Local Action, Global Impact

This feature was included in CPD's 2021–2022 Annual Report. View this and other stories here.

From Los Angeles to Dubai, CPD explores what makes for effective public diplomacy and develops strategies to increase its impact.

Public diplomacy extends beyond official ambassadors to encompass the multitude of people and networks engaged in building international understanding, trust and cooperation. CPD continues intersecting disciplines to advance diplomatic aims and shared interests. From leveraging social media for increasing cultural understanding between nations to offering strategies for fostering partnerships among cities globally, our action-oriented research seeks better ways to connect communities for a more peaceful and prosperous world. 

World Stage 

The World Expo, also known as the world’s fair, has long been one of the most influential examples of public diplomacy. CPD researchers have reported on how nations use the Expo—and other mega-events like the Olympics and World Cup—to define themselves and connect with other countries since 2010. 

For Expo 2020 Dubai—which, due to COVID-19, was not held until 2021–22—CPD initiatives included designing a research framework to assess the USA Pavilion Youth Ambassadors program. The analysis gauged the program’s effectiveness in fostering cultural competence, knowledge, and networking and professional skills in the 75 young people selected to represent the U.S. to millions of visitors from around the globe. Our findings provide concrete ways to improve this longstanding highlight of U.S. outreach at World Expos. 

Although the World Expo remains a place-based event, the experiences it and other mega-events present are being transformed by digital technology. This is especially true coming out of the pandemic as hybrid diplomacy approaches are becoming the norm. CPD experts are advancing understanding of the future of significant global gatherings in this broader context. We are also exploring ways to optimize digital communications and social media engagement so that the reach of these important events can include countless more people than the millions who are able to attend in person. Our analysis of the Dubai event spotlights active digital reach and engagement by several Southeast Asia nations as well as from countries in the host region, demonstrates the powerful role of celebrity influencers and illustrates the emotionality engendered by social media engagement. Two emotions stood out in our analysis: the mega-event’s evocation of a trusting environment of openness and acceptance, and the anticipation and excitement created by global showcases on the ground. 

Partner or Perish 

While global mega-events may show success in connecting people across different cultures, the World Expo itself is only held at intervals of every five years. The regular and vital work of public diplomacy is conducted in less glamorous settings on a daily basis by governments and, increasingly, nongovernmental entities worldwide. This expansion of public diplomacy players has become ever more pronounced in a world linked by technology and trade—and in an era fraught with crises ranging from climate change to public health emergencies. 

Noting these issues through the lens of the world’s inability to prevent the COVID pandemic, CPD Director Jay Wang suggests, “The virus has taught us that we must partner or perish.” Public diplomacy is essential to building the necessary international ecosystems of collaboration to solve global problems, and the private sector is as important to achieving this as governments are. As Wang notes, “Important possibilities exist to bridge the worlds of business and diplomacy and to reimagine their linkages and roles” in improving global policies and practices to overcome seemingly intractable challenges. 

Global Role of Cities 

Just as cities were on the front lines of addressing the pandemic, they may also offer public diplomacy platforms for increased international cooperation to deal with a host of other concerns, including cybersecurity and immigration.

With appropriate planning and resources, cities can build partnerships for global impact while furthering the interests of their constituents. 

CPD researchers devised a useful framework to enhance cities’ capacity for global engagement. We identified five key functions of city diplomacy—economic development, diplomatic representation, policy collaboration and action, community engagement and civic empowerment, and hosting international events. CPD then examined current practices and capacity challenges to find ways of advancing city diplomacy for local and global benefit. The resulting framework includes strategies for more policy- and data-driven diplomacy, increasing strategic communication, and enhancing the understanding and management of global networks. 

Local Impact of Cultural Exchanges 

The World Expo may offer the largest example of an international interactivity, but cultural exchanges aimed simultaneously at promoting mutual understanding and foreign policy objectives happen in communities everywhere. These programs typically involve sponsoring selected individuals to stay in hosting countries for extended periods. But although evidence demonstrates the value of these initiatives for participants, the question remains: Do cultural exchanges actually benefit the local communities that host these visitors? 

To find answers, CPD created a conceptual framework for gauging the effects of international exchange programs on participating communities. Our investigators determined five categories of impact: knowledge about other countries and international affairs; cultural literacy, empathy, communication skills and other competencies; social connections for networking as well as tighter community bonds; civic spirit, engagement and volunteerism; and economic resources to develop business connections, opportunities and capacity-building to strengthen the local workforce. 

Using these categories to understand the experience of cultural exchanges from the community perspective as well as that of the visitor will enable these programs to maximize their advantages for all participants. 

Koreatown LA: A Study in Cultural Significance 

One example of a community studied in depth by CPD to explore opportunities for international and intercultural engagement is Koreatown. Founded by South Korean immigrants, this Los Angeles neighborhood has evolved into a vibrant center of multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational residents. 

Our analysis shows Koreatown to be a considerable asset to the city, bolstering Los Angeles’ international engagement while also enhancing the local quality of life through a range of cultural offerings. The CPD study also revealed how Koreatown serves as a transnational diaspora connection and an illustrative example of how local political engagement can combine with a focus on international relations. Our findings illuminate how urban/immigrant neighborhoods can generate goodwill and reciprocity between peoples across national and cultural boundaries. 

These and other CPD studies show that, from a one-on- one basis to city partnerships to vast international spectacles, examples of public diplomacy abound. However, that doesn’t mean they always fulfill their goals. Through rigorous research and analysis that drive actionable insight, CPD strengthens the ability of networks and individual actors to improve international relations and achieve common aims.


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