Sonenshine: ECA’s exchange program evaluation is role model at DoS

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) institutionalization of program evaluation has become a role model for the Department of State and U.S. public diplomacy, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine told an audience at the Heritage Foundation yesterday.

The Department of State has increased its efforts to measure and evaluate U.S. public diplomacy and its effectiveness. This “rigorous, evidence-based, social scientific work now allows [the Department] to go beyond anecdote and demonstrate the effectiveness of [its] programs and work in increasing foreign public understanding of U.S. society, government, culture, … values and the democratic process,” Sonenshine said.

Within the Department, “ECA alone has surveyed 40,000 exchange participants … in 35 major programs that involve hundreds of exchanges.” A recent independent survey of participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the Edward R. Murrow Program, and the Citizen Exchange Programs delivered compelling results, Sonenshine added:

“Significant numbers of these exchange participants went on to advocate for greater freedom of information in their home countries. They worked to support new professional and ethical standards in their work.”

While it is impossible to say for certain that exchange programs are the single cause for such positive changes in participants, the programs’ impact is unquestionable. This success affirms that the Department’s public diplomacy efforts work, according to Sonenshine:

“Were our programs the sole cause of these positive changes? We can’t prove conclusively that they were. But did our programs play an important role? Absolutely. That’s why we continue our programs and make sure we address any needs for improvement as we go forward.”

“This is a promising indication to us that our public diplomacy initiatives do create better understanding of the U.S. and do improve favorability towards the United States. And when I look around the world and see that 360 alumni are former or current heads of state or government, and 54 alumni of State Department ECA exchanges are recipients of the Nobel Prize, I know we are doing the right thing to connect and support these leaders early in their professional lives. We are not saying that our programs caused them to become successful. But we clearly backed and supported the right people.”