Podcast: 2023 Summer Institute Recap

In this special podcast hosted by CPD Visiting Scholar Eytan Gilboa, three participants in CPD's 2023 Summer Institute reflect on the two-week experience: Viktoriia Lialina-Boiko (Deputy Director for Public Diplomacy and Communications, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine), Shalom Konstantino (Public Affairs Specialist, Global Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State), and Fransijn Bulhof (Senior Advisor Public Diplomacy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands).  

Eytan: Welcome to a podcast on the Summer Institute in Public Diplomacy of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. I am Eytan Gilboa, Professor of International Communication at Bar Ilan University in Israel. In 2005, I initiated and co-founded the Summer Institute, and have been teaching ever since. With us today, three participants in the 2023 Institute from the United States, the Netherlands and Ukraine. Thanks for joining us for this podcast. Please represent yourself, your name, and position, United States first.

Shalom: My name is Shalom Konstantino. I'm a Public Affairs Specialist at the Office for Global Communication Strategy at the U.S. Department of State.

Eytan: Netherlands.

Fransijn: Hi, my name is Fransijn Bulhof, and I am Deputy Head of Public Diplomacy at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Eytan: Ukraine.   

Viktoriia: My name is Viktoriia Lialina-Boiko. I am Deputy Director of the Department for Public Diplomacy and Communications of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, responsible for Public Diplomacy and digital diplomacy of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

Eytan: How did you learn about the institute. Shalom?

Shalom: The Department of State did send around a notice calling for applicants within the Department of State. So first we went through a rigorous process within the Department of State to select participants for this year. The call was for mid-career officers, both foreign service officers and civil service officers.

Eytan: Fransijn? 

Fransijn: So I heard about the Summer Institute through colleagues. My current boss, she did the course a few years ago. But also we're setting up regional training conferences. And a colleague of mine in Cairo was actually the first one to bring it up with me. And so it seemed interesting to me to join as well.

Eytan: Viktoriia?

Viktoriia: I learned about the course through my colleagues as well. A few of them took part in the course last year and strongly recommended to join this summer school.

Eytan: Which were the most useful ideas and tools you have acquired in the Institute? Fransijn? 

Fransijn: I was very interested by the forward-thinking approach. So talking about AI and games, those were things that we don't really talk about when just working at our daily jobs. So that has been great. It's been great to also just take a little time to reflect upon our daily practice.

Eytan: Shalom?

Shalom: I think that some of the talk around crisis management was really interesting to me, as well as storytelling. I think that we as practitioners in the field, you know, we have the tools we are used to working with, so sitting in a classroom where we hear from people that talk about theory, but also practice that has been used nowadays is very eye opening for me. There was a lot of talk about AI. We created a chatbot. That was very impressive in one hour and a half. These are a couple of the things that I really liked. 

Eytan: Viktoriia, which were the most useful ideas and tools you have acquired in the institute?

Viktoriia: You know, for me, it was very useful to hear about new approaches; basic theoretical knowledges; because we somehow use them without even  knowing that these algorithms existed. And I just echo what Shalom said about crisis management. You know, for decades, we've learned how to deal with propaganda and disinformation. So these new approaches in crisis management and processes of pre-banking, de-banking etc., are very useful for us.

Eytan: So Ukraine has been in war with Russia... 

Viktoriia: Since 2014.

Eytan: How is it to conduct public diplomacy during war?

Viktoriia: It's a very complex and difficult question, and it can take hours to discuss it. But actually, yeah, unfortunately, Ukraine has this unique practical experience about public diplomacy and communications in wartime. And we proved once again, how public diplomacy, effective proactive public diplomacy is efficient and how we can win the information battlefield with new approaches in public diplomacy and communication, with creative responses.

Eytan: Fransijn, what has been the most important and most difficult challenge to Netherlands public diplomacy in recent years? 

Fransijn: We've got interior crises within our country, regarding climate, for example, and it's hard to talk about climate when you've got your own domestic challenges. Also, I have to say that resources are a constant struggle within the MFA. So, we would like to have more capacity for our public diplomacy outreach.

Eytan: Shalom, can you tell us a little bit more about your daily work?

Shalom:  We have a whole bureau that is dedicated to information. So, it could be digital; it could be press; it could be social media content; video. And we also have an evaluation team that tracks statistics and messaging. And my job is to put all of the great effort and tactics of my colleagues; and put it together into one strategy that would follow one theme, one narrative. The Secretary of State and his travel around the world. We're also very much focused on internal communication to the workforce. The workforce of the Department of State spans from every time-zone, every continent, in over 200 spots all over the world. So, we need to make sure that we communicate to our own employees, in a very efficient way, and make sure that we get the information out there, no matter what time-zone you're at.

