In the global battle for political influence, investment, trade and tourism, national image plays a critical determining role. Public diplomacy and perceptions of Norway – her values, motivations, allegiances and skills – combine to create an enabling or disabling backdrop for each situation in the international political and economic realms.
National images are managed through a combination of changes in the reality of a country and attempts to project it through marketing, as well as the development of symbolic projects and attempts to build deeper relationships. Many countries, such as Spain and Ireland, have done this successfully, showing the power of having a clear national story that can unite the different public sector stakeholders with the dynamism of the private sector. Norway, however, is held back by the lack of a clear strategy for building her reputation with broader publics.
– Norway is currently at an important stage in the development of its cultural and public diplomacy strategy - the anniversary of Norwegian independence in 2005 represents a good opportunity for a re-examination of Norway’s international image and standing.
The Norwegian Image
– For large countries like the United States, the United Kingdom or China, public diplomacy is mainly focused on changing images and “re-branding” – but Norway’s central public diplomacy problem is that of invisibility. It is clear from polls conducted over the last twenty years that Norway has consistently lacked a clear and widely recognised identity. Where they do exist, impressions of Norway are largely positive or neutral, even if typically very traditional.
– There are a number of factors that perpetuate Norway’s invisibility: it is small – in population, economy and presence; it is isolated – politically, geographically and culturally; it lacks linguistic attraction – many Norwegians speak English but not vice versa; it lacks brands or icons – there are no emissaries for the Norwegian identity; it is similar to Scandinavia – its shared culture does not help to distinguish it from the rest.
– This is a cause for concern, as the vital prerequisite of managing and promoting a country’s image is the existence of an image in the first place – a well defined image establishes credibility, increases favourability of reaction and acts a “door opener”: an initial insight into a country creates an appetite to learn more.
The Norwegian Story
– In order to manage Norway’s reputation and the way it is perceived, it is important to think about identity in a systematic way. It is helpful to think of three layers. At the centre are the “stories”, or values, that make up a country’s identity; in the second ring the “positioning” or unique selling point of the country, and in the outer ring, the expressions of that identity – from flags and anthems to logos and advertising. The temptation is usually to start with the outer ring but no attempt to project messages about Norway abroad will work unless it is based on stories that are understood and internalised by Norwegian citizens, companies and politicians.
– In order to be successful, each story should do some of the following: link the past with the future; be aspirational; deal with a weakness; capture the imagination and engage the emotions; be relevant internally and externally.– From a broad range of interviews conducted in Norway, we distilled four primary stories that fulfilled these criteria and researched a series of facts to demonstrate the reality on which they draw. These stories are simply hypotheses which would need to be properly tested before being adopted.
The Four Stories
– Humanitarian superpower – Norway might only be 115th in the world in terms of its size, but it is leading the world as a humanitarian power – outperforming all other countries in terms of its contributions to aid, its role in peace-keeping and peace processes and its commitment to developing new kinds of global governance. This commitment goes far beyond the activities of the Norwegian state – infusing every aspect of Norwegian society from NGOs and business to ordinary citizens.
– Living with nature – Norwegians share a unique relationship with nature – exploiting its potential whilst pioneering ways of protecting the environment with carbon taxes, recycling and anti-pollution technology. A land of striking beauty, with its coastal tracery of fjords and snow-capped mountains, Norway has itself remained largely untouched by pollution as it has evolved from a fishing and farming society into high-tech and white-collar business without an intervening phase of heavy industry that is comparable in scale and intensity to other Western industrialized nations. – Equality – Norway is living proof that equality and economic dynamism can be combined. Whilst being the richest country in Europe it also has the lowest level of inequality, a comprehensive welfare system, and a uniquely high rate of employment. This concern with equality is deeply embedded in Norwegian culture – so that even members of the Royal family and prime ministers are treated with informality and a refreshing lack of pomp.
– Internationalist / Spirit of adventure – Norway’s history is littered with famous adventurers whose endeavours are only partially known – from the Vikings and Kontiki to Amundsen and the modern BASE jumpers. Sport too has been an example of international adventure. It is rumoured that Norwegians invented the sport of skiing. The words ski and slalom are Norwegian and a Norwegian called Sondre Norheim did invent the “modern day” skis. To prove it Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation.
From Four Stories to One Positioning
– From these four stories it is necessary to develop a clear positioning which can draw the strongest elements out of all the stories in a synthetic message. The only two stories which score highly against all of the criteria are Humanitarian Superpower and Living With Nature. This means that these two stories should go in the forefront with the others taking on a supporting role, creating one positioning: “Peaceful Nature”.
– This creates value for all the key stakeholders in Norway. “Peace” is an essential door opener for political influence. “Nature” is one of the key messages for the Norwegian Tourist Board and the Seafood Export Council. The positioning can also be helpful to big Norwegian companies who trade on the fact that Norway is not a nation with an imperial past, and also appreciate its reputation for a high commitment to environmental standards, human rights and good governance.
