USAID, advised by the U.S. Department of State, is the United States’ primary foreign development assistance agency. It conducts disaster relief programs, poverty alleviation initiatives, as well as democracy and good governance efforts. They offer help in several areas including: agriculture, democracy and governance, economic growth and trade, environment, education and training, global health, global partnerships, and humanitarian assistance. Their goals are to promote U.S. foreign policy and economic growth by assisting those in need in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Eurasia. While not typically considered part of the US’s primary public diplomacy initiatives, many argue that USAID plays a major role in developing goodwill towards the United States.

USAID and Public Diplomacy

USAID increased its attention to public diplomacy after the 9/11 Commission found that many populations receiving U.S. foreign aid exhibited strong anti-American sentiment. Since then, USAID has worked to inform recipients, as well as embassies around the globe, of America’s humanitarian and development aid initiatives.

USAID works closely with the U.S. Department of State in their State-USAID Joint Policy Council and Management Council to improve program coordination between the two agencies in public diplomacy. Their goal for U.S. public diplomacy is to increase understanding for American values, policies and initiatives to create a receptive international environment. The U.S. Department of State and USAID Strategic Plan outlines three components to improve public diplomacy efforts: understanding regional environments and their openness to U.S. policies and initiatives, engaging the American people on the importance of relations and interactions with other countries and informing them of successful development assistance stories, and outreaching to younger and wider audiences through people-to-people contacts.

In 2007, the GAO reported "U.S. Public Diplomacy: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Use and Coordination" that "USAID’s communication mission, based on the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, is to inform host country audiences about U.S. development assistance" and that "... USAID use program-specific research to design, implement, and evaluate the impact of thematic communication efforts created to influence the attitudes and behaviors of target audiences. In contrast, we found that State has generally not adopted a research-focused approach to implement its thematic communication efforts." The reports continues, stating that "USAID use actionable research to support a campaign-style approach to communications—which we have broadly endorsed based on input from public relations experts. In contrast, we found State does not generally use such research in its thematic outreach initiatives, and it has not adopted a campaign-style communication approach that would require the use of such research. In addition, State officials have noted the lack of actionable, in-depth research available to them, and public diplomacy staff receive little training on how to identify and use such research."

GAO notes "USAID requires its communications specialists, known as Development Outreach and Communication Officers, to develop written communication strategies for USAID missions that include goals, objectives, messages, action plans and budgets, as well as methods to measure the impact of communication efforts. These field-based specialists develop and implement information campaigns to inform audiences about USAID’s work, and USAID staff commission audience research to support these efforts. Development Outreach and Communication Officers attend in-depth training that emphasizes best practices in using audience research to support outreach campaigns. According to USAID, the last training session focused on public opinion polling and communication measurement and evaluation. USAID also provides its communication officers with a practical, field-oriented “survival manual” encouraging staff to monitor local media and analyze local polls. The manual was recently revised to include guidance on using communication research instruments, particularly polling, as well as criteria for assessing the quality of research instruments and a standard set of research questions."

Also in 2007, a separate GAO report entitled "Actions Needed to Better Assess the Impact of Agencies’ Marking and Publicizing Efforts"found that "Most agencies we reviewed that are involved in foreign assistance activities have established some marking and publicity requirements in policies, regulations, or guidelines. USAID, which has the most detailed policies and regulations, requires that the agency and its implementers ensure that all programs, projects, activities, public communications, and commodities be marked, except where waivers or presumptive exceptions are granted. USAID also has established a network of communications specialists at USAID missions worldwide to publicize the agency’s assistance efforts and has issued communications guidelines to promote that assistance. State has not established agencywide assistance marking or publicity requirements; but, according to State officials, the department’s policy is to allow its program managers and ambassadors to use their discretion when determining which programs and activities should be marked or publicized."

The 2005 report, “U.S. Public Diplomacy – Interagency Coordination Efforts Hampered by the Lack of a National Communication Strategy” by the United States Government Accountability Office describes USAID’s role in public diplomacy as telling America’s assistance story to the world. Foreign assistance plays a major role in creating positive views of the United States around the globe. For this reason, USAID has developed Telling Our Story to better inform Americans and those receiving aid of the United States’ development and humanitarian assistance.


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