U.S. Public Diplomacy: State Department Efforts to Engage Muslim Audiences Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Significant Challenges

GAO-06-535 Published: May 03, 2006. Publicly Released: May 03, 2006.
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Highlights

Public opinion polls have shown continued negative sentiments toward the United States in the Muslim world. Public diplomacy activities--led by the State Department (State)--are designed to counter such sentiments by explaining U.S. foreign policy actions, countering misinformation, and advancing mutual understanding between nations. GAO was asked to examine (1) what public diplomacy resources and programs State has directed to the Muslim world, (2) whether posts have adopted a strategic approach to implementing public diplomacy, and (3) what challenges remain to be addressed.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State To improve the delivery of public diplomacy messages to Muslim audiences around the world, the Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to increase the sophistication and effectiveness of U.S. outreach efforts, develop written guidance detailing how the department intends to implement its public diplomacy goals as they apply to the Muslim world and incorporates the strategic communication best practices discussed in this report. This guidance should be developed in consultation with the White House, affected government agencies, and outside experts who have a practical knowledge of what is needed to translate private sector best practices into practical steps which can be taken in the field. To accompany this guidance, State should develop a sample country-level communication plan that posts can tailor to local conditions.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2009, the President articulated an overarching vision for U.S. engagement with Muslim-majority countries in a speech in Cairo. Following the speech, the State Department directed overseas posts to hold outreach meetings with Muslim audiences and report back on potential areas of focus, such as English language training, and exchange programs, which State then prioritized. In 2010, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs developed a new strategic framework for public diplomacy, which includes outreach to Muslim communities. According to State officials, the strategic framework supports the President's vision outlined in Cairo. The department has begun to implement some private sector best practices, such as the use of target audience and market research. In addition, State has developed country-level strategic communication plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Department of State To improve the delivery of public diplomacy messages to Muslim audiences around the world, the Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to meet the challenges facing public diplomacy officers in the field, including the need to balance security with outreach and short tours of duty at certain posts, strengthen existing systems of sharing best practices in order to more systematically transfer knowledge among embassies around the world.
Closed – Implemented
In May 2006, GAO reported (U.S. Public Diplomacy: State Department Efforts to Engage Muslim Audiences Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Significant Challenges) that State Department efforts to communicate with the Muslim audiences faced challenges related to staffing and security at posts in the Muslim world and that State lacked a systematic mechanism for sharing best practices, which could help address these challenges. GAO recommended that State strengthen existing systems of sharing best practices in order to more systematically transfer knowledge among embassies around the world. In response, State expanded its INFOCENTRAL Web site for public diplomacy practitioners; this site now prominently features a link to a best practices database intended for public diplomacy staff to share ideas and find information on managing programs. In addition, in January 2007 State held a worldwide Public Affairs Officer conference, which, according to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, was intended for officers to share best practices and to hear updates from State Department and interagency colleagues from the field and in Washington.

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