Meet the Author: Deborah L. Trent

Deborah L. Trent, 2014-16 CPD Research Fellow, is editor and co-author of the book Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future published by the U.S. Public Diplomacy Council. The volume showcases effective nontraditional approaches to public diplomacy around the world and is now available digitally through CPD’s PD Hub Online Library here

An independent consultant and analyst in public diplomacy and international development for such clients as the Global Humanities Institute at Montgomery College, Maryland and other academic institutions and educational organizations, Trent’s current research focuses on designing, monitoring and evaluating public-private partnerships and other programs that support cross-cultural understanding and international enterprises.

Can you offer some examples of nontraditional public diplomacy? Is a break with tradition a good thing for PD?

The research and firsthand experience of 11 practitioners, analysts and scholars contributing to this latest volume of the Public Diplomacy Council invites broader PD approaches that demonstrate more than a break from traditional modes. Our authors’ case studies show that effective PD often blends innovative and time-tested methods of engagement. Organizational context is key to each analysis where nontraditional PD was adopted or would have been beneficial. Helle Dale argues for stable coordination of PD with its sibling, strategic communication, whose implementation has suffered bureaucratic turf wars and name changes. Craig Hayden’s chapter explores the Collaboratory in the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Brian Carlson cites unconventional, multiorganizational tools and processes, from messaging with seed packets and soap wrappers during WWI to nimble, localized, civil-military provincial reconstruction teams in post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why is Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future crucial reading for students of public diplomacy?

It’s a set of carefully researched cases peppered with vivid stories touching on all world regions. We have four-time ambassador Anthony C. E. Quainton writing on the foundational issue of defining PD. Dick Virden dissects PD successes and failures during the late 1960s counterinsurgency in Thailand, the war against the Viet Cong and pre- and post-Soviet Poland. Peter Kovach explicates the cultural whys and regulatory hows of faith-based diplomacy. Yours truly offers an integrated process for holistic evaluation and advocacy of cultural diplomacy partnerships. Authors emphasize the PD standards—listening for understanding through informational, cultural and educational programs to explain, influence and support U.S. interests—along with relationship-building. They point out missed opportunities or diminished credibility when participants’ perspectives and experiences are not fed into the policymaking grinder. John Brown’s treatise on the contrasting approaches of President Woodrow Wilson’s assistants George Creel and Walter Lippmann, two of PD’s forebears, couldn’t be more instructive right now, as charges of propaganda and fake news swirl.    

What surprised you in editing this volume?

The practical, compelling content, owing to evidence-based conclusions. Jong-on Hahm’s chapter on the latest trends in structuring and funding international scientific research in STEM fields is valuable to grant-seekers and administrators. Carol Balassa delivers a firsthand account of negotiating the 2005 UNESCO Cultural Diversity Convention—which emerged in opposition to the domination of the U.S. motion picture industry and was adopted by all but the United States and a few allies—and recommends a training program in film distribution. Robert Albro coins the concept of “transnational applied cultural networks” to encourage collaboration among disparate non-state actors in the arts, human rights, antiquities preservation and other areas.

How has nontraditional public diplomacy been faring under the Trump administration?

The rapid-fire “counter-Twiplomacy” of the president diverges from micro-blogging norms among heads of democratic states. Similarly, prioritizing domestic rebuilding, deregulation, border security and smaller government over nation-building abroad, Trumpian PD appears to favor contracts and public-private partnerships over cooperative assistance agreements and grants. One can also see a continued push to build digital and social media capacity for aggressive counterterrorism messaging as well as more emphasis on programs benefitting the U.S., from entrepreneurship to countering violent extremism to sustainability. We’ll see where the era of #BrandAmerica has lasting traction.  

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