Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

During the Mobile Turkish Coffee House project, which started on April 26th, 2012 (and goes until May 19th, 2012), we travel to five states in northeast United States, and serve free Turkish coffee. We also host coffee culture events, which include lectures and presentations, in Washington, DC, New York, and Boston.

Washington, DC Coffee Culture event (Team members in the picture l to r, Gizem, me, Tugcem)

Washington, DC Coffee Culture event (Team members in the picture l to r, Gizem, me, Tugcem) Photo by Jackie Chi

Here are a couple of things I learned during our trip in terms of connecting theory and practice of Public Diplomacy:


You need theoretical guidance…even in the last three feet : One question we kept asking ourselves was about where we stood in the larger picture. Why are we doing this project? Why Turkish coffee> Why northeast US? What can we achieve? The answers to most of these question are available in the literature, from consubstantiation to strategic marketing. Unless, projects are based on theoretical studies, mere exposure cannot produce results (like this quite okay video clip)


Projects designed based on research results are effective : is an online project. But shortly after we launched our website, we realized that offline communication, face-to-face contact was quite important in generating traffic, encouraging content creation, and more importantly establishing a community. The research we presented at TASSA also showed us that we needed more offline communications. Even though the project is only halfway done, our weekly report showed that our traffic has increased by 10 times…
Theory and practice are two different worlds : While public diplomacy in academia means reading, writing, and discussing, the term has very different applications in the real world. I traveled with the Mobile Turkish Coffee House in DC and New York, distributing coffee for three days and hosting two events. We brewed more than 4000 cups of coffee, hosted more than 250 people in our events, washed around 200 coffee mugs and pots, and had two parking/permit problems.
So, when planning Public Diplomacy campaigns, one should not forget that the field is quite different from the planning room.

And here is a short promo video, our video producer Jackie Chi has put together:


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