– Another way to utilise the stories would be to explore the option of a meta-story about Norway as an “Über-Scandinavian”, which would allow Norway to take advantage of all the existing perceptions of Scandinavia while keeping her special strengths. A campaign can be imagined running something along the lines of “Norway: 100% Scandinavian” or “Some countries are more Scandinavian than others”. This would be a political decision, requiring further discussion.
– Once there is an agreed positioning behind which all the stakeholders can unite, it is possible to create a strategy for managing Norway’s reputation abroad. This positioning needs to be used as the bedrock for all strategic communications – by everyone from the MFA and Tourist Board through to the Seafood Export Council and the 2005 Committee.
Expressing Norway’s Identity
– At the moment, peace and nature feature prominently in the activities of many of the actors involved in projecting Norway to the world – but in a haphazard and random way. There are certain key problems with the image they project:
- The expression of messages about peace and nature is often excessively passive – completely out of kilter with the stories of a spirit of adventure
- Much of the material is out-of-date and elitist – signally failing to capture the Norwegian spirit of equality. All of the icons that feature in Norwegian public diplomacy are dead.
– Norway can use these traditional stories differently, drawing on the country’s recognized strengths, but articulating them in a modern and dynamic way. In both cases, it is important that the focus is on showing rather than simply claiming that Norway is a modern nation.
Moving Beyond the Passive Expression of Norwegian Identity
– Peace and nature are both too often represented in a way that emphasizes static facts and images about Norway as a physical entity rather than placing the focus on the agency role of Norwegians. This manifests itself in everything from the brochures about fjords and mountains to the overly self-effacing explanations of involvement in peace processes.
– In portraying peace and nature, Norway should focus on the dynamic – active people, hard-headedness and modernity.
– The first aspect is about Norwegians as engaged global citizens: peacemakers and peacekeepers – the blue helmet rather than the white dove; thinkers and practitioners at the forefront of debates about soft power with a sophisticated understanding of global security. In order to avoid both undermining its role in peace negotiations and provoking other partners, emphasis needs to be placed on the right aspects of the message – Norway as a partner, facilitator and good multilateralist – and attention should only be drawn to peace processes once they are firmly established.
– The second aspect is about the very particular Norwegian relationship with nature: explorers and adventurers braving and conquering nature; sportspersons’ dramatic feats in nature; environmentalists and political leaders’ pioneering ideas for conserving and living with nature alongside responsible economic development and resource use. In order not to come across as anti-modern or to attract criticism about oil production, Norway should be up front about both oil and environmentalism – the portrayal of an environmentally friendly explorer of oil shows Norway as modern and responsible, undermining the two potential negative charges.
Widening Access to Norway
– 19th Century high-cultural products can no longer have the impact they once did – people need to be given pathways to Norway through figures and concepts that they already understand and like.
– The challenge is to devise a new set of icons to complement these traditional figures who can speak to a generation with different values and priorities. It would be up to strategists of Norwegian public diplomacy to align these new icons with the different stories but it is clear that some already have an enormous impact on the world stage and carry some of the most important messages. The music of Royksopp, Lene Marlin and even A-Ha massively outsells CDs and concerts of Grieg amongst Generation X. Clothing brands such as Helly Hansen and Napapijri have become cutting edge fashion amongst the hip-hop community and aficionados of extreme sports, and their advertising campaigns draw on the mystique of Norwegian polar adventures. Gro Harlem Brundtland is associated all over the world with the concept of sustainable development while Arne Næss and Frederic Hauge are admired for their deep thinking and effective actions on environmental issues. Jostein Gaarder introduced a new generation to philosophy whilst Erling Kagge has reminded us of the excitement of extreme polar exploration. Terje Rød Larsen showed how even the most intractable conflicts could be improved by mediation, and the televising of the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize concert, has brought this most august and revered institution into the 21st century. One exciting project would be to organise an exhibition of Norwegian icons – old and new – mapping the ten most significant traditional icons on to their modern equivalents.
Reforming the Spectrum of Institutions
– It will be impossible to realise any of the objectives that have been outlined in the last few chapters without reforming Norway’s spectrum of public diplomacy institutions so that they can unite behind a shared message.
Four Proposals for Addressing Norway’s Public Diplomacy ChallengesCreating a strategy – The key to the success of this exercise will be to agree a central strategy which can be modulated to give it a local flavour in each of the priority countries. It is important to work out the complementarity between the institutions both in Norway and on the ground. At present, there are three fundamentally different strategic approaches being pursued by the public diplomacy institutions – product advantage, national branding and Scandinavian branding, which means Norwegian public diplomacy fails to maximise the impact it can have in any single area.
