Citizen Diplomacy Int’l Mtg #19: Democratizing & Localizing Int’l Relations

About Citizen Diplomacy International

Due to globalization, the internet, rising education levels, and long-term democratization, citizen diplomacy is growing, and becoming a more important part of diplomacy and international affairs.  Thus, in 2020, the Public Diplomacy Council of America (PDCA), a US-based NGO devoted to advancing the field of public diplomacy, formed the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group (CDRG) to advance the research and practice of citizen diplomacy.  In 2023, the CDRG became Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI), a network and program of Learning Life, a Washington DC-based nonprofit devoted to developing innovative learning communities in order to widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy.  

CDI meets every three months online via Zoom for 1.5 hours to share research and news on citizen diplomacy developments worldwide with an eye to building a vibrant global CD sector for a more participatory, equitable and sustainable world..  Meetings typically begin with two presentations on CD research or practice, followed by discussion of the presentations, then news and announcements of past or upcoming international CD-related initiatives, publications, funding, conferences, etc. 

Anyone  — including scholars, students, citizen diplomacy practitioners, current and retired official diplomats, and others interested — can join CDI to learn, network, and/or present substantial research or practice in citizen diplomacy. For more information or to join the CDI email list, contact You can also connect with CDI members via our Facebook group and Linkedin group, to which you can post citizen diplomacy-related articles, books, events, funding, etc. 

For a video recording of the September 6 CDI meeting, click here.  For prior CDI meeting video recordings going back to CDI’s first meeting in June 2020, click here.  Photos above are from the September 6 meeting.  For more meeting photos, plus the presentation slides, and the Zoom chat discussion from this or prior CDI meetings, click here.  

Meeting Participants & Agenda


The meeting drew 28 participants from at least 13 countries: Brazil, USA, Ghana, Burundi, Angola, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, UAE, Pakistan, Thailand and China.


1) Opening Remarks & Introductions  (10 minutes)

Review of meeting agenda.  During this time everyone is encouraged to post to the chat a one-paragraph bio about themselves, including your name, city, country, job title and organization.  

2) Two Presentations (30 minutes total):  

Daniele Archibugi, political theorist and Director of Italy’s National Research Council, presented on cosmopolitan democracy.

Paul Lachelier, political sociologist and founder of Learning Life, presented on localizing international relations

3) Questions & Discussion about the Presentations (40 minutes)

4) Announcements (10 minutes).    

Brian Smith, co-editor of the Citizen Diplomacy Bulletin reviews the latest issue

Meeting participants have the opportunity to publicize citizen diplomacy events, publications, projects, programs, and related needs.

Democracy, Education & the Trump Voter

This article is part of a series helping to envision what a metro regional democracy learning community could look like.  For the full list of articles, please visit Learning Life’s DMV Democracy Learning Community page.  The following article was published on September 1, 2023 in Democracy Chronicles.

At this historic moment in American politics, a lot of attention is focused on whether or not Donald Trump will go to jail, or win the U.S. presidency again.  But beyond that headline news lies a deep challenge that will outlast Donald Trump, even if he wins the presidency: the Trump voter.  For those concerned and willing to move beyond expressions of frustration and contempt for his voters, part of the long-term solution may be something you have not considered: how schooling may be fueling the Trump phenomenon, and how wider learning communities may help reduce polarization in America.

Donald Trump may be facing multiple indictments, but he still dominates Republican polls, and is in a dead heat with Biden in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of registered voters nationwide.  That is a source of consternation to some Americans, and satisfaction to others, aggravating a widespread sense of polarization.

