The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy is currently accepting applications to the international congress “Hard vs. Soft Power: Foreign Policy Strategies in Contemporary International Politics”.  Speakers will include leading figures from international politics and diplomacy, academia, civil society, the armed forces, and related fields, including:

Anna Fotyga – Former Foreign Minister of Poland

Teresa Patrício de Gouveia – Former Foreign Minister of Portugal

Dr. Solomon Passy – Former Foreign Minister of Bulgaria

Andrew Sparrow – Senior Political Editor, Guardian Online

Prof. Inderjeet Parmar – Professor of Government, Manchester University, Vice-Chair, UK International Studies Association

Jean Lambert – MEP for London (Green Party); Vice-President of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group

Mark C. Donfried – Director & Founder – the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

Martin Bell – UNICEF UK Ambassador, Former British MP (Independent)

Samuel Jones – Head of Culture at Demos; DCMS Fellow

Simon Berry – Founder and Director of Colalife

Further speakers will be updated regularly under www.culturaldiplomacy.org/cambridgeforum

“Hard vs. Soft Power” is open to students and young professionals, journalists, political and diplomatic representatives, and other individuals with an active interest in international politics and the drivers of foreign policy.  The Conference will be split into three complementary parts. The program will begin by looking in detail at the concepts of “hard power”, “soft power”, and “smart power” — where they have come from, how they have developed, and their application in contemporary international relations.

Case studies from across the world will be used to provide practical examples of these approaches.

The second part of the program will focus on the foreign policy strategies of the United Kingdom at present and in the coming decade. Speakers will consider the evolution of British foreign policy priorities, the strategies that are being used to pursue these objectives, and the role of the media in interpreting and shaping government activity.

The third and final part of the conference will consider the future of international relations at the global level. It will explore the changing nature of global politics, the emergence of global public goods and other trans-national challenges, and will provide case studies through which the strategies of hard and soft power can be assessed.

“Hard Vs Soft Power” will be based in the Cambridge Union, home of the university’s largest student society and the oldest student debating society in the world. The Union is located in the heart of Cambridge, surrounded by the city’s historic colleges and a short walk to the River Cam.

Further information about the conference can be found here.

Members of the Cambridge Union are able to attend at a reduced rate.

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Definitions of strategic communications are replete with the notions of coordination, coherence, management and synchronization.  Indeed any idea of communications strategies, plans or campaigns focuses on such elements.

“the synchronized coordination of statecraft, public affairs, public diplomacy, military information operations, and other activities, reinforced by political, economic, military and other actions, to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.”[1]

“focused USG (United States Government) processes and efforts to understand and engage key audiences in order to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable to advance national interests and objectives through the use of coordinated information, themes, plans, programs and actions synchronized with other elements of national power.”[2]

“In concert with other political and military actions to advance NATO’s aims and operations through the co-ordinated, appropriate use of Public Diplomacy, Public Affairs (PA), and Information Operations( lnfo Ops)[3]

However, the real potency of communication efforts is down to the degree of synergy leveraged from the garnering of its components.

Through complex military operations, in which synchronization and coordination are paramount, such as joint fires or air tasking orders, military staff, management and organisations are adept, practiced and knowledgeable in such matters.  In fact, this inherent ability to coordinate and synchronize is almost a feature of military culture – “synchronize watches”, Joint Coordination Board.  If anyone can do the coordination thing, it’s the military.  Difficult though it may be, through the internal machinations and politics of organisations, especially multinational ones, this practical synchronization and coordination is not the problem – it’s inbred into the military culture.  You’ve got structures and processes galore, tried and tested (although not perfect, which we will come to later).  Yet, despite this, the message, big idea, ideology, narrative often fails to be communicated effectively – synergy is not achieved.  The result is several diffuse and only roughly aligned messages, even given resources and political backing, entering the information space, producing diluted effects, producing a degree of cognitive dissonance and being pulled apart by audiences, both friend and foe. We fail to reach the next quantum level.  The problem is more often than not deciding exactly what is to be synchronized and coordinated, right back at its roots.

