The Soft Power 30 – A Ranking of Global Soft Power |

The Soft Power 30 – A Ranking of Global Soft Power

The use of persuasion and enticement – rather than military force or economic sanctions – to change the preferences and behavior of nations and citizens has been increasingly talked about in recent years. Yet, the popularity of such soft power has not been matched by a growing capability or understanding of how to use it, said Mr Jonathan McClory. Drawing on his experience in developing a tool to measure soft power, Mr McClory explained the importance and challenges of having such a measure in a lunch-time talk chaired by Associate Professor Heng Ye Kuang of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The need for a measurement tool 

Mr McClory explained that the importance of soft power has been driven by two major trends: urbanisation and the digital revolution. The former has caused a power shift away from governments to non-state actors while the latter has increased accessibility to information and platforms for communication that force governments to provide greater transparency. Together, these trends have resulted in a more complex and crowded world stage that requires greater collaboration among countries and between countries and their citizens.

As soft power is the “fuel” to driving collaboration, Mr McClory said, a measurement tool was essential to understand the resources available for countries to achieve their desired outcomes or influence using soft power.

Subjectivity of measurement

The major challenge to measuring a country’s soft power is its subjectivity and context-dependent nature. To address this, Mr McClory and his team included both objective and subjective measures to develop a composite index of soft power that includes more than 65 metrics.

Objective measures comprised six sub-indices of government, engagement, culture, education, enterprise and digital. Subjective data was collected by polling over 7,000 people in 20 countries on seven areas: cuisine, technology exports, luxury goods, culture, foreign policy, perceived liveability, and friendliness towards foreigners. Using polling responses on the overall favourability of the country, a regression analysis was conducted to see which category was most important.

This methodology was heatedly debated during the question and answer session, with multiple parties raising concerns about a Western bias to the criteria and sampling. Mr McClory admitted to the limitations, but also defended his research by saying that the criticism “is essentially a criticism of any global polling” – something that cannot always be helped.

Takeaways and usefulness

He reiterated that the findings were “not a measure or reflection of absolute influence,” but rather the potential influence that a country might have. Research on soft power was not yet at the stage of conclusively being able to determine cause and effect, he added.

Nonetheless, he emphasised the current findings could provide useful insights. For instance, the subjective polling would allow for data to be broken down by country, so one country would be able to understand how another felt about its policies.

In the case of Singapore, he said, findings that the country scored well in the enterprise category suggested the success of the government’s pro-business stance. Surprising results, such as that the lowest scoring categories in the subjective component were from culture and cuisine, or even that the country did not fare well on global engagement, could provide areas for improvement.


On 2 December 2015, Mr Jonathan McClory, author of the Soft Power 30 report released in July, gave a talk entitled “The Soft Power 30 – A Ranking of Global Soft Power”. Mr McClory is a specialist in place branding, soft power and cultural relations. He is currently partner at media firm, Portland, where he leads the firm’s Place Branding Practice. Prior to this, he has advised senior government clients in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Asia on reputation, policy and effective global engagement. He has also led the place branding practice of London-based creative agency, Winkreative, where he oversaw the creation and launch of a new over-arching nation branding campaign for Thailand. In addition, he has worked as a consultant in the London office of the Boston Consulting Group, and as Senior Researcher at the Institute of Government, where he is still an Associate today. It was there that he developed the world’s first composite index for measuring the soft power of countries.

Written by the External Affairs department

Date:
Thursday, 24 December 2015

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