Eytan: How has interacting with other PD professionals influenced your thinking about public diplomacy? Viktoriia?

Viktoriia: It's an interesting question. For a diplomat, networking is very important, always. So, it's like a synonym of our profession. And it was very useful to hear my colleagues speaking and describing their communication priorities, the challenges they could face in the near future. So, I think that for everyone, for every participant of this course, the networking process and sharing our views on our future public diplomacy is very important. 

Eytan: Fransijn?

Fransijn: For me, it's been great to talk with people from the State Department about their priorities. It's been great to talk to Viktoriia, on their perspectives; obviously, a very different situation than we are in. I very much enjoyed hearing Liz Allen speak earlier today, most notably regarding the necessity of PD, how PD can help national security purposes. So that's something that I'm interested in a lot. And I hope that we can pivot within our own MFA toward more of a security based approach, I suppose.

 Eytan: Shalom, how has interacting with other PD professionals influenced your thinking about PD?

Shalom: It's been amazing spending time with you both and the rest of the 20 members of the cohort. Just because I think that the knowledge that I acquired in the past 16 years in the Department of State really comes from the people I've met, the places I've been, and the experiences that I've experienced. Now, hearing other people's experience here during these two weeks, and really focusing on public diplomacy and really taking a moment to just focus on how we do things, why we do things, how do we prioritize and strategize? I think that hearing from the Netherlands, from the Ukraine, from Qatar; also from the Department of State. We have members of the Department of State that serve in, you know, 10 different embassies and consulates, with 10 different realities, and different audiences. I think that even though we work in the same organization, our reality is different, the day to day work is very different. So I think that it really nurtured my professional career. And I believe that I will take a lot of this.

Eytan: So the Department of State is so big that it takes for you to come to this Institute to meet your colleagues.

Shalom: Definitely, we're nearing 100,000 employees all over the world. We are a world leader, and as such, we need to have many professionals to help us, you know, promote our policy priorities around the world. And it takes a lot of effort. It's not a one woman, one man job.

Eytan: Yeah. Fransijn, has any of the sessions surprised you?

Fransijn: That's a great question. I'd say, there were two sessions on games. And I don't know a lot about gaming. And so, the content was surprising. And it was also fun to hear from basically most other colleagues who also weren't that much into gaming. I did enjoy the fact that everyone likes to play Wordle -- the word guessing game, which I play in three languages each morning. But so I would say that the forward looking theory, which could probably benefit us in the long run, because that technology is coming for us. Let's face it.

Eytan: Viktoriia, has any of the sessions, surprised you?

Viktoriia: I will echo my dear friend from the Netherlands, because forward looking creative public diplomacy, such as use of the AI; gaming also surprised me very much. That's the future and we have to start thinking about it and using the tools.

Eytan: Shalom, what surprised you?

Shalom: What surprised me? 

Eytan: Or nothing suprised you?

Shalom: No, many things surprised me. Many of the people that were in the room are very focused on digital media that inform web and social media. But when it comes to AI, we are so--I don't want to say late in the game--but we're behind, already. So one of the sessions, we were toying around with AI; we were asked to create 3D object model, right. And we all looked at each other and said, like, "we don't have the right technology for that." Or, "we won't have the right technology when we go back to our offices.” And we were just, you know, out of the theory in the classroom, we went into practice, and actually created models—3D models—with our phones, and it was easy, and it was, you know, literally in our  fingertips. And I think that what it taught me beyond the fact of like, here, you learn something new. Here's a new tool. You know, it taught me that there are so many applications for that technology, that are easy and I didn't know about. So many applications in public diplomacy. And it surprised me how in an hour and a half, I came up with four ideas to take with me to my back to my office.

Eytan: Like what?

Shalom: For example, one of the tools the United States is using is art diplomacy. And we have a program that is called Arts in Embassies. Arts in Embassies is a collection of art that has been curated from all over the United States, from museums and so on, and artists. If we could give the public -- more than just the visitors who come to the embassy -- if we can do a 3D tour of Arts in Embassy program to the public in countries where let's say it's very difficult to reach the embassy or access the embassy. If we can give them a glimpse of the embassy and part of our arts, we will be able to advance more of, you know, the recognition of who we are, what we do, and bring more people in a more accessible way.

Eytan: Fransijn, we always talk about the changes technology brings into public diplomacy. How would you see the introduction of artificial intelligence changing public diplomacy in the very near future?