In the 1980s, it was observed that organisational structure and processes did not account entirely for organisational success and synergy of output. Academic research sought out the missing link and rested upon culture, the deep roots of foundation.  It is back at these roots that synergy is born.  Without the deep, cultural, almost anthropological, knowledge and understanding of what one is, all that comes after will fail to achieve synergy, and remain merely constituent parts, no matter how well these parts operate.

Unfortunately, in the current politico-military communication environment, the vast majority of papers, research, studies, soul-searching and practical application, remains intensely pre-occupied with ‘the other’ – those out there, the audience, the public, the media, the stakeholders.  That is just so.  As Sun Tzu said:

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

Sun Tzu - Even Paris Hilton thinks he's good

Indeed one needs to know ‘the enemy’ – all military personnel understand this.  Although not wishing to make too much of the war analogy, knowing ‘the other’ is vital in terms of communication.  Rightly, much time and effort is taken up in market research, audience analysis, cultural awareness and the like.

But synergy is achieved by taking the last of Sun Tzu’s points – knowing the enemy and knowing yourself.  The implications, especially in communications terms, of not fully understanding what you are, why you exist, what you want and why you want it are massive.  Without this understanding, synergy can never be achieved.

Any trained public relations officer in the corporate world will be aware of the need to understand his or her organization, to be able to distill its essence, define its ideals, recognize its culture, explain its spirit, feel its soul.  Nice and soft and fluffy – and rather intangible stuff.  This immediately presents a problem for the military mindset, born of a culture of exactitudes, specifics and precision.  The military don’t really do intangibles.

But communication and information exist in a world floating in intangibles.  A large percentage of an organisation’s value is its reputation or “goodwill” – an intangible asset accounted for by deducting the financial value of tangible assets (buildings, stock, equipment, financial reserves,etc) from the organisation’s total worth.  Of course, such is based upon ‘real’ tangible factors – products or action, but these do not guarantee a good reputation.

But the intangible idea of culture is potent.  Take Apple.  You know what Apple represents, most of the Western world does.  And we don’t just mean a computer company – we mean its culture.  Rebellious, casual but intense work ethic, collegial.  If we take culture as being defined by:

Socio-cultural system – structure, strategies, policies, processes, goals, reward, motivation

Cultural system – shared understanding evidenced in myths, stories, ideology, values and artefacts

Individual actor – the role played by individuals within the organisation who receive and contribute to culture as they orientate themselves to its operation.[4]

then it’s probable that most of us could have a fair stab at pinning down Apple’s

Apple - you just know what it's all about.

culture.  And if you can’t, then ten minutes in an Apple shop speaking to the employees will put you right.  And the same thing would happen in New York, Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Brussels. Notably, these employees, the vital ‘touchpoints’ between the organisation and the ‘the other’, the consumer, are all fully signed up and thoroughly enveloped in this culture – they all know what Apple is about, they’ve got the t-shirts.  Their products, their structure and processes, born of a deep seated culture allow for a synergy in their communicative efforts. This blog has been written on a PC, by the way – not very cool.

Now let’s take NATO.  Now, we’re not going to compare Apple to NATO but merely examine an area proved vital, if rarely explored, to synergistic communication – culture.  In the cold war, NATO had an easily identifiable identity and culture – a bastion protecting the values of freedom and democracy against the Russian hordes.  All trained and prepared to fight, brothers with brothers, to hold back the scourge, and real threat, of communism.  That it never came to that allowed that identity and culture to remain untested.  But meanwhile, military personnel knew what this organisation was, where they might fit into it, and why.

But twenty years after the fall of the wall, in Afghanistan, that culture and identity, often ignored as a crucial feature in the communication effort, has been tested and found wanting.   Synergy, despite processes, structure, coordination even apparent political agreement, is failing because that vital element of cultural identity is too thin.  Those involved in communication, and by that I mean everyone, from the private soldier to the General, – all those ‘touchpoints’  have too vague a notion of what their overarching organisation is about, what it is meant to do and what it wants to do – they haven’t got the t-shirts.  And if they don’t know, as a collective, what they’re about, how can they tell others, both at home and abroad, and further, how can they contribute to the communication element of the mission?