Polarization has a number of roots, and it is worth briefly mentioning three of the most commonly cited ones.  First, in many states, Democrats or Republicans dominate the state legislature, and when it comes time to draw U.S. House districts, they draw in their party’s favor. This makes it easier for their candidates to win, which makes the party primaries, not the general election, where the competition happens. That in turn pushes candidates to be more partisan to win party primary voters.  Second, there’s the now commonly cited fact that conflict and outrage draw ears and eyeballs, so it is profitable for media companies to promote conflict and extremes.  Third, Americans are moving to communities where they feel more comfortable, and since lifestyle preferences increasingly align with political inclinationsAmericans are polarizing themselves, sometimes unintentionally, when they move.

There is no single solution to these polarization problems, but for all the talk about the need for civil discourse and perennial calls for “a national conversation” about this or that, it is striking how little talk, let alone action, there is to institutionalize democratic conversation nationwide in ways that could foster greater Comprehension, Civility and Collaboration.  As two Americans, born thirty years apart, one a black woman, the other a white male, we nonetheless find common ground in sociology, and common interest in the potential of wider learning communities to cultivate those three Cs.

Learning communities (LCs), most simply defined, are associations focused on learning together.  LCs can be in-person or online, and their learning focus varies, from math to gardening to diplomacy, but at their best, LCs (a) are open to interested persons of all income levels, (b) connect diverse people, (c) deepen participants’ understanding not only of their chosen topic, but how to think about the topic, and (d) foster civility in part through collaboration.

Learning communities are not new.  The earliest learning communities can be traced to the earliest civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia India and China, where the inception of writing helped spur the development of schools to train scribes, teachers, priests, monks, government officials and other elites, and advanced science, medicine, mathematics, history, philosophy, and other bodies of knowledge.  But the earliest schools tended toward the strict transmission of intellectual traditions through memorization and repetition, rather than open learning through dialogue, testing and observation. The collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe led to a fragmentation of power among many competing principalities, which fostered not only military but intellectual and technological competition.  This competition, along with the rise of modern states, over time encouraged the development of primary and secondary schools as well as universities that together are now, in our knowledge-dependent modern societies, an important part of the social and economic lives of individuals, families, towns and countries.

Schools, including universities, are a kind of learning community – understood most simply as places where relationships are focused on learning.  But for all the learning they nurture, schools also increase our world’s inequalities as much if not more than they decrease them.  Schools, of course, offer their students the opportunity to develop themselves, and compulsory schooling extends that development to more people, thus increasing equality.  However, vast differences exist in school quality and status in the same localities and across the world.  Some elites may prefer it that way since their children tend to be better prepared and favored to get into better schools. Plus, the better teachers, technologies, programs and alumni connections those better schools provide help sustain and strengthen elite power.  In short, widespread educational segregation benefits elites.

None of the above is new, at least to those who study education, but this has implications for politics and polarization.  Intentionally or not, schools have long been instruments of exclusion.  They sort people into social hierarchies based on whether and where students go to school and their performance therein.  Schools also position and equip elites to rule, and others to fulfill needed roles, from farmers and cooks, to teachers, accountants, and engineers.  Clearly, the process is not rigid; not everyone who graduates from an elite school ends up in a leadership position in government, business or nonprofits, and some farmers, teachers, and engineers become those leaders.  Yet the facts that (a) a disproportionate share of business, government and nonprofit elites come from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other top schools, and (b) elites’ wealth and income have been rising since the 1970s in the United States and abroad, as, generally, have those of their alma maters, underscore the pattern of exclusion.

At the same time, exclusion is one of the roots of the rise of Trump, and the Trump voter.  Many accounts of their rise point to economic stagnation and decline among Americans with a high school degree. The association between educational and economic outcomes has only strengthened in the last several decades, and reinforces the links between Education, Economics and Exclusion.  In some sense, Trump voters have every right to be angry if they have been at the losing end of this three-E’s process of exclusion, made worse by the contempt of educated elites.

But what if education were more an instrument of inclusion than exclusion, of the three C’s rather than the three E’s?  What if learning was not bound to a period of one’s youth inside school walls, but rather a wider part of one’s life and region?  What if education was also fun and social, forging engaging relationships across America’s deep political, economic, racial and generational divides?

