This article examines the relationship between theories of the ‘new’ public diplomacy and recent attempts by foreign ministries in the United Kingdom, United States and Sweden to develop public diplomacy strategies for the early twenty-first century. It provides a summary of policy debates in each nation alongside analysis of the evaluation methods that have been designed to support them. The article argues that expressions of a new public diplomacy are best explained within the constraints of different institutional and national cultures. Innovations in public diplomacy have typically taken place within the context of domestic demands for public accountability and value for money, pressures for empirical data to inform policy-making, and the increased centralization of public diplomacy activities. Evaluation plays an important role in improving actors’ capacities for newer forms of public diplomacy, but often by measuring the public diplomacy institution and its objectives, rather than whether the needs of foreign publics are met. This suggests that any paradigm shift from old to new public diplomacy has in practice centred on domestic and organizational concerns rather than the achievement of normative goals such as increased dialogue with foreign citizens.