A stinging indictment in the Washington Post in October 2009 exemplified the lack of synergy in the ISAF message.  The article, “The Slowly Vanishing NATO”, is only one of many appraisals reflecting countless “whither-the-Alliance” seminars held over the last few years, reflecting a possibly growing sentiment, within and outside NATO itself.  As Anne Applebaum reported:

“There is almost no sense anywhere that the war in Afghanistan is an international operation, or that the stakes and goals are international, or that the soldiers on the ground represent anything other than their own national flags and national armed forces”[5]

The suggestion is that the identity, or the very deep roots of culture binding the very nature, of the Alliance, is either crumbling or unsuited to the task in hand.  And without such culture synergy suffers.

And this applies to individual militaries, once defined by their capabilities in industrial war-fighting.  This identification is foundering as these militaries are involved in ‘war amongst the people’, counter-insurgency operations, especially in long-standing multi-national operations.  Soldiers, sailors and airmen and women may be more frequently asking themselves ‘what is this ‘thing’ I am a part of.  I understand my immediate culture, but outside of that I’m slightly lost’.

Clausewitz’s trinity applies here – military, government and people. But our point is, whilst it is vitally important that the domestic audiences understand what NATO and their nation’s contributions are about, we must not forget that the development and maintenance of the understanding of those on the battlefield, through the adaptation and nurturing of a culture suitable to war 2.0, is equally important.  This more than internal communications, force magazines, divisional orders.  It is about fundamental management and difficult but possibly fruitful political choices.  Indeed, a degree of culture shift may be happening towards a wider political view of tasks and objectives, and where militaries may feature in this broader framework.  As Stephen Grey, respected Times journalist with extensive knowledge of operations in Afghanistan, admitted after his last stint there over the summer of 2009, the British Army was adapting very quickly. Some soldiers he met spoke of a transformation in culture. Grey identified the most important change as a recognition that the political aspect of the wider strategy could not simply be left to other government agencies like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID). But this process of adaptation needed to continue and he wondered whether the pace of change was sufficient in the face of an enemy who was also adapting.[6]

However, we must inject a sense of reality.

“Changing structures, systems and platform capabilities is one thing: changing the way your people think, interact and behave … is much more difficult.”[7]

Realistically we must appreciate that such moves will be gradual and there will be almost immovable, mostly political, obstacles but we do believe that there are workable measures that can be taken to imbue that sense of raison d’etre across a force, measures that can be enacted by management functions.

Busy finding out about how these chaps work ...

Style of leadership and management is a reflection of culture.  At one end of the spectrum some organisations tend to favour management structures which are mechanistic, hierarchical, centralised and formal, whilst at the opposite end others enjoy organic, networked, creative, flexible and informal approaches, with a multitude of permutations in between.  Militaries across the world tend to adopt vaguely similar management style – walk into any barracks on the face of the planet and the hierarchical, centralised and formal atmosphere will be obvious, and for good reason given the tasks required of militaries.  However, management and leadership is also adaptive, and has over time evolved to suit contemporary requirements.  Such adaptation has allowed many militaries to adopt a style more suited to modern complex warfare – the style of management known as Mission Command.

It constitutes a style of military command promoting decentralisation, freedom, speed of action, delegation and initiative. Subordinates, understanding the commander’s intentions, their own missions and the context of those missions, are told what effect they are to achieve and the reason why it needs to be achieved.  Indeed, most civilians will recognise it, practising ‘management by objectives’ or the management concept of empowerment.  A corporate example could be from Marks and Spencers, with the highest reputation rating amongst UK companies in 2009[8]:

The business of Marks and Spencer sometimes might use a mixture of Management Styles.  For example, Marks and Spencer is consultative, but the business might also be using a democratic management style and also to a degree laissez-faire.  This is where people are allowed to do what they feel correct, this is usually associated with medium status (e.g. Managing director – Marketing Director) probably because they are experts in their field so they know what they’re doing.[9]

Returning to the military, originating in Clausewitz’s 19th century German armed forces, known as auftragstaktik, mission command works ideally in high tempo and complex warfare.  Although the ‘thousand-mile screwdriver’ is still commonplace in military operations, and in corporate affairs, high ranking political officials would never dream of attempting to dictate to the soldier on the ground how to achieve his objective – even though, as per Clausewitz, “war is an extension of politics by another means”.  It works because of highly specific objectives and a confidence in highly trained and experienced operatives, allowing for a serious degree of delegation.