Fransijn: That is a great question, which is difficult to answer. I think we have a tendency of equating AI to ChatGPT at the moment. And I can see us using ChatGPT for helping us make copy for example. I know we actually did use AI for a speech of our Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the conference that we organized in February of this year on the responsible use of Military AI, "re-aim." And it was kind of a gimmick at the time, but AI is something that our ministry does work on, but mostly from a policy level and less from a PD standpoint. So I think we will be able to use it for generating copy to a certain extent, but other than that, it's hard for me to see how the future is going to unfold.

Eytan: Okay, Viktoriia, what did you gain from the group project?

Viktoriia: It's a very interesting question, because we have a very special group project. And it was, for me, very interesting, and very challenging to see how would I act in Eswatini because the country is completely different from Ukraine, completely different to how to use the tools to reach out to the audience, etc. You know, just to refocus from the situation in my country, which is very difficult and challenging to conduct public diplomacy, but to refocus and to think outside box, what would I do, if I were there, for example. Very useful experience.

Eytan: We asked all the participants to submit proposals for group projects; we received almost 20 proposals; we had to select only five. And the whole idea is for people who presented projects, not to participate in the group that was discussing the project. The idea is for the participants to do role play. If you were to participate in or do a project that has nothing to do with you, how would you then do it? How would you then plan it? And so, Shalom, what did you gain from the group project?

Shalom: To be honest, this is something that I really, really like. I like looking into new audiences, new realities; this is something that I do as part of my job. I look into different countries and different audiences and different channels of communications. I find in every country, it's a new case of how we're going to communicate something. The discussion that we've had amongst us in my group. I'm with Viktoriia, the same group, in the Eswatini project. I enjoyed the practice of putting together something with people who don't usually work in the same methods that I use, and not the same process that I am going through.

Viktoriia: Great discussions always.

Shalom: Viktoriia had such amazing, amazing ideas. And she wanted to go all in, you know, like use every channel of communications; and I had to remind Viktoriia, "we're not in Ukraine, we're in Eswatini."

Viktoriia: The way public diplomacy of Ukraine works now: It's all in.

Shalom: Yeah, and that's the way that public diplomacy in Ukraine works. It's all in. And so working with Viktoriia and with Ahmed from Qatar and with Ilona, who served last in Bolivia, and you know me I work for Washington, but I sit actually in Luxembourg. This was a great... the interactive way we work together and interacted with each other. And also, it was nice to go to another member of the team in the room and interviewed an expert.  We interviewed the person who submitted the proposal who works in Eswatini. And we prepared a list of 20 questions, and we grilled her about the culture of Eswatini. So I think we all benefited also from learning a lot about Eswatini. And things that I didn't know before, and I wasn't exposed to.

Eytan: Fransijn, which group project you were you participating in?

Fransijn:  I am the leader of the project on the El Alto mural in Bolivia, and it's a project that was set up by the US Embassy. And for me, it's been interesting also to look at a PD project from a US perspective, because it's different from how our ministry would organize something. So, I would also like to echo my colleagues here on the table in saying that it's wonderful to learn from different contexts. It's wonderful to see how everyone, I mean, it's our job, right? It's our core business to think about how to put your message out there in complicated, complex contexts. And it's wonderful to learn more about that. And it's been interesting to learn more about the US perspective, in that sense.

Eytan: The Center on Public Diplomacy is located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California. Have you been able to enjoy Los Angeles? Shalom?

Shalom: First of all, enjoying the university campus life here in USC. That was very eye opening. For me, I think there's a lot of culture here. And it's a very nice calming environment, which is very nice. I also got to visit the Academy Museum for Motion Pictures, which is a pretty new one in LA. So that was my first opportunity to go there and I really enjoyed it. And of course, I mean, you can't say LA without food, food, food. So, tacos all around. I had a lot of tacos. 

Eytan: Fransijn?

Fransijn: So many tacos. It's been wonderful. It's great to be in Los Angeles; the weather is wonderful. I am a big fan of concerts. So, I like to listen to a lot of music. I go to somewhat alternative concerts, usually. And comedy. So I have been lucky to go and see a comedy show. I went to see two concerts already. And I've been having a great time with my fellow classmates and I went swimming with Viktoriia the other day as well, which was quick, but it was nice.

Viktoriia: Don't forget the hop-on-hop-off bus.

Fransijn: I will not forget. Viktoriia and I had a great time on Saturday. We, for the first time for both of us--I would like to stress this--we took one of those hop-on-hop-off tours. And we saw a lot of Los Angeles on Saturday together, which was a lot of fun.