We turn to these questions and more in the second part of this article on democracy, education and the Trump Voter.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D., is a sociologist and founder of Learning Life, a Washington DC-based nonprofit developing innovative learning communities in order to widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy.  Ma’Shayla Hearns is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in sociology and criminology, and an intern at Learning Life.   

Sept 21: Panel Discussion: Democratize America

Live in the Washington DC area?

Concerned about American democracy?

Want to connect and learn about ways to strengthen democracy in America?

Learning Life and the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College cordially invite you to a special in-person Democracy Dinner featuring a panel discussion on the theme “Democratize America.”

Democracy Dinner participants are asked to contribute financially to support the Dinners and to help build the wider DLC: $100 for individuals, $150 for couples, though you can contribute at whatever level you are comfortable with. Please RSVP here, and contribute in advance here or at the door. Proceeds from the Dinner help build the wider DMV Democracy Learning Community (DLC).


Founder’s Blog: Toward Localizing Int’l Relations

This article is part of a series helping to envision what a metro regional democracy learning community could look like.  For the full list of articles, please visit Learning Life’s DMV Democracy Learning Community page

Why localize international relations (IR), and what might that specifically look like?  This article succinctly answers these two questions in list form.

Why localize international relations?

1. Foster connection and comprehension: Globalization intertwines, yet distance disconnects. Localizing IR can help individuals connect to and understand a world that intertwines and affects us all, for better and worse.

2. Nurture empathy: Authoritarians often thrive on fear and resentment of immigrants and foreigners. Localizing IR can foster engagement and collaboration with immigrants and foreigners, thus increasing empathy (see contact theory).

3. Get help: More challenges we face are international: unemployment, inflation/deflation, energy, pandemics, climate change, cybercrime, disinformation, terrorism, nuclear security, immigration, refugees, human trafficking, etc. Localizing IR can mobilize more people to address these issues.

4. Prevent war and abuse: The more engaged publics are in IR, the less easy it is for government elites to rush to war, demonize foreigners, abuse immigrants, self-deal/engage in corruption, human rights abuses and other illegalities, etc. On war and democracy, see democratic peace theory.

5. Improve policies: Wider participation makes for policy-making and implementation more accountable to publics, less serving of elite interests.

6. Develop citizens and workers: Localizing IR can have “spillover effects,” nurturing more caring citizens, and knowledgeable, skilled workers, expanding equality of opportunity and human development.

Seven Principles for Localizing IR

1. Make IR a way of life, not just a topic, to adapt the argument American philosopher John Dewey made about democracy. Embed IR in people’s routines, stages, rituals and celebrations.

2. Bring IR to people, don’t expect people to come to IR, to adapt the insight of political sociologist Herbert Gans.  Bring IR to where people go: homes, restaurants, markets, parks, churches, etc.

3. Make IR fun using games, puzzles, festivals, markets, parades, simulations, competitions, etc.

4. Meet needs and desires of individuals and organizations: students for internships and jobs, employers to find employees, professionals to network and learn, journalists to get data and analysis, scholars to share research, teachers to find student learning opportunities, etc.

5. Create more positions, be these volunteer, stipended or paid, that give people specific roles and status in IR (e.g., cultural ambassadors, guides, observers, researchers, writers, mentors, speakers, evaluators, etc.).

6. Foster collaborations involving journalists, educators, artists, philanthropists, government, religious and business leaders and staff.

7. Connect discussion to policy-making: Shift from directionless discussion, not connected to policy-making, to directed discussion, connected to policy-making. Federated organizations linking local, state, country, region and world can help.

Nine Local IR Stakeholders

1. Governments, especially city, state and national agencies engaged in IR

2. Professionals and retirees of governments, militaries, businesses, and nonprofits, with foreign affairs knowledge and experience (including local residents currently studying, working, or living abroad).

3. International businesses: finance, trade, airlines, intelligence, media, education, tourism, entertainment, food, etc.

