WE Affiliate Week: Evaluation and Foreign Affairs: Evaluating Diplomacy in the 21st Century by Stephanie Cabell

Greetings, colleagues.  I’m Stephanie Cabell and a Program Analyst at the U.S. Department of State.  I work as an evaluation advisor and performance management specialist.  Together with colleagues at our partner agency—the U.S. Agency for International Development—we work to identify effective approaches and methods to evaluate the two main pillars of our work–diplomacy and development.

Western nations have long approaches to illuminate the nature of diplomacy and diplomatic activities, and to establish effective evaluation systems in order to measure and evaluate diplomatic successes.  The U.S. Department of State undertook a study to gather insights to help shape its efforts to construct an evaluation process for assessing the effectiveness of diplomatic programs.  Key questions we asked ourselves:

  • What kinds of diplomatic programs/initiatives would lend themselves most easily to evaluation?
  • What criteria could be used when deciding to evaluate?
  • What approaches should be used to make evaluations of “diplomacy” more meaningful and useful to government leaders?

Over the course of several rounds of structured interviews with current and retired diplomats and other subject matter experts, here’s what we learned.

Hot Tips and Rad Resources:

Challenges to Evaluating Diplomacy: It’s no surprise that diplomatic activities that require long-term negotiations, global and regional coalition building are hardest to measure.  These include:

Hot Tips:

  • Diplomacy is not easily quantifiable: It is often a fluid, “amorphous,” non-linear process.
  • Issues of attribution: The U.S., as is true for all nations, is not the only actor in the foreign policy arena.
  • Diplomats tackle complex issues that cannot be easily understood and captured.
  • Criteria that may be used to select diplomatic efforts for evaluation purposes include technical feasibility, the cost-benefit equation, political sensitivity, and urgency of the information.

Rad Resources:

Additional Rad Resources: For those wanting a deeper dive into this area, related articles and resources on evaluating “diplomacy” include the following:


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from WE Affiliate members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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