Showing posts with label Digital Diplomacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Digital Diplomacy. Show all posts


Soft Power Index 2017 leaves few questions unanswered

The Soft Power 30 Index of 2017 was released in July 2017. As per the report, when it comes to Soft Power, France is the most powerful nation in the world. The report states: 

"France’s vast diplomatic network, its cultural richness and the promise of Emmanuel Macron have contributed to the country’s No 1 position. While France leapfrogged, the US has fallen from first place in 2016 to third in 2017. As per the report this may be due to President Donald Trump’s "America first" policy, that “played poorly abroad, alienating allies and damaging links with the rest of the world.” This is too simplistic.

The report raised more questions than providing answers. If we look at Soft Power, from the context of 'influence,' it's hard to accept France at the top spot. US would still be at the top.
That brings us to the polling that was conducted in 25 countries. While Asia and Europe seems to have bigger representation, a major portion of Africa and Middle East wasn't polled? We also need to contextualize the fact that the opinions or votes received are deeply conditioned by historical experiences. While North Africa may feel a tug towards French culture and institutions, South Asia may lean towards the Anglo Saxon model it would be interesting to see such trends reflected as well.

While Trump's "America first" policy might have hurt the image of US in the short term, what needs to be understood is that the interventionist policy approaches of past administrations contributed immensely to a decline in a favorable perception of US. Have we forgotten Colin Powell lying at the United Nations in 2003? If we have this only goes on to prove how good the US propaganda machinery is in replacing collective public memory with newer issues and 'delink' old ones.

The report cites BBC as the most trusted media institution but does 'trust' necessarily translate into 'influence'? The pervasiveness of American media is hard to challenge and along with it the influence they can peddle for their country. Silicon Valley is doing it's bit too with the social networks, OTT content platforms and giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The report cites that China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative will boost it's soft power. This may turn out to be a perception nightmare for China as OBOR and it's terms are not really admirable and one of the many reasons why countries such as India are abstaining. Without India there's no silk road or OBOR - it would not just be the real deal! Besides, with OBOR gaining visibility China might have to become accountable for it's trade and development aid practices that are pushing lesser countries into debt trap sort of scenarios (Eg. Sri Lanka).

I tried reaching Portland Communications for a discussion on questions such as above. But my emails went unanswered. The initiative to release such a report is great especially when it leads to questions such as above. Soft Power translates into an attraction for a 'way of life' and viewed in that context "Power and Influence" is central to any understanding of soft power. It goes beyond culture, cuisine and 'feeling good'. How much will the elements considered in the report eventually shape the future of our world is what remains to be seen.


"Culture is there, to be Shared - Not Sold" - SIMON ANHOLT

"... international public opinion favours countries that contribute to the common good of humanity, rather than countries which are merely successful, beautiful or powerful..."

- Simon Anholt

The recent Good Country Index had a surprise. India's rank under the category of "Culture" was a lowly 119 among the 163 countries that were surveyed. For India watchers like us this was indeed interesting given the huge interest in government and policy circles to promote Indian culture overseas as a component of Indian soft power. 

The Public Diplomacy Blog spoke to Simon Anholt on this aspect trying to understand why India ranked low on "Culture". Simon brings to the fore an important distinction between promotion of 'culture' versus 'cultural contribution' and there seems to be a good opportunity for India's creative economy to be internationally 'participative'.

The following is what Simon Anholt had to say:

How is 'culture' defined in the survey?

Simon: We follow the UNESCO definition of culture that incorporates cultural production, the creative industries and expressions of national/regional culture; we also consider how each country facilitates freedom of movement and freedom of expression in order to allow the production, sharing and dissemination of culture. As explained on the website at way we ‘sample’ a country’s cultural contribution to the world in the Good Country Index is by combining the following datasets:

  • Creative goods exports: Exports of creative goods (UNCTAD's Creative Economy Report categorization) relative to the size of the economy.
  • Creative services exports: Exports of creative services (UNCTAD's Creative Economy Report categorization) relative to the size of the economy.
  • UNESCO dues in arrears as % of contribution: UNESCO dues in arrears as percentage of contribution (negative indicator).
  • Freedom of movement, i.e. visa restrictions: Number of countries and territories that citizens can enter without a visa (according to Henley & Partners).
  • Press freedom: Freedom of the press (based on mean score for Reporters without Borders and Freedom House index as a negative indicator).