Today’s warfare, ‘War 2.0′, is a far cry from that of the age of industrial force-on-force struggle.  In counter-insurgency, operations other than war, ‘war amongst the people’ and the like, communication, both simple and hi-tech (from the tribal gathering to the Second-Life propaganda) has become a major feature of conduct of warfare, conflict, call it what you want.  As is increasingly becoming apparent in doctrine, opinion, papers and at conferences, communication – stratcom, influence, public affairs, public diplomacy – is as considerable a factor, or operational capability, as tanks, bullets and bombs.  However, whilst the latter are often utilised under the code of Mission Command, the former is not.

An example of where mission command may well have assisted in the dissemination of information occurred in the aftermath of the ill-fated and much reported air strike on fuel tankers near Kunduz in early September 2009.  The decision-making processes at high level kicked in quickly but then took time to decide what to say, whilst in the meantime, fearing political fallout, Public Affairs officers on the ground were hamstrung by clearance mechanisms.  The information vacuum was quickly filled by other sources, many very unreliable and ISAF communication efforts once again were behind the ball – an experience common to many PAOs.  The impact of the lack of freedom of action and open practices were huge, resulting in the resignation of the German Defence Minister and sacking of the Inspector General of German Forces, in effect their Chief of the Defence Staff.  An important aspect of these events is the shifting power structure within communications, in which official power centres could not control public information and were subject to alternate power sources beyond their influence.  This shifting power distribution is a new reality[10].

... when the collective culture of these chaps needs looking at too.

Similarly, the public affairs response to the burning Warrior AFV incident in Basra in 2006, connected with a British operation to release soldiers held captive at a police station, led to a loss of communication initiative.  In what was a complex set of events, a degree of respected initiative on the ground may have prevented what became an all-out media sensation surrounding the possibility of withdrawal and utter military failure in Basra.  As it happened, time lapsed allowing a misleading narrative and raw imagery to take hold globally, only to be pursued by the “commentariat”.

The tight, codified, process-driven and hierarchical systems within with military communication stymies any real effectiveness in War 2.0 – a fast and dynamic environment in which the ‘enemy’ may, as well as having the flexibility and responsiveness afforded by decentralisation, freedom, speed of action, delegation and initiative, have as good, if not better, capabilities than the modern fighting forces.  Indeed, modern fighting forces, are hamstrung by many immovable factors – politics, enemy capabilities, inherent communicative advantages afforded to insurgents etc – but there is one area, command style, which is in the gift of modern fighting forces to change.   The concept is well practised and widely applied, but can the style of mission command extend to communications?

There is an argument that communication is too strategically potent or politically sensitive – what is said, what is perceived, what is seen on the battlefield may have strategic effect – it may even make a Minister/Senator or a government policy look bad.  But today, with the concept of the ’strategic corporal’ ever present, in which the tactical military actions of very junior personnel have the capacity to bring about huge strategic impact, the same can be applied to any military action.  Thus, why should the command and management of military communication (public affairs, info ops etc) be any different to other traditional military function?

Risk aversion is a major factor in management style within militaries, living, eating and sleeping by doctrine.  We’re talking here about cerebral risk, not practical and physical risk, which miltaries, by their nature, live with daily.  But this cerebral risk allows free-thinking, dare we say ‘blue-skies’ thinking, and readiness to toy with and even accept new ideas.  But this has practical implications for the management of communications, as indicated by Rid and Hecker in which they recommend that ‘a culture of error tolerance be fostered’[11] amongst governments and militaries involved in what they term War 2.0.  Note, this is culture.

Political sensitivity, organisational culture, lack of a professionalism (in the strict sense of the word) – these all contribute to the inertia, the inability of the hierarchy to’ let go’.  But the signs are there.  Without decentralisation, freedom of action, speed, delegation and initiative afforded to professional and highly trained operators, then the command style will continue to restrict progress in strategic communications, regardless of how good the ‘message’ is.  Applying mission command to strategic communications is not straightforward, but acknowledging that a lack of it, or certainly its ethos, is a first step.  There will be immovable obstacles (some there for good reason), but examining where elements of mission command style could be employed in communications may just break a logjam of our own making.

