Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Eighth Report

7  Public Diplomacy

Measuring effectiveness and value for money

101. Last year, Lord Carter of Coles completed a review of the Government's public diplomacy work.[122] In light of his findings, we decided to hold a short inquiry into public diplomacy and reported our conclusions to the House on 7 April 2006.[123] The Carter Review recommended that public diplomacy work, funded through Government, should be defined as:

    Work aiming to inform and engage individuals and organisations overseas, in order to improve understanding of and influence for the United Kingdom in a manner consistent with governmental medium and long term goals.[124]

102. The Carter Review found that a need existed for a new framework for the oversight of government-funded public diplomacy work, recommending the establishment of a smaller Public Diplomacy Board and a new Public Diplomacy Unit within the FCO to support the new Board. The Government accepted this recommendation. The new Public Diplomacy Board is now responsible for co-ordinating and appraising the Government's overall public diplomacy effort.[125] A member of the British Council's staff has been seconded to the FCO to head the new Public Diplomacy Unit which supports the Board. [126]

103. The new Board is chaired by Lord Triesman of Tottenham, the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for public diplomacy, and he is supported by an independent vice-chair. Other Board members include the Director of the BBC World Service (who has observer status in view of the BBC's editorial independence), the Director-General of the British Council, senior officials from the Foreign Office and a further independent member with relevant experience and expertise of public diplomacy work.[127] The Board has adopted Lord Carter's definition of public diplomacy.[128] The remaining members of the defunct Public Diplomacy Strategy Board such as DFID and UKTI have regrouped as an advisory panel called the Public Diplomacy Partners Group, under the chairmanship of VisitBritain.[129]

104. In our Report on Public Diplomacy, we agreed with Lord Carter that the Government's public diplomacy strategy should be aligned with the FCO's strategic global priorities and the Government's medium and long term goals. We also came to the conclusion that more needed to be done to measure the impact and effectiveness of the British Council's, the BBC World Service's and the FCO's public diplomacy work to account for and appraise the public funding they receive.[130]

105. We shared Lord Carter's opinion that a government Minister chairing the Public Diplomacy Board would in future bolster accountability to Parliament for government-funded public diplomacy expenditure and that the Board's reduced membership would by nature make it a more focussed and effectual mechanism for co-ordinating overall activity.[131] All the same, we accepted wholly the importance and the significance of the BBC World Service's editorial independence and the British Council's operational independence from Government as we made clear to the House.[132] In response to our Report, the Government agreed that these constitutional principles of independence for both the BBC World Service and the British Council respectively should be preserved.[133]

106. In April, Lord Triesman wrote to inform us that the Board had embarked on the task of setting a list of priority countries for government-funded public diplomacy activity and that it had begun formulating specific objectives within pilot countries.[134] The Public Diplomacy Board is of the view that public diplomacy resources should be targeted particularly "on those countries which are of most relevance to the UK and where public diplomacy can make the most significant difference."[135] As a result the Board stated that resources would be allocated geographically and thematically in line with the Government's international priorities.[136] We agree with this approach.

107. When the BBC World Service appeared before us, we asked its Director, Nigel Chapman, what changes he thought were likely in the way the World Service operated in the advent of the strengthened Public Diplomacy Board. Mr Chapman did not see the new Board leading to "a fundamental shift in resources and priorities", but thought it was legitimate for public diplomacy partners to sit round together to be clear that money being spent on public diplomacy was spent "in the right places" and "in the right way".[137] Mr Chapman went on to say:

    what you would hope would come out of it [the new Board], standing back now not as a World Service Director but as somebody who is concerned about spending all that public money, you would be looking for alignment, definitely in terms of geographical priorities, it strikes me. It would be pretty strange if one organisation is saying it is really important that we spend more money and have greater impact in the Middle East and the Islamic world and then another organisation is spending loads of money in other places and is not realigning its effort and energy to broadly fit within those strategic priorities […] That does not mean that each organisation does not have its own job to do but you do need, I think, to be aware of the overall picture...[138]

108. We put the same question to Sir David Green, Director-General of the British Council. He believed that the initial signs were good in terms of the way partners were co-ordinating their work but emphasised that each organisation had "different things to bring to the table".[139] Sir David told us:

    …we are not trying to homogenise public diplomacy but we are recognising that the British Council has something different that it can offer to the BBC World Service. I think there is also recognition that it is a more complex area of activity than perhaps was first thought. I welcome that because public diplomacy is very nuanced and it is a complex activity. What progress we [the Board] have made so far is to start talking about how we interpret the international priorities in terms of geographical priorities and see which organisations can best contribute in those countries.[140]

109. Another key finding of the Carter Review was the need for an improved central system to measure the impact of public diplomacy activity in order to assess overall performance in terms of value for money.[141] The development of effective systems to do this will be a substantial challenge. On this point, the FCO recognises that it is very difficult to measure the effectiveness of public diplomacy because of it being "often indirect and long-term in nature" and concedes that it needs to do better on this.[142] We were told by Dickie Stagg, the FCO's Director-General of corporate affairs, that there were some very important and interesting questions to be examined about a large amount of FCO expenditure, both internal to the FCO and money spent by its NDPB partners.[143]

110. In 2005, the Carter Review even considered recommending that the ring-fencing around the BBC World Service's and British Council's grant-in-aid be removed but concluded that "the better approach was to make an attempt to improve matters through improved collective arrangements".[144] We agreed.

111. In line with Lord Carter's Review, the FCO commissioned a consultancy exercise, which was taken on by River Path Associates, to scope the design and development of common performance measures to assess the public diplomacy work undertaken by the FCO, the British Council and the World Service.[145] It is envisaged that any new central measures would complement rather than replace the measures already employed by the BBC World Service and the British Council.[146] Clearly, any new means of measuring overall performance will need to be worth its cost.

112. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO set out the progress made so far by the new Public Diplomacy Board on identifying geographical priorities, target audiences, priority themes, action plans and measurable outcomes for public diplomacy work. We further recommend that the FCO explain how the Government proposes to measure the overall value and effectiveness of its public diplomacy expenditure and how it intends to assess the opportunity costs of public diplomacy expenditure vis-à-vis work undertaken by the Government and its Non-Departmental Public Bodies.

122   Public Diplomacy Review, 15 December 2005, available at Back

123   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Public Diplomacy, HC 903 Back

124   Public Diplomacy Review, 15 December 2005, p 8, para 2.5 Back

125   Ev 40 Back

126   Ev 62 Back

127   Ev 104 Back

128   See: Public Diplomacy Board, Terms of Reference, as agreed in April 2006, available at Back

129   Ev 40-41 Back

130   HC (2005-06) 903, see: paras 15 & 62-65 & 103  Back

131   Ibid, paras 28-29 Back

132   Ibid, see: para 15 Back

133   Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Foreign Affairs Committee's Third Report of Session 2005-06, Cm 6840, p 3 Back

134   Ev104-05 Back

135   Public Diplomacy Board-Record of Strategy Day, 27 June 2006 Back

136   Ibid Back

137   Q 127 Back

138   Q 129 Back

139   Q 188 Back

140   Q 188 Back

141   Public Diplomacy Review, 15 December 2005, p 58, para 9.3  Back

142   Ev 40 Back

143   Q 99 Back

144   Public Diplomacy Review, 15 December 2005, Executive Summary Back

145   Ev 105 Back

146   Terms of Reference for Public Diplomacy Performance Measurement Unit, FCO Back

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