Of course these five indicators don’t give a complete or exhaustive account of a country’s cultural output – it’s just a sample – but they’re the best and indeed the only suitable datasets we were able to find. 

Cultural expression just isn’t very fully measured internationally, and obviously we need data that’s collected in a consistent way, every year, in at least the 163 countries we cover in the Index. These five datasets were the only ones we could find that fitted the bill.

2. Indian government does a lot in promoting Indian culture and there is a tacit acceptance in policy and media circles that it is India's biggest soft power - and we see a lower rank for India as a whole. What is your comment on this?

Simon: I think they’re doing the right thing (although I would argue that simply ‘promoting’ one’s national culture isn’t a very Good Country thing to do: culture is there, after all, to be shared – not sold to people as a way of enhancing the country’s image). Of course a lot of this activity is 'unmeasurable' in a comparative survey like the Good Country Index, and this is one of the reasons why we are hoping to start producing more qualitative, in-depth, country-specific surveys in the near future: this will enable us to cover a lot of the activity in all seven categories that the Good Country Index is unable to measure.

3. Does the ranking reflect a perception by people of "culture" in the country or the state of culture in the country ?

Simon: Neither: the Good Country Index isn’t an opinion poll, it’s a measurement of reality; however it doesn’t directly reflect the state of culture in the country, it attempts to measure how much of that culture is shared internationally.
4. How do you think the ranking would impact India's perception?

Simon: My research over the last 15 years has consistently demonstrated that international public opinion favours countries that contribute to the common good of humanity, rather than countries which are merely successful, beautiful or powerful. So whilst a high ranking in the Good Country Index on its own is unlikely to affect public perceptions of the country, the good behavior that gives rise to that ranking certainly will. 

Simon Anholt

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.
- Madhur


US Ambassador Nancy Powell's video introduction

The US embassy recently released  a video introduction of Ambassador Nancy J. Powell who replaces Timothy J. Roemer as the new US envoy to India. It is a pretty simple video but what's good is the simplicity,  personal touch and easy language. It seems to have captured the ambassador as 'a person' and not 'another official.' Given the fortress like presence of the US embassy in Delhi, this seems to be a sincere outreach to connect with Indian people ...even if its in the virtual world!

Apparently this video has been dubbed into 10 other Indian languages. The embassy was discussing ways to overcome the challenge that India's linguistic diversity presents to integrated communication efforts and going heavy on audio and video is a nice 'walk around.'

While I was not too sure if its standard practice in US embassies all over the world to introduce Ambassadors through such multimedia initiatives, fellow PD enthusiast, Akash in DC, (@akashhhhh) mined  six of those on YouTube. He shared the ambassador introduction in Russia with me,

This effort is interesting for the potential it has to bring foreign policy and related discussions down from the ivory towers. Timely, in  a world that is increasingly interconnected!

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Indian bloggers for PD practitioners to engage... ?

My friend, a certain Mr X, member of the diplomatic corps in New Delhi, asked if it makes any sense to engage bloggers in India. Mr X apparently is being prodded by the 'higher ups' in his country to reach out more to bloggers in India; and my friend believes it is important, but, not so important. 

To my 'why' he gave an interesting insight.

Apparently, the free press (militant, vitriolic, opinionated and commercial) and proliferation of media in India makes it unnecessary, unimportant. It's unlike the Middle East where blogs are an outlet to discuss and debate in the absence of a free press. Blogs are influential in countries where there is no space for a public discourse. (?)

If we look at the Indian blogosphere there are indeed very few that are authoritative or 'referred to' blogs in the 'issues' space. For many Indian bloggers the interest areas range from personal hobbies, lifestyle and  professional topics. 

Classification of blogs in India

At the end of our chat I understood where Mr X was coming from. I promised to find him a few!