Viktoriia: We saw almost all the iconic places that are must see in Los Angeles, because you know, Los Angeles is huge. And for me, I'm in Los Angeles for the first time--for the first time in California. So yes, food is great. Weather is great. The company is the best we can ever imagine. And yeah, I'm a fan of theater. So together with our colleagues, we enjoyed a Shakespeare play. We visited Getty Gallery, Griffith Observatory. So we had a wonderful time. As all my colleague and me, we had work after the classes, but nevertheless, we had time to explore Los Angeles.

Fransijn: A combination of work and fun was for me to visit a PD project of the Netherlands that was here. And on Friday, there was--the Dutch ballet was in town. I didn't really know about that. But I got tickets at the last minute. And if I'd known it was so good, I would have invited more of my classmates to come because there was a fabulous ballet recital on Friday of Frida, by the National Ballet.

Eytan: Okay, which ideas and tools would you be excited to implement in your current job? Shalom?

Shalom: Oh, wow. I think that one of the storytelling presentations we've had yesterday; we went through a series of storytelling ways, and one of them was with a 360 camera; and using that 360 environment. I'm going to definitely talk to my colleagues and look into ways to implement that. The focus of the presentation was virtual reality and augmented reality. And I think that it's something that's been used but very little. Maybe we as a government can lean into it, as part of our climate messaging, perhaps, as part of other messaging we're using around the world. I think that's something that I would like to to look into, yes.

Eytan: Viktoriia?

Viktoriia: I will definitely think about using new tools of AI. We did start to use it. We had a number of VR exhibitions all over the world. And using the VR headset, our guests could see the result of Russia's War on Ukraine; just to see the consequences of Russian aggression, to see the liberated cities, how do they look like after Russia, etc. So we started to use it, but now I have some ideas how to develop it. Of course, we also use AI when for example, we translate and voice over the speeches of our President Zelensky in more than 100 languages, just the major speeches to be distributed and promoted all over the world. So you know, I will echo also Shalom's words on storytelling. Now in Ukraine, we know how important efficient storytelling is. And we always say, if you don't tell your own story, someone will do it. So you know, catchy, efficient, creative storytelling is very important nowadays.

Eytan: Fransijn, which ideas and tools would you be excited to implement in your current job?

Fransijn: I've been thinking about this. I think, for me, it's mostly the strategic part that's been something that I think I will implement when I go back. So, I was thinking about the pivot of PD toward the national security perspective, which I stated before as well. So more like how PD should be implemented, what the future of PD should be within our ministry. Very much the strategic standpoint. But other than that, learning about the tools and being aware of their implementation, and the ways that we could potentially use these has really been great. And I will definitely talk to our teams about that as well.

Eytan: So finally, how would you describe your experience in the Institute to colleagues who might be interested in attending future Institutes? Shalom?

Shalom: Well, when I return back to the Department of State, I think my first email will be to the Foreign Service Institute--that is running the selection process for us--email them and tell them that I would happily be the ambassador for next year’s cohort; tell the story and tell a little bit more about the Summer Institute because I think that beyond the advertisement, there needs to be a little bit more real talk about what is going on here, and what do you get out of it. I'm definitely going to help recruit. I don't think that it's going to be that difficult, to be honest. Hearing the experiences of others before me would have helped me a little bit more with setting my expectations for the Summer Institute. It was a lot of great information. And we had a lot of conversations about tools that we either not aware of -- or we are aware of and think that it's not our place yet, because we are not tech savvy enough, we don't have the resources. And we were proven wrong. And I must say...

Fransijn: We're getting older Shalom.

Shalom: I know, I know. 

Eytan: Fransijn? 

Fransijn: Very positively, I would definitely recommend this course to my colleagues. I'm also setting up our own PD conferences and trainings. 

Eytan: Don't steal too many of our ideas. 

Fransijn: I won't steal too many of your ideas but I have to say that I'm very happy that we're on track and the ideas are very similar. So what we've already set up is in basically the same vein. But no, I think that people from our HQ and from our larger missions can definitely benefit from attending the Summer Institute, and I will happily recommend it to them.

Eytan: Viktoriia?

Viktoriia: Of course, I will recommend my colleagues to visit this course. And we're now starting our work on another course, "PD and Communication in Wartime." Your course helped me to rethink a bit, the course for our colleagues, our partners from other countries who could face major crises, like war for example. And of course, my wish, and hopefully it will be like this, that next year, the participants from Ukraine will talk about post-war reality, our win, and new challenges to face.

Eytan: This ends our special podcast on the Summer Institute in Public Diplomacy of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. So Viktoriia and Fransijn and Shalom, thank you for participating in this podcast. Thank you very much.



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