Monday, March 26, 2012

SAGE

I attended a program this morning at the Wilson Center on SAGE (Strengthening America's Global Engagement).  The project is meant to combine a number of previous public diplomacy reports and recommendations, and help set up an indy strategic communications organization for America's stratcomm needs. Sagacious, indeed.

Somewhere along the way, the project lost its connection to "public diplomacy" but I will not harp (too much) on such things at present, even if I am not exactly fond of the stratcomm label (too militaristic; also, when is communication not strategic?).

Anne Marie Slaughter gave a nice discussion of the interactions between government and civil society, and how State is playing a role in facilitating such interactions.  She mentioned how State is facilitating gov-to-civ society interactions, and building relationships with nongov actors (polylateralism, by Wiseman's definition).  Slaughter mentioned some interesting projects that State is convening such as the tech exchanges.  I had heard good things about her, and read her previous pieces on the role of pd in the public sphere, and came away impressed.  She noted that the SAGE project could increase the impact of what gov is already doing, but with independence that is vital for success.

I applaud the initiative in theory, and think that a public-private organization is a great idea.  I like their mission to promote independent media entities, and I would like to hope that when I previously chatted with the project director Brad Minnick about pd public/private initiatives, my highlighting of The Tiziano Project as strategic might have had some resonance.  Apparently SAGE will be a grant-making organization, so perhaps this will be a stratcomm kickstarter.  (Take note, Naomi and Jewcer, we need a PD crowdsourcing platform!).  They also have an interesting proposal for IhearU, some kind of cyberdiplomatic social network (perhaps?).  It is supposed to be an innovative way to foster p2p, but I am not entirely sure yet what the platform entails.

Here is where things got a little tricky.  For one, apparently SAGE is now moving out to LA to be possibly housed at USC Annenberg.  When this was said, I glanced across the room at Prof. Nick Cull, and the look on his face seemed to indicate that this was news to him.  Nor did I see any of the other USC DC leadership on hand that one would think such a strategic partnership would warrant, nor was CPD brass in the crowd.  I think I saw a chuckle on Nick's face when the prospect of MPD students interning at this new project was raised.

First question, how will such an org interact with CPD?  Second question, is it wise to have both CPD and SAGE connected with USC Annenberg, or does that connect PD/Stratcomm too much with one institution?  It is hard enough to explain to gen pop what pd entails, and the differences between the MPD program and CPD, let alone to add a stratcomm outfit into the discussion. While I think it is a good thing for PD/Stratcomm to be outside DC for a broader perspective, I think a Wilson-to-Wilson (Princeton) perhaps might have made more sense, especially given Slaughter's connection rather than Wilson-to-Wilson (Dean Ernie).  Perhaps this came about because the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, former Congresswoman Jane Harman is also on the USC Board of Trustees?  (H/T to Ima for that) All curious....

Secondly, during the Q&A, the question I was raising my hand for got asked by a fellow with the Goethe Institute about the role of cultural diplomacy in said SAGE.  The answer was far from satisfactory, and nothing in the SAGE business plan has led me to believe that cultural diplomacy is strongly connected with such endeavors.

So I will hold off further judgement and give said SAGE a chance.  But I am a bit curious of how everything will progress.

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