3 similarities between education and public diplomacy

Just finished studying a Master’s Degree in Teaching at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Tarragona, where I have been attending classes for 9 months, from October 2018 to June 2019. This has been a kind of career break for me due to having lost the job where I had been working for the previous 10 years, following the application of article 155 in Catalonia as I explained in a previous post.

The main reason behind the decision I took to study this Master is related to regulations introduced in spring 2018 in Catalonia, which allowed for prospective teachers to be included in the Catalan Education Ministry Teachers’ Pool without having the required training, but with the engagement by those joining the pool to obtain such training in 3 years. This measure was adopted in the context of a high demand for secondary education teachers during the next 3 or 4 years.

This is how I decided to enrol myself in this Master’s Degree, as part of the commitment which I made by joining the pool, and also because doing this training would definitely be a worthy complement to job hunting, a way to show prospective employers I was not sat at home doing nothing.

9 months, a Master thesis and 2 intensive weeks teaching 15-year-old pupils later I can proudly say “Mission accomplished”.

Universitat Rovira i Virgili

It’s just that my professional context has changed in these last 9 months too, as I am now once again working for the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (I restarted there last winter), and happy about it, so no plans for me to work as a teacher in the near future even though I have the required training now.

So, now what? Now let’s focus again on public diplomacy, but, first of all, as American activist Maya Angelou once said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give”. So I decided to write 3 interesting points about how I found out that education and public diplomacy interrelate. I hope you find them interesting and they leave some matters open to debate.

1) Cooperative work makes digital instruments effective. This is one of the main conclusions obtained in the thesis of my Master’s Degree, in which I researched on a small scale about the effectiveness of the introduction of Google My Maps to 15/16-year-old pupils so as to generate competences in cardinal directions and interpretations of scales. Although the study has its limitations, the main conclusion reached is that digital instruments, such as Google My Maps, do not ensure on their own the learning of competences in map interpretation. Instead of that, although more scientific evidence would be required, everything seems to point to the possibility that if students carry out mutually-needed activities to develop tasks, the learning of these competences is more assured.

Regarding the area of 21st century public diplomacy, we know that the instruments introduced in the last 10 years in the field of digital diplomacy, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and, above all, Twitter, are of little effectiveness if they are not used as part of a global strategy to accompany the general objectives of foreign policy. That is, they are useful but only as part of a general objective; those instruments alone do not solve problems, and the people who are in charge of digital communication must be in permanent coordination with other areas of the foreign affairs department.

More specifically, if we look at the value that digital diplomacy generates, it is mainly through the interactions Heads of State, Government, and Ministers generate among them, by creating value in the network, rather than through unidirectional tweets or messages. In short, in education, as in public diplomacy, the value of digital instruments lies in the cooperative work that is done with them.

2) Special education needs or diversity is wealth. Since 2017 Catalonia has an inclusive school model system in which everyone must share the classroom with everyone. This decision was taken because of a situation of high school segregation.  In this new scenario diversity is considered a value that enriches the group but implementing this is something easier said than done, which is probably the reason why Special Education Needs or “Diversity management” had such a prevalent weight for all the teachers of the Master I have just completed.

In the field of ​​21st century public diplomacy, we know, for example, that a larger wealth of voices offers a better public diplomacy strategy towards the public from outside. The more voices you empower, the more credible and powerful this strategy will be. Governments need to know, as Cull (2019) says, what specific group of a country’s internal public is more useful to engage with a certain external group. Once found out, it is necessary that this group be given a certain training and formation. Is that an easy task? No, it is not, nor is managing diverse classrooms easy, but the educational result can only be positive for society as a whole, just like the international bilateral dialogue that is intended to be established in the field of public diplomacy by empowering citizens.

3) Initial evaluation or the importance of listening. A correct teaching programme cannot be carried out in a specific classroom if we do not know about the group’s starting point at the beginning of the period of time we are going to teach. In order to know this, you can talk to other teachers from previous years, or you can also start assigning homework (although this should be avoided the first day), or you can do a survey or a role simulation game; the methods are many and varied and I do not mention them all but the message is clear – you need to know who the students are when the course begins by means of the so-called initial evaluation, the starting point of programming your classes.

In a similar vein, in public diplomacy, and as Cull (2019) says, there is one activity that is more important than any other, and this activity is listening. Listening to find out who the audience is that you want to address, what their concerns are, what they expect from you and what message or engagement with them will be more effective. Listening is also crucial to avoid your position being considered as propaganda, since listening is expected to generate a two-way interrelation. This is different from what was done, for example, during the Cold War, or with the different fake news campaigns that are currently taking place.


Conclusion. This exercise of reflection was done in my spare time when preparing for exams. I’m not sure what my final conclusions would be as this is not part of any serious, well-based research, but one thing  I would state is that both teenage pupils and foreign public opinion now have more access to first-hand information than ever before, if they want to make the effort to get this information. What both teachers and public diplomacy practitioners do now is completely different to what they were expected to do 30 or even 20 years ago; they must have the capacity to put people to work, by creating value in the case of public diplomacy, or by generating positive emotions or creating interest among students. This is the challenge.


Cull, Nicholas J. (2019). Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. Polity Press.

10 tips for making public diplomacy work on a sub-state level

Jordi on Twitter
Picture by @HelleKettner

(This article is also available in Catalan)

As the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) has now been closed down due to the application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, I thought it would be appropriate to write, as a reflection and guidance, some points that the experience of having worked in Diplocat gave me that could eventually be used in the future, either by those who create a new Diplocat (or whatever  name the new institution would have) or by other sub-state entities or agencies throughout the world willing to carry out a public diplomacy programme.