It is, whilst considering managerial style, worthwhile looking across to the corporate world and the communication approaches deemed successful.  To an extent RAND have already do so with regard to marketing approaches being applied to ‘shaping’ and earning popular support in Theatres of operation.   In ‘Enlisting Madison Avenue’, all the major issues were highlighted: traditional kinetic focus, IO-Psyop overlap, lack of font line understanding, reactive information processes, measures of effectiveness and, of course, the lack of synchronization and coordination just about everywhere.  In applying marketing ideas and practices  – branding, sales, products – many communication issues can be ameliorated.  But, despite its great value in improving communication effect, this is tactical tinkering and highly customer-focussed.   Little time is given to more strategic effects of internal culture and management.

The point of all this is apparent from the degree of discourse on how we influence others, looking at the externalities but the utter lack of debate over how we see, organise, manage and function ourselves, examining the internalities.  Synergy and style of management is key to this internalising. Strategic communication is a holistic endeavour, not a magic bullet to merely deal with the complexities out there, and within that approach a long, hard look at ourselves is way overdue.


[1] Jeffrey B. Jones, “Strategic Communication: A Mandate for the United States,” Joint Force Quarterly 39 (Fourth Quarter 2005): 180.

[2] U.S. Department of State, “QDR Execution Roadmap for Strategic Communication,” September 2006, p. 3. and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Joint Publication 1-02, April 12, 2001 (as amended through March 4, 2008), p. 522.

[3] NATO’s ACO 95-2 Strategic Communications dated 15 Sept 2008.

[4] Allaire Y. and Firsirotu M.E.  (1984) Theories of Organizational Culture in Organizational Studies 5(3)   London: Sage, 1984,  pp 193-226

[5] Washington Post, October 20, 2009

[6] http://frontlineclub.com/blogs/danielbennett/2009/11/stephen-grey-is-the-british-army-losing-in-afghanistan.html

[7] Aylwin-Foster N. Changing the Army for Counter-Insurgency Operations in Military Review, Nov-Dec 2005, pp 2-15

[8] http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/911066/British-consumers-rank-top-50-companies-reputation/

[9] “Report on the Business of Marks and Spencer.” 123HelpMe.com. 18 Nov 2009
<http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=149330&gt;.

[10] “In a moment of acute crisis, political and corporate leaders along with government officials are discovering they have less power to shape public perceptions than they assume they must surely have ex officio. “ Gowing. N. ‘Skyful of Lies’and Black Swans: The New Tyranny of Shifting Power in Crisis Oxford: Reuters Institute, 2009 , p. 9.

[11] Rid T. & Hecker, M. War2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age Westport: Praeger Security International, 2009, p. 223.


Conference: TERRORISM and NEW MEDIA
Dublin City University, Ireland
8 – 9 September 2010
WEBSITE: http://www.dcu.ie/~cis/TNM/index.html

ORGANISERS
• Conference Chair: Dr. Maura Conway
• Co-Organiser: Lisa McInerney

All queries and conference-related correspondence should be directed to:  terrorisminternetconf@dcu.ie

PLENARY SPEAKERS
– Dr. Jarret Brachman, North Dakota State University
– Dr. John Horgan, International Center for the Study of
Terrorism,Pennsylvania State University
– Prof. Philip Seib, Annenberg School, University of Southern California

RATIONALE
The purpose of this conference is to bring together academics from a broad range of disciplines with policy-makers and security practitioners that have knowledge and/or expertise that can facilitate advances in the study of Terrorism and New Media, particularly the Internet, in novel ways.

PROGRAMME
This is the first academic conference to subject the relationship between terrorism and new media, particularly the Internet, to truly multi-disciplinary scrutiny. The one-day conference (Wednesday, 8 September) will feature a series of panels and a number of plenary addresses. The conference will be followed on Thursday, 9 September by a workshop devoted to the robust debate and analysis of currently ‘hot’ topics in the realm of terrorism and the Internet, particularly the question of the role of the Internet in processes of radicalisation.

