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Government Using BI Software To Measure Public Diplomacy

A State Department pilot project using Business Objects' planning and budgeting software aims to prove that overseas anti-Americanism-reduction programs are working.

President-elect Barack Obama has said he wants to cut the fat out of government and at a Nov. 25 press conference indicated that the government's own spending watchdog, the Office of Management and Budget, will be "more efficient and more effective at serving the American people."

That likely means government agencies will need to provide the OMB with even more detailed answers on where their dollars go.

A State Department division that runs public diplomacy programs overseas could prove to be a model to its peers with its use of business intelligence software, popular with the private sector, to demonstrate the return on investment of its expenditures. Its latest project is a pilot program to develop algorithms that better show correlations between the department's goals and its expenditures, using SAP Business Objects XI business intelligence platform and planning applications.

The State Department last year spent $357 million on diplomacy programs designed to create a positive image of the United States in other parts of the world. These include summer camp programs for kids in the Middle East, the American Corners information libraries at various U.S. embassies, and speaking engagements by American celebrities.

But in 2006, the OMB gave the State Department a poor rating on its ability to measure the effectiveness of those diplomacy programs.

"The OMB has been very clear that performance measurement is something they're placing an emphasis on," said Cherreka Montgomery, acting director of the evaluation and measurement unit in the Office for Policy, Planning, and Resources for the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, in an interview Tuesday.

The division's first step was to reduce its number of performance measures from an unmanageable 898 down to 15, and to develop six outcome measurements. One of those six is "Initiation of positive change to local communities"; another is "Reduced anti-Americanism."

In 2007, staffers visited the State Department's outposts in Japan, Israel, Germany, Nigeria, Ecuador, Palestinian territories, and India. It surveyed a sample of 1,800 foreign audience members, some of whom had participated in a diplomacy program and some who had not, for a comparison study to measure attitudes about the United States. Those results were then used to develop focus groups to get more qualitative, detailed data.

All of this resulted in a difficult-to-digest 300-page report. So the division created a Public Diplomacy Impact dashboard accessible on the State Department's intranet, based on Business Objects Xcelsius data-visualization software. The dashboard provides State Department executives with budget details, plus how far it's come in achieving its six outcome measures based on survey data.

For example, 64% of survey respondents with influential community roles -- such as youth, community and religious leaders, academics, journalists, bloggers, and even cartoonists -- said they were taking concrete measures to initiate positive change in their communities following their involvement in diplomacy efforts.

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