Public diplomacy is a core element of the work of DFAT—it is one of the four key outcomes which the department is committed to achieving under its performance structure.
Under this outcome, the department seeks to generate public understanding in Australia and overseas of Australia’s foreign and trade policies and to project a positive image of Australia internationally.
Today, public diplomacy has become increasingly important in a world where the interests of individual nations can be affected significantly by how they are perceived by influential groups in other countries and by the actions of ‘non-state’ groups.
The ease of global communication and interconnectivity has opened up unprecedented opportunities for people to inform themselves on international issues. It has also provided opportunities for a wide range of operatives to project their voices on the world stage, including extremists, NGOs, special interest and advocacy groups and individuals.
For DFAT, public diplomacy is not an optional extra. It is a key component in developing effective policy responses to international issues and challenges and making other countries and non-state groups more receptive to our views.
Public diplomacy is about proactively explaining our policies and programs and helping to shape accurate and positive opinions about Australia.
It is also about influencing perceptions and generating public support against contemporary threats such as extremism and people smuggling; and countering inaccurate or negative perceptions about Australia which can have a direct impact on our interests in sectors such as tourism, education, trade and foreign investment.
In addition to influencing public opinion, PD initiatives and advocacy campaigns can also play an important role in influencing official perceptions—views about Australia held by ministers and officials in foreign countries are often shaped by the information and opinions presented in their electronic and print media. Perceptions can also be influenced by well-regarded NGOs or special interest groups either through direct lobbying or because their websites or social media activities may be sources of information for officials or ministers.
All DFAT officers have PD responsibilities
All DFAT officers in Australia and at posts have a role to play in using public diplomacy to advocate Australia’s interests internationally and to promote an accurate and positive image of Australia.
All officers, whether in Australia or overseas, should integrate public diplomacy principles into their policy planning and consider how PD initiatives can further advance their objectives. In particular, officers should articulate the key messages they want to deliver, identify key audiences and influencers, and think creatively about how best to convey their messages.
Within Australia and at posts, DFAT has a central role in developing and implementing policy and ensuring PD strategies and programs are part of a ‘whole-of-government’ approach, involving other agencies as appropriate. In Canberra an Interdepartmental Committee chaired by the Public Diplomacy and Information Branch plays a coordination role. At posts, PD activities in the host country should be coordinated by Heads of Mission.
While this handbook provides specific guidance on managing PD programs at posts, it also contains practical advice on how to develop effective public advocacy and communication techniques that can be applied in Australia as well as posts.
The core communication skills required are the same, whether they are used domestically or internationally. However, the opportunities—and challenges—are different.
Posts are responsible for managing perceptions not only about portfolio-related matters, but also about any issues that may have an impact on Australia’s national interests. Local media organisations expect posts to be able to respond quickly, not only to questions about Australia’s foreign and trade policies, but also on issues ranging from immigration and the safety of international students in Australia to protection of the environment and animal welfare.
This gives posts a broad set of responsibilities, requiring them to adopt a coordinated approach and to use the full range of public diplomacy skills described in this handbook, including media liaison, public advocacy, seminars, speeches by visiting experts, cultural activities and other events. Posts also have a degree of flexibility in how they relate to the local media, particularly on non-portfolio issues.
Within Australia, officers are generally more concerned with issues that are directly related to portfolio concerns. The Australian media itself is often more focused on the domestic ramifications of our trade and foreign policy objectives, particularly on consular incidents involving danger or harm to Australian citizens and on the management of the department.
While it is largely the responsibility of the Parliamentary and Media Branch in Canberra to respond to media inquiries, officers from many other areas of DFAT are required to be alert to emerging issues and to prepare talking points, news releases, key messages and speeches.
This handbook covers the full range of activities that make public diplomacy work among the most interesting and challenging in the department.
At posts all officers are expected to have a diverse range of influential ‘contacts’ in their host countries. PD and advocacy activities provide excellent opportunities to strengthen existing relationships and make new ones, including with leading cultural and literary figures, academics, opinion leaders, politicians, journalists, Australian alumni, writers, musicians and performers.
And there is no shortage of challenges, not least being to ensure our voice is heard and understood by sometimes unsympathetic audiences. This handbook focuses strongly on how to use public diplomacy to advance Australia’s interests internationally by highlighting areas where Australia excels and by responding to potentially damaging misconceptions.
Using this handbook
The handbook is divided into five parts:
- Part one focuses on managing and funding PD programs
- Part two provides guidance on planning successful PD programs and on the readily accessible public affairs material and support that is available from the Public Diplomacy and Information Branch, other areas of the department, and other agencies.
- Part three looks at how to make the most of cultural and other events, visits and people-to-people links and the support that the Public Diplomacy and Information Branch can provide to posts.
- Part four contains practical advice for all officers on developing effective public advocacy and strategic communication techniques and delivering messages to target audiences.
- Part five examines how to apply these techniques in the context of the department’s guidelines on contact with the media.
The handbook is an official guide for use by DFAT officers in the course of their normal duties. It brings together in a shorter and updated form the content of two previous publications—the Public diplomacy handbook and Public advocacy techniques.
The handbook includes links to relevant Administrative Circulars and other instructions and additional background material. Case studies and examples of best practice will also be added in future updates.
Feedback and suggestions for additional subjects that could be included in future editions of the handbook are welcome and should be directed to the Assistant Secretary, Public Diplomacy and Information Branch.