The goal of public diplomacy for international organisations is to ensure a positive perception of their activities among opinion formers, the media, and members of the public who will consequently support continued involvement by their governments in the organisation’s activities. This will involve persuading their audiences that the activities they undertake are relevant and yield positive benefits.

In order to implement a successful communication or public diplomacy strategy, an international organisation must be clear and unanimous about its goals and the message it wants to convey. Organisation secretariats should embrace new technology and imaginative methods of spreading their messages, identify ways to accommodate the circumstances of the membership. All member states should promote the objectives and values of the organisation in question and should play their part by providing the necessary financial resources, expertise, information, and technology to allow the staff to project the right image and message.

But several questions remain. Who should bear the principal burden of responsibility for explaining and promoting the organisation to the national populations within the member states? Should the secretariat of the organisation take the principal role, or should it be the respective governments? How far can an international secretariat go in identifying shortcomings within the membership to uphold the goals of the organisation in order to preserve overall credibility? Who is best placed to assess public perceptions through opinion surveys and other instruments and who is best placed to respond to specific concerns or questions? Should the role of the secretariats be limited to anodyne glossy publications or web-based factual information or can they take on a more strategic role? The institutions themselves should not be subject to the vagaries and unpredictability of national politics and can in principle take a long-term approach to public diplomacy which is often beyond national governments. Few regional or international organisations can yet be said to do this effectively.

Excerpts from Diplo’s online course on Public Diplomacy – text written by Liz Galvez


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