Three components to creating a strategy:
Ending fragmentation – To end the institutional fragmentation that exists at present it will be essential to develop new ways of working between the Norwegian institutions and to create incentives for a more “joined-up” approach. The two key things that can be done to pursue this are creating an “executive sub-committee” of public sector institutions to operationalize the main public diplomacy board’s strategy, and creating shared budgets to fund joint projects.
- Establishing a lead from the centre. A first priority must be the creation of a new central strategic group with high-level political leadership and substantial external participation from business, communications and civil society. This group, which could be called “The Norwegian Public Diplomacy Board” could launch a national debate about Norway’s role and image and formulate an initial strategic outline for Norway’s projection in the international sphere.
- Formulating some macro-goals. These would include agreeing a strategic message; deciding the priority countries and audiences, establishing what these audiences already think or know about Norway; agreeing priority themes and messages for public diplomacy; identifying delivery mechanisms for these activities and drawing up an action plan grid for the different public diplomacy institutions; encouraging and enabling the allocation of resources behind these priorities; and monitoring the success of initiatives through further surveys and feedback.
- Creating micro-strategies at post level. Country strategies should be framed within the context of key political, business and cultural messages for each country. Macro-messages about peace and nature could be modulated to make them appropriate for the countries concerned. Micro-strategies would include identification of target audiences; determining perceptions of target audiences in the country concerned; analysis of key competition; competitive positioning – what relationship Norway wants with the country and the benefits it can bring; key themes and messages; and an action plan grid for managing projects.
Clear training and guidelines for staff and criteria for evaluation – The information department of the MFA in Norway should re-invent itself as an enabler, trainer, spreader of good practice and “content-designer” for all the Norwegian public diplomacy practitioners around the world. Each post’s activities should be governed by a set of principles fixed in Norway that ensure that, as well as strategic direction, specific tactics are well formulated. – Although it is undoubtedly difficult to evaluate public diplomacy activity, a combination of specific data and more qualitative assessment can act as a “proxy” that will provide a good picture, particularly for monitoring change over time from a well-defined baseline.
Creating flagship events – Norway has not won another opportunity to host an Olympics or built a new Guggenheim, but there is an event coming up which has the potential to leverage extra resources and create a new way of working for Norway’s public diplomacy actors. The Centenary in 2005 has already been identified as an opportunity for a step-change in activities, and Norway’s government should learn from international experiences about how to make it a success.
2005 as a Focus for Norwegian Public Diplomacy
– In a public diplomacy context, milestone events can provide the political impetus and public attention that is vital to a successful attempt to re-assess and re-present a national image, both internally and externally. It is only by thinking big and organising very bold activities that countries can stand out in the crowd of nations and really make an impact.
Lessons for 2005
– Lillehammer 1994 and Sydney 2000 showed the importance of giving other countries a stake in your event; the millennium in the UK showed the importance of aligning internal and external expectations; the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in the UK showed the importance of television and popular culture.
Dangers for 2005
– Potential lack of internal salience – There is no overwhelming consensus in Norway regarding the importance of 2005. In so far as it is not the major May 17th independence day celebration there is a risk that there will be a lack of engagement.
– Externally – no clear link to other countries – National independence is generally an occasion of little significance for anyone other than the country that became independent and, somewhat less, the country that it became independent from.
– No link to popular culture. The challenge for the organisers will be to meld high-level policy and intellectual work on the 2005 themes with events that are able to break through to a mass audience. There is a danger with any milestone anniversary that the focus will be placed overwhelmingly on the past.
Opprtunities of 2005
– Define an interest for external audiences Finding a peg that makes Norwegian independence internationally relevant is the major challenge if 2005 is going to be a public diplomacy success. The Prime Minister should use the year to launch an eye-catching and inspiring global initiative, on the scale of the landmine ban and debt-relief initiatives, with interdependence and peace or nature as a major theme, using the power of example to leverage engagement from other international actors.
– Think big and inspire The key to make a real impact would be to get beyond the usual swirl of conferences and events and to use 2005 as an opportunity to create institutions that will outlast the centenary celebrations, which are capable of inspiring and surprising for generations to come.
– Norway could set up a Nobel Peace Centre in Brussels and a Brundtland Sustainable Development Centre in Washington.
– Peace and nature medals. Each embassy could make an annual award of two medals at high profile, well-resourced awards ceremonies
– Reach out The programme should incorporate popular culture and icons to involve as broad an audience as possible and present the modern face of Norway. The organisers must create some made-for-television events, such as pop concerts, sporting events, and design exhibitions which can get to wider audiences.
– 2005 and beyond It is important that 2005 is integrated within the broader public diplomacy strategy outlined above; a cardinal principle is that as much must be invested in follow-up as in the events themselves. Planning for this must be completely integrated with planning for 2005 if the occasion is going to be a success beyond this one-off year.