I am well aware of the confusion in Catalonia and Spain regarding the term “public diplomacy”. For instance, the vice president of the Spanish government, Ms. Saenz de Santamaría, said that autonomous communities cannot carry out public diplomacy and the Constitutional Court has confirmed this. Neither Ms. Sanez de Santamaría nor the Spanish High Court tried to give a definition of what “public diplomacy” means, though, and this is why I am inclined to think that either they ignore it (I hope not) or they are deliberately playing with the confusion and want the Spanish public opinion to think of “public diplomacy” as a concept opposed to “private diplomacy”.

Nothing is further from reality. We at Diplocat explained the meaning of public diplomacy in a document we published on our corporate website, which is sadly already inactive following Spanish government orders. However, I have recovered the document and you can read it by following this link.

In short, there are many definitions of Public Diplomacy but it could be summarized as the art of cultivating relationships with foreign public opinion by an international actor (government of a particular territory or city or even another organization), not necessarily a nation-state, in order to help and foster progress in the strategy of international relations or foreign affairs of the aforementioned actor. What public diplomacy is NOT, undoubtedly, is conventional diplomacy from government to government.

Using this definition I’d ask you  to check whether the other Spanish autonomous communities are carrying out public diplomacy campaigns, because if they are doing so, someone will have to explain why these Spanish regions are allowed to do public diplomacy but Catalonia isn’t.

Having made this clarification, here are my 10 tips for making public diplomacy work on a sub-state level based on my experience working for the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia.

1) Never turn away from your mission and goal. It seems obvious, but the first thing that needs to be clear before developing our strategy is to know why we are carrying out the public diplomacy programme that we aim to implement, what the objectives are and who the target public is. Once these aims are clear, many different siren songs may try to divert us from our goals or encourage us to carry out activities counterproductive to our  mission. If we deviate from the mission and the objective then it will be hard to justify in later evaluations why we carried out these activities.

For instance, if our goal is to reach the European public opinion, do we have to go to a Southeast Asian country just because a window of opportunity has opened there? I think the answer is obvious.

2) Be trustworthy. Another point that seems obvious but is often ignored. Our narrative will not be credible if there are no real, tangible, verifiable measures that give solidity and truthfulness to our story. In the case of Catalonia, for example, we can hardly say that Catalonia is committed to animal welfare because we have prohibited bullfighting when, at the same time, in some parts of Catalonia there are festive events involving bulls with flammable material attached to their horns. It is not clear whether the animal suffers or not but at first glance it’s not a pleasant sight when seen from abroad.

3) Give voice to as many people as possible. Linked to the previous point, this is especially important when we carry out programmes of public diplomacy with a clear content of a political nature, which is not necessarily shared by a clear majority of society. Taking the Catalan case once again as an example, the surveys clearly stated that 80% of the Catalan population is in favour of a political consultation to solve the territorial conflict with Spain, but society is divided over whether independence is the solution or not. Then it is appropriate for programmes to include the opportunity to offer points in favour and against this idea to our target audience. By doing this the organization will be respected as a good reference body to take into account as was the case with Diplocat.

4) Each country requires a different strategy. The strategy and transmission channel used for the Middle East is quite probably not the most suitable one for Latin America, for example. Even within Europe the strategy to apply in, for example, Portugal , could be completely different from the one for Poland, not only due to a completely different political, social and media context but also because the interests that your territory or organization has in Portugal might be completely different from those in Poland.

5) Keep your diaspora in mind … but you will not necessarily work with them. In every public diplomacy plan it is important to know who your Diaspora is and what they stand for in the country or territory that is the object of your programme. It will be necessary to know if they have good relations with the political, social, and media agents of the country in which they reside or if, on the contrary, they have a negative reputation and approaching them can be a setback to our strategy. In any case, what we must not do is to ignore the Diaspora when setting out our strategy.

6) Work with internal actors. From your organization, country or territory, in order to enrich the strategy and make it more attractive, look for synergies between different actors. If you are a university you can incorporate, for instance, students into your programme. If you are a city you can give a voice to the neighbourhoods and if you are a sub-state entity you should seek, among others, to give a voice to different city councils and the economic world, the further away from your capital city, the better.

7) Always remember that your target audience is abroad. Clearly linked to the first point, there may be times when we confuse the fact that we work with internal actors as I mentioned in the previous point with the fact that we may believe that they are also our target audience. They are not, or at least not beyond the necessary accountability measures that may be required periodically. If we carry out public diplomacy, we dedicate ourselves only to the foreign public. This seems obvious, but we must make it clear. Otherwise, what we will be doing is Public Relations, not Public Diplomacy.

8) 21st century public diplomacy is bidirectional. Yes, it is true, public diplomacy allows us to send our message to the foreign public opinion, but it also represents an important exercise in listening to what external actors might want to say. The time of the cold war is over, this was when the concept of public diplomacy was created. We either listen and adapt or risk being perceived as propaganda.

9) Innovation is key for you. This advice is valid for anybody that carries out public diplomacy programmes but it is especially important if you are not a state actor. State actors have a bigger budget and brand image than other actors in international relations, but they are usually more limited in terms of the actions they can carry out due to having to follow more stringent action protocols and their vertical structures. Small organizations, with a lower budget, have more freedom to innovate and, if they really want to achieve visibility, they must be constantly innovating.

10) And all this … to obtain results mostly in the medium and long term. Public diplomacy gives results but these, with the exception of those carried out in the field of the press and social networks, are not usually results in the short term. Public diplomacy is about cultivating trusted relationships with outside actors and this does not give measurable results immediately. Nevertheless, public diplomacy cannot be disdained, it is something that everyone does today. Disdain it and you risk staying out of the race.