by Feodora Hamza, Sophie Lichter, James Schroeder, and Simon Schütz
The diversification and expansion of communications technology has facilitated increasing interaction between citizens in the United States and Germany. This memo explores tools that can encourage and maintain positive interactions through the use of recent technological innovations and traditional in-person communication. It outlines approaches that have the potential to both provide meaningful support to existing programs and develop new spheres of public outreach.
The beginning of the twenty-first century has brought new challenges to the transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe. Rapidly improving technology and communication tools have expanded the number of stakeholders and diffused political agency amongst actors at all levels of society. This increasing emphasis on local and regional interaction between countries offers an unprecedented opportunity to bring citizens on both sides of the Atlantic together. The goal of this memo is to assist organizations and individuals seeking to engage in these efforts. It will suggest methodology to use when approaching this task, and tools that can help initiate and cultivate communication. These efforts should introduce and inform individuals and organizations about the benefits of international communication and cooperation. They can also help connect current stakeholders, support existing programs, and encourage international engagement.
A positive narrative is essential for promoting transatlantic relations. Although efforts may deal with sensitive issues they should be as apolitical and objective as possible, using factual examples to demonstrate the benefits of international cooperation. It is also important to compensate for linguistic barriers, and to acknowledge that many people are unfamiliar with academic terminology. There is no one solution for how to focus and shape efforts. Instead, they should be organic and adaptable, reflecting the audience rather than a predetermined formula.
Digital technology has increasingly replaced traditional forms of communication, creating new spaces and formats for cross-cultural interaction. The development of online tools and the use of existing online platforms offers cost-effective opportunities to promote ideas and share information. For example, the consolidation of information and efforts through a webpage is one opportunity to streamline communication and outreach. This inherently visual medium also provides the opportunity to produce images and videos to foster online engagement, a common strategy used by political parties and organizations. One increasingly prevalent technique is to produce Memes. Although these are often used in a partisan environment, they can be potent tools for apolitical communication. An internationally focused podcast is an additional option, which can offer space for discussion and social networking while providing cross-cultural insights into political and social belief systems.
Increasing numbers of people are using internationally popular social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These tools can be used to connect with all demographics, but are especially effective at reaching US American and German millennials. Social media is versatile, and can be integrated into online efforts, in-person outreach programs, or independent initiatives. These platforms provide the opportunity for entities to post informative and entertaining videos, spread memes, create online forums, receive public feedback, distribute news, and advertise events. Larger online projects such as website design should use social media platforms to reduce start up, operation, and maintenance costs, while simultaneously gaining access to a preexisting social network. To see an example of a social media strategy, see the section on our Social Media Campaign.
Celebrities and charismatic individuals can serve as transatlantic promoters, serving as the face for online and in-person initiatives and bolstering advertisement and outreach programs. They can focus on promoting certain topics and locations, and draw attention to important issues. Social media platforms are the perfect tools for these ambassadors, many of whom already possess an online fan base. Promoters can also expand the public audience to include and involve people who are not politically active, and who are not part of the conventional transatlantic dialogue.
International educational opportunities can be modernized through technological innovation and digitalization. These efforts can mitigate the cultural disconnect and fragmentary knowledge currently held by much of the German and US American public while complementing and supplementing programs and opportunities currently available to students. New initiatives should be feasible and accessible, ensuring that financial and scheduling limitations do not discourage people from participating. The use of initiatives such as online learning and virtual reality technology can reinvigorate education by communicating history and culture in an interactive and tangible manner. These tools can be implemented in high school and university classrooms to encourage communication between German and US American students and increase their knowledge about foreign figures, cultures, and traditions. For a specific project proposal on how to organize such an educational exchange and online learning experience, please consult the contribution International Tandems in this memo.
STATE, LOCAL, AND PRIVATE COOPERATION
Cooperation between Germany and the US at the state level can be facilitated through the establishment of regular inter-government consultations. Face-to-face conversations are a powerful tool, and indispensable when it comes to creating the confidence and trust necessary for bilateral relations. These consultations increase understanding, foster trust and communication, and facilitate the exchange of ideas. Fields of knowledge exchange, which can benefit both countries, include, among others, increasing digitalization, transition to and use of renewable resources, and climate and resource protection. The similar problems faced by both countries will encourage international synergy and enable creative solutions.
The reestablishment of a former network of cultural and information sharing locations in Germany known as Amerika-Häuser offers another opportunity to improve international communication. Although some Amerika-Häuser have remained in operation as voluntary organizations since the United States officially ended the program, there has been a gap of US American and German cross-cultural representation. Reinstating and encouraging a network of cultural centers in both countries can promote cultural values while facilitating the implementation of tools for international education and communication. In the United States, these could be attached to existing Chamber of Commerce or Goethe-Institut representations. In Germany, the role of the now voluntary associations could be formalized and expanded.
As technology decentralizes and diversifies political actors, international participation at the local level is especially important. Grassroots partnerships, local involvement, and sister cities programs can help tackle shared challenges, exchange best-practices and strengthen international ties. Non-partisan outreach can include establishing a presence at festivals and community events to promote cultural awareness and international goodwill. Communication between communities can be enhanced though exchanges or conferences focusing on areas such as culture, art, education, and business. These programs should encourage participation by all facets of society, including minorities and marginalized communities. Please consult the section on City to City Cooperation for a proposal on city partnerships
Private businesses, including small and medium-sized German and US American companies, offer additional opportunities to enhance cultural and intellectual exchange. Furthering the partial funding of international exchange programs for apprentices and employees is one possibility. A “company partnership” program through the Chamber of Commerce, could solidify relationships between companies in similar sectors and encourage trade and cooperation between businesses. Academic and government officials could serve as consultants to companies participating in these initiatives. This cooperation would be especially fruitful in the area of climate change, where such company partnerships, shared workshops, and sector-specific conferences can inspire cross-fertilization of ideas.
The United States and Germany are aligned by shared political and ideological traditions, and through common interests and concerns. The governments and civil societies of both countries continue to maintain prominent inter-personal networks. However, it is of critical importance to cultivate and support these networks in order to strengthen and maintain this relationship. The tools and approaches outlined in this memo offer potential avenues of communication that can be used to encourage positive interaction and stabilize transatlantic relations.