This blog post is a summary of “The Status Quo of Evaluation in Public Diplomacy: Insights from the US State Department” by Erich J. Sommerfeldt and Alexander Buhmann. For the full study, please visit here. 

As new undertakings and institutional changes within public diplomacy have taken place in recent years, the need for evaluating and demonstrating a program’s effectiveness has become increasingly more important. However, there is no standardized practice or expectation regarding how different governmental organizations and branches should conduct evaluations for these programs. Researchers interviewed 25 public diplomacy officers within the U.S. Department of State to gain more insight into the current state of evaluation within public diplomacy, and how it can be improved.

Researchers were able to gain a personalized and diverse insight into this topic as they interviewed participants from a broad range of bureaus within the state department. Participants were located in Washington D.C. and overseas. The aim of this study was to contribute to better understanding of evaluation within public diplomacy in two different fields: how officers perceive the current state of evaluation, and how officers perceive the goals of public diplomacy.

Many common themes were apparent throughout interview responses regarding officers’ perceptions of the current state of evaluation. Results included the following key observations:

  • Disjointed systems and structures– A lack of consistency between the different offices within the state department makes evaluation extremely difficult. As various locations across the department use different measurements and programming, this disarray causes confusion within any form of evaluation.
  • Lack of development and focus– While many people within the state department acknowledge the importance of evaluation and even work to emphasize it at times, many officials feel as though they did not receive the proper training regarding evaluation, nor the monitoring from their superiors.
  • Devaluation of public diplomacy efforts– Many officers feel that others in the state department deprecate and downgrade the important work they do. This lack of appreciation from their colleagues contributes to the lack of focus and importance of evaluation.
  • Lack of resources– Although many officials discuss the importance and place evaluation has within the state department, there is a clear lack of financial and human capital resources. Officers continue to struggle as they do not have the means to evaluate and analyze programs.

Researchers also studied officers’ perceptions regarding the roles of public diplomacy and methods of improvement. Interviews yielded answers from officers that discussed various areas of ideology, including:

  • Defining influence- The concept of “influence” within officers’ jobs coincided with how they defined goals within their careers and for the U.S. State Department. This concept of influencing outcomes within these programs or in other countries greatly impacted the officers’ expectations.
  • Building relationships- The modern concept and definition of public diplomacy is building and forming meaningful relationships between foreign countries and the United States. This is identified as one of the most common objectives of diplomacy.
  • Lack of clarity– One of the commonalities throughout each interview was the true lack of a vision within diplomacy at the State Department. While the goals differed between departments, many officials struggled with defining goals outside of understanding they are rooted in the policy goals of the United States.

The public relations field has spent multiple years acknowledging the not only important but also incredibly vital place that evaluation has. As we look at agencies, in-house firms and other forms of communication, evaluation is a key component that allows professionals to analyze whether an initiative or program is working. Additionally, this evaluation is heavily based on the goals and expectations that are set before the campaign is put into place. Because of this, it is incredibly important for the Department of State to acknowledge the importance of setting clear and attainable goals and conducting thorough evaluation.

Many professionals, in both the State Department and in other governmental organizations, agree that evaluation is an important component of implementing policy. However, the miscommunication comes within the lack of consistent structure and lack of clear and attainable goals. Ultimately, the field of evaluation has opportunities for positive growth within public diplomacy and the U.S. Department of State.

Tricia McCleary is a member of the IPR Street Team. She is currently a senior at the University of Florida majoring in public relations, with a minor in public leadership.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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