Terrorism: What is going on in cyberspace?

CALL FOR PAPERS
We welcome papers or panels reporting on innovative research into any aspect of terrorism and new media. We particularly welcome papers or panels that report novel results or describe and employ innovative methodological approaches.

Papers or panels on the following topics will be of particular interest:

• Online radicalisation
• The Internet and recruitment
• Old terrorism and new media
• Methodologies for terrorism-related Internet research
• Terrorism informatics
• Network analysis and online terrorist activity
• New Internet tools/platforms and radicalisation/terrorism (for example,
online gaming, video-sharing, photo-sharing, social networking,
micro-blogging, online payment mechanisms, etc.) • Cyberterrorism
• Violent Islamism and the Internet
• The content and functioning of jihadi Internet forums
• Jihadi video producers and content
• Children/youth, terrorism, and new media
• Women/gender, terrorism, and new media
• Case studies of particular groups’ use of new media (e.g. al-Qaeda, FARC,
Hamas, Hizbollah, dissident Irish Republicans, etc.)
• Policy/legislative responses to terrorists’ online presence
• Critical responses to research on, reporting of, and governmental
responses to the conjunction of terrorism and the Internet
• Ethical issues surrounding online terrorism-related research

Perspectives from any academic discipline are welcomed, particularly: communications, computer science, cultural studies, information science, international relations, internet studies, law, media studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology.

Authors of individual papers should submit a 300-word abstract via the conference website (http://www.dcu.ie/~cis/TNM/index.html
<http://www.dcu.ie/%7Ecis/TNM/index.html) on or before 17 May 2010.

A selection of accepted papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the journal Media, War & Conflict.

REGISTRATION

The conference will open for registration from 1 June 2010.
Registration Fees are as follows:
Standard: €130 (Late reg., post 8 July: €195) Graduate Student: €65
(Late reg., post 8 July: €110)

Conference fee includes teas/coffees, lunch, welcome reception on the evening of Tuesday September 7 and the conference dinner on the evening of Wednesday September 8.

DEADLINES

• Abstract deadline: 300 words to be submitted by 17 May 2010
• Registration: from 1 June 2010
• Decision on abstracts: 14 June 2010
• Decision on travel funding awards: 14 June 2010
• Early bird registration deadline: 8 July
• Hotel reservation deadline at conference rate: 19 July 2010


Policy, relationships, practicalities, even thinking about a little bit of governance and leadership – these will all undoubtedly all pre-occupying the minds of many senior LibDems (and no doubt Conservatives).  But right from day one of this coalition, the LibDems, probably more than any other party, will need to keep two things clear in their consciousness – those of identify and narrative – in order to survive the next few years.

The LibDems for generations have enjoyed an easy identity – the third party, centre-left, progressive even maverick – even though it didn’t feature strongly on the radar of the general public.  Well it does now – with many who may have only had a vague, hazy idea of the party struggling to understand it.  Yet in coalition it has already lost some of those identifying features – its connection with the left appears diluted, its radical outspoken tone muted and its position as the ‘progressive’ party will quickly be filled by Labour.

Liberal Democrats - has the identity crisis already started?

Regardless of how this identity has been shaken by recent events, the party will in five years time, possibly earlier, go back to the polls.  At that time, the public will either know who the party is and its story  or that public will be unsure of the party’s narrative and identity, both having been obscured by coalition dynamics.  It is in the gift of the LibDems themselves to choose which outcome will prevail.  This eventuality will also apply to the Conservatives, but their legacy of mainstream government or opposition has enabled a deeper impression in the public psyche – unless Team Cameron are transformed within a heady atmosphere of new concensus politics, and seen to be transformed, they will still be seen as the Tories – love’em or hate’em – at the next election.  And Labour, with a rich and vibrant seam of history, unshackled from the constraints of power, can regroup and develop a powerful  image within the vacated progressive left political sphere.  But the LibDems, if they fail to maintain and enhance their sense of who they are as an individual party, may enjoy a brief moment of government only to be returned to the political hinterland.

