University of Southern California Hosts Public Diplomacy Training

By Horton, Tori; Stratford, Virginia | UN Chronicle, September-November 2006 | Go to article overview

University of Southern California Hosts Public Diplomacy Training


Horton, Tori, Stratford, Virginia, UN Chronicle


FOR MOST TRAVELLERS TO LOS ANGELES, California, the last two weeks in July are prime time for vacationing. Few things could be more compelling than kicking off work shoes, putting on a swimming suit or spending lazy afternoons listening to the ocean waves crashing against the shore. However, for a small group of public diplomacy practitioners from around the world, Los Angeles was a destination for another reason: the University of Southern California (USC) Center on Public Diplomacy launched the Summer Institute: Advanced Training in Public Diplomacy.

Sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, eight UN representatives joined other professionals from the diplomatic, non-governmental and academic fields from Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, South Africa, Spain and Thailand in a two-week intensive course, from 9 to 21 July 2006, on public diplomacy. They challenged the definition of public diplomacy and learned a myriad of tools that could be used across diverse fields of practice in international communication.

According to Nicholas Cull, Director of the Master's in Public Diplomacy Program at the USC Center, the term "public diplomacy" was formally coined in 1965 by former diplomat Edmund Gullion, who used it as an alternative for such words as "propaganda" and "public relations"--expressions that generally carried negative connotations associated with blatant lies and spin. Former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold had used the term informally in much the same way as early as 1958. Governments use media and cultural exchange to explain themselves and build better relationships among nations and people.

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One institution that is exploring new possibilities in this field is the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, which defines public diplomacy as the way a country strategically and inadvertently shapes its image among the foreign public. "Countries, organizations and individuals practice public diplomacy every day through a wide variety of conduits, such as educational and cultural exchange, international business, foreign policy, tourism, media, sports and entertainment." At the Center, newly developed theories, coupled with an academic compilation of the best public diplomacy practices, have created a unique understanding of this maturing field. "Increasingly, we see the role of public diplomacy as not being the exclusive domain of the State Department, but other non-State actors are factoring into this. The United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations are ever-increasingly playing a role in public diplomacy", said Joshua Fouts, Director of the USC Center.

In the last five years, a new kind of public diplomacy has emerged, moving beyond monologue and dialogue to that of collaboration. Not only has the global political agenda shifted during this time but technology and information management have also drastically changed and affected the practice of public diplomacy among Governments, corporations and citizens. Although practitioners may not agree on its exact definition, they can agree on the important role it is playing in the nation-to-nation and people-to-people relations worldwide. "In the world today, we can't underestimate the importance of public diplomacy", said Dr. Cull, adding that it is at the heart of international relations. "However, it is something that is not commonly taught in the diplomatic academies. The accumulated knowledge, the theory and the practice of public diplomacy is not widely disseminated around the field."

Eytan Gilboa, professor of international communication at Bar-Ilan University and a visiting professor at the USC Center, initiated the idea of a summer institute in 2005. "This is the first-ever public diplomacy course planned for officials", he said. "We are covering all the significant fields in public diplomacy, from the traditional areas of international broadcasting and international exchanges through media diplomacy to the newest forms of public diplomacy, such as e-image and cyber-public diplomacy. …

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