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Public Diplomacy 2.0: India's social media initiatives

India's Public Diplomacy Division, in the last few months, has become very social media savvy. One can see a clear focus on digital diplomacy, apart from numerous other initiatives, for a more comprehensive engagement with global audiences. These are baby steps, but nonetheless the foundation for bigger campaigns in the future. It is heartening to note that Government of India recognizes that the future of media is digital and interactive.

The PD division this year launched the following: 
  1. A Twitter page ( with nearly 4000 followers and growing. Twitter is being currently used for updates and information on foreign policy. However, we can also see some conversations happening in the Twitter page. 
  2. A YouTube channel ( - My personal favorite. It hosts numerous interesting documentaries. I like the thinking behind this idea and it definitely has great potential.
  3. A blogger account (  for discussion on issues in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Distinguished Lecture Series. It is a good idea but the blog needs work in terms of customization of the URL, design, language and nature of conversations. The blog format of communication  is a bit different to be effective.
  4. A Facebook page ( - Its in fact a very good, colorful and interesting page. The great thing about Facebook is that you can experiment a lot with it and am sure with time this page will get better and better.
The PD division now has a brand new website ( which integrates all the above. It aims at generating positive mind share about India with regards to policy initiatives, showcasing India's soft power and also activities of various Indian diplomatic missions all over the world. I am not sure if, as per government rules, there can be a different name for it than the current "Indian Public Diplomacy." Something catchy and imaginative would do it good. Only if the rules allow for that! 

Definitely on the right track! Social Media can be a very effective tool for emerging economies for targeted engagement with overseas audiences, especially in the developed countries with high rates of PC and Internet penetration. However, care should be taken to ensure that it does not become a monologue as is the case with most government communications all across the world. This is always the biggest challenge for any government venturing into social media.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Public Diplomacy 2.0: Blogs by UK's Foreign Office

UK's Foreign Office has taken to blogging in a big way. Recently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) observed the multilingual blogging day on September 26th to mark the European Day of Languages. Several FCO "blogger diplomats" are posting in different languages - French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese etc - on diverse topics. Speaking of the initiative, Jimmy Leach, FCO’s Head of Digital Diplomacy said:
"We’re trying to use the internet to communicate and connect across international boundaries – it would be pretty self-defeating if we only did that in English."

In fact, it is really interesting to see how the FCO is trying to use new media to engage with the world. There are some really interesting, informative and useful blog posts by diplomats. The project is called Global Conversations  and is hosted at the FCO's website. Jimmy Leach, in one of his posts say that the aim is engagement. FCO is quite aware that blogging may not be able to solve foreign policy issues but FCO hopes to explain it better to worldwide audiences. Leach believes that by blogging,
"We have, perhaps even inadvertently, created the main public face to public diplomacy and digital engagement." 
Read Jimmy Leach's post on the blogging initiative "Keep the blogs alight." While Pundits and scholars debate the use of social media in Public Diplomacy, there seems to be a growing recognition among practicing diplomats that new media as a platform of engagement cannot be ignored. You need to be where conversations are happening and social media is unique because of the two way communication it facilitates.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Public Diplomacy 2.0: Israel's website for diaspora and supporters abroad

In some earlier posts I wrote about newer concepts such as engagement of diaspora using social media, global citizen diplomacy, creating platforms for networked communications etc. Israel recently started a website that will help Israeli diaspora and also supporters of Israel in countries abroad to shape perceptions about the country. It was conceived after a poll conducted by Israel's Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora affairs found that around 91 percent of Jewish Israelis believed  Israel had a very bad image abroad. Following is the link for the website:

With both Hebrew and English versions, the website provides information on current events, tips for “novice ambassadors” - diaspora and Israelis traveling abroad, Israel's spectacular achievements in sciences, myths and facts about Israel and Arab nations etc. What is interesting is that the website also has training courses in defending Israel. The site is intended for the diaspora and the English speaking supporters of Israel in countries abroad.  It is intended as a tool provided by the state to involve citizens in managing Israel's perception. Interesting!

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur
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