As they say, a reputation takes years to develop but can be shattered in minutes.  For the LibDems this hasn’t happened yet (although it has been shaken).  In the medium term, actions and consequences – sheer bloody politics –of the Coalition will of course take their toll on the reputations of those involved.  But if active measures – the determined maintenance of party culture, vision, ritual, ideals – are not taken quickly, to capitalize on the fact that the public are watching them,  LibDem reputation – the very identity and narrative of the party, diluted and fragmented – could easily melt away anyway.   Reputation management is an awful buzzword from the PR industry but, if anything, the LibDems will have to quickly start practicing serious identity management, in order to come out the other end of this Coalition intact.


What happened?  The UK is constitutionally in uncharted waters.  After weeks of political campaigning no party won outright and a massive surge by the Liberal Democratic party fizzled into nothing (although in a remarkable turn of events they now have unprecedented power to decide the political future of the UK)

But after weeks of high profile, in which they went from years of dismally polling a fairly distant third to the other main political parties to sporadically outstripping both of them, to only for that ‘surge’ to melt away on the day that it mattered, even though they gained almost a million more votes ( a one percentage rise) than in the previous election in 2005.  Of course, a presidential-style set of three television debates with the party leaders, a first for the UK, contributed to the media melee.

LibDems couldn't capitalise on their surge - but are still at the centre of the media's glare.

There are several lessons to learn here about political communication.

Firstly, the glare of overexposure threw the LibDem’s campaign. Absurdly, a communication and reputation crisis was spawned from an unmitigated success, not a failure.   Caught out by their sudden success, they had to maintain momentum but remained overfocussed on the Clegg effect and failed to spread the focus of attraction consistently.  Differing messages were given to different media outlets, pandering to the audience without fully understanding that in the modern media environment, whispers get everywhere.

Secondly, CB3 always warns of the problem of over-messaging.  But, being candid, this is in fact a misnomer.  The message must be maintained but the data or information required to support the message – the flesh on the bones – must be varied, otherwise publics will become inured to, or at worst bored of, the same justifications.  The LibDem message was good but the supporting data not varied enough – the public, initially made to sit up on the appearance of the third man saying new, fresh things, became tired of  fresh ideas as they were represented in the same fashion repeatedly.

And thirdly, message momentum has to be maintained and increasingly detailed.  The LibDem stance, and therefore message, on issues such as immigration and Trident, to name but a few, was never fully developed and given substance in terms of supporting data.

Of course, a largely right-wing press contributed to the failure of the surge, but a failure to develop arguments, spread the spectrum and loss of message momentum equally contributed to the failure of the LibDems to capitalise on brief but significant public adoration and the delivery of what is now a constitutional conundrum.

These are lessons, quickly observed but not assessed in detail.  Importantly, they are not criticisms of actions taken or not taken during what must have been a whirlwind ride in the media glare which few could have foreseen or easily dealt with.  CB3 doesn’t wish to be an armchair general and recognises that the challenges faced by the LibDems, especially their campaign team, were massive and little understood by those looking in from the outside.


Even in these times of economic uncertainty, the public of the rich West will still dig into their pockets to donate funds to charities and NGOs working to alleviate suffering in the most desperate and war-ravaged areas of the planet.  Indeed, whilst Greece burns and threatens livelihoods, many still understand that great swathes of Africa and Asia equally burn, threatening lives.  People still give generously to help those in need.  And NGOs will gladly take this money and pour it into numerous brave and noble development and humanitarian programmes.  Equally these NGOs will ensure that those giving are not only made aware of the needs of those suffering but also of their own tireless and challenging work to relieve that suffering. And it seems like a fair deal – we’ll show you the bad stuff, you give us money, we’ll try and sort out the bad stuff and show you what we’re doing.

However, taking a realist perspective, when the developed world floods a war-ravaged country with funding, the vast majority of it ends up not with those most deserving of it but in the hands of  whichever corrupt elites happen to be fighting for control, and thereby inadvertently financing the conflict’s continuation. Even when money is provided directly to those in need, circumventing corrupt middlemen and warlords, via direct provision of necessary equipment, food, aid etc, local environmental economics kick in.  Sheer poverty gives items such as medecines, medical instruments, shelter material, wheelchairs and the like their own special market value – fetching sums of money which will be more valuable than the actual item themselves. Such items end up back in the economy, providing for those with less need of them.