4. International NGOs: peace, security, health, refugee, immigrant, environment, cultural exchange, etc.

5. Education: teachers, professors, students, staff in IR, history, political science, languages, anthropology, cultural/social studies, communications, intl biz, etc.

6. Media: local to int’l news outlets, local TV, radio, magazines, etc interested in culture, business and other topics that connect to IR.

7. Immigrant and ethnic associations

8. Travel and language companies and enthusiasts

9. Foreign culture fans (Japanese anime, Kpop, European art, African music, etc.)

What might localizing IR look like?

1. Annual IR festival: Engage local business, nonprofits and governments to develop a profitable event – with cultural exhibits and performances, digital and analog IR game rooms, escape rooms, virtual travel and exchanges, contests, issue simulations, dialogues and debates, films, food tastings, etc. – that supports local businesses, and attracts families, youth and tourists.

2. Seasonal IR markets: Spring, summer, fall and/or winter markets featuring local businesses and nonprofits offering IR services, products and jobs: foreign restaurants, language, culture and travel companies, college IR-related programs, IR employers, etc.

3. IR center: A public place, funded via multiple sources, that routinely features local and visiting IR speakers, issue debates and deliberations, exhibits, performances, and inexpensively houses local IR businesses and nonprofits to foster collaboration, and draw residents and tourists alike.     

4. Grants: Funded by city, regional/state and/or national govts, to encourage for-profit and nonprofit, financially sustainable IR pilot and regular programs.

5. Other elements: Connect with IR associations (Sister Cities, UNESCO, Int’l Union of Local Authorities, etc.). Local tours of IR businesses, nonprofits, ethnic communities, university depts, historic sites, etc led by local IR ambassadors.  Public language and culture trainings. Local radio or TV IR issue debates. Exchanges: Int’l visitors, home swaps, sister cities, virtual dialogues, skill swaps, language exchanges. School extracurriculars: student SDG clubs, internships, volunteering, Model UN. Etc.

Five Initial Steps for Localizing IR

1.Identify and recruit stakeholders: Who wants to take part?

2.Asset map: What IR people, organizations, events, places, etc. already exist locally? Partner with local IR faculty and students to asset map.

3.Develop a strategic plan, setting SMART goals and priority activities that follow some or all the preceding principles. Partner with local int’l biz faculty and students to plan.

4.Set up an online community calendar and/or email list of local IR events.

5.Use the asset map to write a printed and/or online guide to building a local IR infrastructure, including a list of local IR experts, businesses, nonprofits, and others who can help.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life


Alger, Chadwick F.  1978.  “Extending Responsible Public participation in International Affairs.”  Exchange Summer:17-21.

Alger, C.F.  2007.  “There Are Peacebuilding Tasks for Everybody.” International Studies Review 9:3:534-554.

Allen, David.  2023.  Every Citizen a Statesman: The Dream of a Democratic Foreign Policy in the American Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dewey, John.  1916.  Democracy & Education.  New York: Free Press.

Gans, Herbert J.  1988.  Middle American Individualism: Political Participation and Liberal Democracy.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Longley, Robert.  2022.  “What Is the Democratic Peace Theory? Definition and Examples.”

Mcleod, Saul.  2023.  “Allport’s Intergroup Contact Hypothesis: Its History And Influence.”

Milbrath, Lester.  1965.  Political Participation: How and Why Do People Get Involved in Politics?  Chicago: Rand McNally & Co.

Polak, Jiri.  1989.  “Direct Democracy: A Global Strategy for Peace.”  Peace Research, 21:1:43–55.

Selee, Andrew D.  2002.  “Democracy Close to Home: Citizen Participation and Local Governance.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 3:1:95–102.

Truman Center.  2021.  Transforming State: Pathways to a More Just, Equitable and Innovative Institution.

Truman Center. 2022.  Broadening Diplomatic Engagement Across America.