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Getting the People Part Right: A Report on the Human Resources Dimension of U.S. Public Diplomacy

by on May 5, 2012

The report, which was prepared by the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy chaired by William J. Hybl, was submitted to “the President, Congress, Secretary of State and the American People” on June 25, 2008 (Hybl, 2008: 3). It was conducted in the belief that, although no single amendment could fix all the challenges faced by U.S. public diplomacy (PD), fixing the “human resources dimension” could have extensive results on the “overall effectiveness of [the] nation’s outreach to the world” (Ibid.). The report offers a fascinating examination about problems at the structural level and is able to point to an existing gap in previous analyses of U.S. PD. People working with PD should not be overlooked since it should be just as important to pay attention to the person sending the message on behalf of the U.S. as the magnitude of the messages send. While I have considered many other aspects of PD l too fell into the same trap with the U.S. officials and failed to consider the people part and therefore I found this report very interesting.

The report underlines seven current problems relating to the human resource dimension in logical order starting with the hiring of public diplomats, testing them (as a part of the recruiting process), training and evaluation specific to public diplomacy needs and finally turns to the bureaucratic matters concerning “the consolidation of the USIA into the state department in 1999” (Ibid: 5). These are divided into the seven chapters that form the main body of the report, with each section first explaining the problem and then giving recommendations for future improvements.

The first four chapters point that there is no emphasis on PD needs at the hiring, testing, training and evaluating PD professionals, therefore the report recommends:

  • Role specific skill-sets should be considered when recruiting; candidates should be recruited specifically for PD careers (Ibid: 10)
  • Examinations should accommodate tasks and questions that directly stress PD skills (Ibid: 12)
  • Top quality courses should be established in areas important for PD officers, e.g. communication theory (Ibid: 17)
  • Evaluation should include specific PD requirements, especially relating to outreach activities, which should include a specific “number of outreach events per ration period in order to be eligible for promotion that cycle” (Ibid: 23, italics added)

The remaining three chapters deal with bureaucratic matters relating to the merging of the USIA into the State Department. The first one deals with the overall integration, which has been generally successful, but:

  • A review is needed over the “structure to determine if the current arrangement is functioning optimally” (Ibid: 28)

The second one with public affairs officers (the most senior PD post) and argues that instead of “reaching foreign audiences” they merely manage and administer (Ibid: 30). Therefore the report recommends:

  • A review over the current model
  • “At least one work requirement entailing substantive engagement with the host-country public” (Ibid: 32, italics added)

Finally, it is pointed out in the last chapter that as a career track PD is underrepresented at high posts and it is recommended that:

  • Suitable PD candidates should be hired to “senior positions within the State Department” (Ibid: 35)

The report emphasises the specific needs of PD and the explicit approach concentrating on the structural level also highlights PD’s growing role. The report successfully underlines a potential gap in the thinking of enhanced PD, but crumbles in some of the recommendations, which emphasise too strongly setting up quotas for the personnel on PD positions. A much better approach would be that of quality and not of quantity. However, if the situation is as bad as the report suggests, the road to a more efficient future must start with something concrete and if the reports findings are taken on board with future

Sources:

The United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Report (2008) “Getting the People Part Right: A Report of U.S. Public Diplomacy, June 25, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/106297.pdf (Accessed 05.05.2012)

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One Comment
  1. misgee permalink

    Totally agree with your discernment that all too often, like the US officials, policy sometimes falls short of recognising the messengers who are trying to deliver a message that is supposed to connect to greater level with ‘pedestrian’ listeners. I believe in all situations, PD included the human resource aspect of the message delivery should always be taken into account, like in any business, the success of that business is great customer service delivered by well trained, professional and personable staff, so should it be with PD.

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