very reactive approach to using social media for PD. I hope the twitter account doesn't become another platform for information dissemination. As the MEA website is already there why would we need another platform for the same. This is a fundamental question I encounter as a communication consultant regularly. The trick is to build interactivity and creating content for engagement.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Public Diplomacy 2.0: The debate continues

There are two distinct schools of thought on Public Diplomacy 2.0. Personality types actually -  'Enthusiasts' and 'Skeptics'. This debate is shaping up well and is going to rage for some time.

The New York Times finally takes notice to carry an extensive piece by Jesse Lichtenstein – Digital Diplomacy. The article looks at evolution of Web 2.0 and its use by the US State Department as a PD tool.

It says, 
“It (Web 2.0) represents a shift in form and in strategy — a way to amplify traditional diplomatic efforts, develop tech-based policy solutions and encourage cyber activism.”                                                                               
 The article takes into account the debate and also quotes Evgeny Morozov, the biggest critic of PD 2.0 who argues that, social media “empowers all” hence it cannot be a 'strategic' tool. Says Morozov, 
“Diplomacy is, perhaps, one element of the U.S. government that should not be subject to the demands of ‘open government’; whenever it works, it is usually because it is done behind closed doors. But this may be increasingly hard to achieve in the age of Twittering bureaucrats.”                                                                                             
“ ‘Now’ is not ‘wisdom.’ That's the great limitation of the new social media as an intellectual or even political tool Twitter and other social media can provide an entree into PD discussions, but such discussions should go far beyond 140 characters, as I'm sure most twitterers themselves -- and they are, like this writer, ordinary persons eager to communicate with their fellow human beings -- would agree.                                                                 
I tend to agree with Jared Cohen’s view in the NYT that critics should accept the inevitability of the medium. The internet is here to stay, so what do we do about that? Can we do something about it? British Diplomat Nic Hailey, while discussing the British model of public diplomacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School remarked that 
“there are four key practical elements to consider in public diplomacy: Using the nation’s voice; use of media tools; integrating communication; and openness.”
Hailey argued that,                                                             
 “…communications areas in public diplomacy offices must all integrate. Web, print, PR, internal and polling communications can no longer remain in separate silos; they must merge into one team.”                                        
Web 2.0 can serve as a great listening tool, amplifying tool for current communication efforts and an engagement tool that leads to “last three feet interactions.”

A research student at University of Leeds, who also happens to be a reader of my blog, recently shared with me insights from academics and researchers at Leeds on the subject. These are worth considering:

1. There is only an extent to which the government can be 'interactive' on social media since it must remain within the confines of bureaucratic jargon. There is, after all, always going to be some sort of regulation on what can/cannot be said officially about government policies on a free public platform such as the Internet. If, owing to this, PD fails to come across as sincere or transparent, then it risks looking like propaganda and consequently  ineffective. 

2. Public diplomacy 2.0, despite its primary objective to interact, is still very much in the 'monologue' mode. Most PD 2.0 even by the US involves making documents and press statements available online. Engagement is really not happening.

Let’s not sweep Web 2.0 under the rug. Let’s get creative with it. Let’s INTEGRATE it.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rediscovering Nehru

Students and practitioners of public diplomacy in India can learn a lesson or two from Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Recent news and analysis on India’s public diplomacy focus a lot on ‘culture.’ However, imaginative policies can also be harnessed to shape perceptions about a country. This is where Nehru, with his world vision for India, is relevant. Nehru’s legacy cannot be discounted even though stalwarts like Lord Bhiku Parekh and Shashi Tharoor might think otherwise.

India in the 1950s, under Nehru’s bold imaginative foreign policy, was perceived as an important peacemaker. Nehru played a prominent role in ending the Korean War.  India chaired Neutral Nations Reptatriation Commission that oversaw POW repatriation after the war. It also played interlocutor between US and China during the crisis. India played the peacemaker in the Suez Crisis to bring the war to an early end. In fact, US President Eisenhower mooted the idea of setting up an "elder statesman board of appeals" comprising of Nehru and himself to find ways to solve the crisis. Nehru partnered with China in enunciating ‘Panchasheel’, the five principles of mutual coexistence, as a legitimate doctrine of international relations. Similarly, Non Aligned Movement (NAM) helped to  keep developing countries away from superpower politics. Under Nehru, India was a founding member of United Nations,  involved in the high profile public mediation in Algerian crisis, Turko-Greece dispute over Cyprus etc.

Nehru placed India’s foreign policy in India’s civilizational and historical context to leverage for an enhanced stature in the world. He created policy initiatives that positioned India as an important player in international affairs.  India’s offices were offered by Nehru for genuine initiatives that promoted better relations among nations and enhanced India’s image. Indian diplomats under Nehru were true ‘Global Diplomats.’ Under Nehru, India engaged with the world proactively. It will be interesting to see news reports from that era and analyse what are some key words used by overseas press to describe India.

Nehru’s vision of a modern India also included a highly talented and productive human capital. This led to institutions of excellence like the IITs of today. This is another area where Nehru’s vision created soft power potential for India – the land of highly skilled and intelligent people. We are talking a lot about Commonwealth Games in India. Nehru envisioned the Asian Games way back in 1947. Consequently, the first 'Asiad' was hosted by New Delhi in 1951. Wonderful example of Nehru's foresight and vision when it came to public diplomacy.

It would help if public diplomacy in India progressively highlights strategic policy initiatives and expand the understanding and practice beyond ‘culture’. There will be more stories to tell. There will be newer stories to tell.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

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