This reality will come as no surprise to anyone who has been involved in international aid at the business end, especially working with NGOs in the field. However, of those millions of donors who regularly fund these NGOs, the sheer brutal truth of what happens to their money is mostly hidden.  To a degree a conspiracy of silence is maintained lest these donors learn of the ultimate destination of their charitable donations and henceforth refrain from giving.

From a utopian perspective, all aid would be orchestrated by those beyond reproach, guided by their best instincts in implementing programs for those most in need. Each and every one of us would take seriously our accountability to local communities and to the donors providing the wherewithal to get the job done. However, experience reveals that humanitarian programmes, with large amounts of cash flying around in a frantic maelstrom, often encourage fast and loose approaches to inflowing funds. Given the haste with which aid programmes are often thrown together, controls on the use of funds are often a bit less rigorous than in development programming, which can demand more rigour and transparency.

The sad fact is that many conflicts in which huge amounts of donor aid is forthcoming, via a huge  and growing number of charitable NGOs, are often fuelled by, if not engineered to encourage, that very aid and the environment within which this aid is opertating merely provides oxygen for corrupt or lackadaisical accounting.  This moral dilemma becomes a major issue for NGOs who have genuine desire to assist those in need and also for governments, who can hardly remain on the sidelines when the media are handily driving their publics to demand that something be done.

This stuff costs us rebels a lot of money - fortunately nice Western donors help us out

Thus ensues a vicious circle of humanitarian assistance and conflict – one familiar to aid agencies and NGOs.  It provides particular challenges to those working in the field, not least those involved in campaigning and communication.  Ethical questions abound. Knowing the potential attrition rate of aid funding as it approaches its final destination, as vast amounts are hived off by various players, is it morally right to deny this harsh truth to those willing to contribute?  Knowing that $300 is just as likely to end up purchasing thousands of rounds of 7.62mm ammunition as it is supplying stocks of antibiotics, is it morally right to conceal such possibilities from those donating?  Knowing that host nation ‘partners’ often have accounting practices which leave much to be desired, and allow for a lot of creative accounting with donated sums, is it morally right to maintain a façade of successful and efficient partnerships?

But then again, morality may have to be tempered with pragmatism.  Undoubtedly, when it comes down to it, NGOs and aid agencies can only really survive through such pragmatism – a pragmatism that demands that not only do they communicate the need for aid but market themselves as the provider of choice, sell their idea of charity and brand themselves as angels amidst a hell.  All against a backdrop of ethical conundrums.

In truth, communication within the field of international aid is as tough and challenging as it gets – rife with moral dilemmas.  Marketing the iPad, selling the latest BMW 5 series or even campaigning for a political party – all are ethical child’s play in comparison.


The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy 2010:

“Culture, Globalization, and International Relations over the next Two Decades” – Berlin, May 23rd – 30th, 2010

Symposium Agenda

The International Symposium 2010 will be split into three complementary parts. The program will begin by looking in greater detail at “culture” and identity” and how these terms are used and understood today. During this part of the program participants will have the opportunity to experience Berlin’s famous “Carnival of Cultures”.

The second part of the program will build on these components by considering the role that culture plays in contemporary international relations and the process of globalization. During these three days the concepts of cultural diplomacy” and “soft power” will also be explored in more detail.

The final part of the program will apply these discussions to one of the key issues that will determine global politics over the coming years: Afghanistan and stability in Central Asia.

The Symposium will be split into the following three parts:

“Defining and Understanding Culture in an International Context” : 23rd – 25th May)

A Three Piece Puzzle – “The Relationship between Culture, International Relations and Globalization” : 26th – 27th May

“Understanding Afghanistan and Central Asia: Supporting Democracy and Stability – The Path Ahead” : 28th – 30th May

This final part is being held in cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the German Marshal Fund (GMFUS), UNESCO, the European Commission, the US State Department and in partnership with leading international organizations.

Further details about the event can be found at the icd website:

<http://www.icd-internationalsymposium.org>

http://www.icd-internationalsymposium.org