Friday, September 28, 2007

GWOT: Developing Effective Strategic Communications

In a previous post regarding information operations, I made the mistake of linking IO (military Information Operations) to PA (Public Affairs) and State Department. The Armorer rightfully rebuked gently in the comment section: "Doctrine, Doctrine, Doctrine". In essence, an age old discussion among those who look at current day domestic and foreign information as well as military operations: who is responsible for relaying information to whom.

To clarify, it's about law, area of responsibility and target audience. But, as the Armorer notes, as have other bloggers on the subject, with the advent of global communications and media, these areas have continued to drift closer together and even overlap. Thus, when we discuss the matter, we have a tendency to view the situation from the "nine thousand mile" perspective: it is all one giant field of operations and every organization is responsible for it.

Add to that, every organization affects the operations and outcomes of the others. Finally, also based on the Armorer's comments and previous discussions, while approaching the field of operations from different angles, each of these organizations have to have the same overarching message to achieve the ultimate central goal: United States' Policy.

Where to begin?

GWOT: Developing Effective Strategic Communications


Throughout history, man has sought to expand his ability to communicate over ever greater distances, using faster, more efficient and reliable methods. He has used these methods for a variety of reasons including personal communications, controlling an organization, economic growth, negotiating contracts, developing diplomatic relationships, affecting the outcome of battle and spreading ideas. The methods of communications have developed over eons as man has mastered his environment, available resources and quantum mathematics.

In the 20th century, the ability to communicate within days, hours, minutes and, finally, seconds has changed the way that communications effect every aspect of life. Humans are bombarded by information and ideas nearly every waking minute, from locations all around the world.

At the dawn of the 21st century, global, instantaneous communications have allowed people to collaborate on projects, develop life changing inventions, obtain wealth, perform surgery from half the world away and exchange ideas with people they may never meet or never previously had the opportunity to communicate with without the advancement in communications. As these advancements occurred, governments, businesses, private organizations and individuals have alternately sought to control and use this new resource for their own benefit.

The most effective use of these communication resources has been by individuals who have the least restrictions on time, content or relations and by corporations who have a long history of developing strategic communications to effect market growth among billions of potential customers. Corporations use market analysis tools to identify their target customers or audiences based on data points within selected communities.

Individuals use a less scientific though equally selective and sophisticated method of social networking. In exchanging emails, websites links and home made videos, they promote one idea over another, promote a relationship and shared goals to individuals and groups. However, opposite from the corporation "top down" method of searching for market share, individuals are often "self-selecting" or "bottom up" associating with a product, organization or an idea sometimes without another individual or organization ever reaching out.

In the Global War on Terror, a global war of ideas, this self-selection using global communications poses a unique problem in limiting participation in acts of murder, destruction and espionage on behalf of any state, organization or ideology in places all around the globe without direct relationship to a central conflict. This requires a new approach to developing communication strategies.

According to sociologists, the most common means of influencing individuals is through peers within a given community. Limiting the appeal of any organization or ideology that is contrary to the security of people or states will largely rely on the ability to persuade the greater community to reject and marginalize the ideology or any terrorist acts as unacceptable behavior. This includes communities in the real and virtual world.

Developing Effective Strategic Communications: Core Concepts and Working Theory

We have a tendency to look at effective communications from the top down. In other words, we tend to look at the organizations involved and try to decipher their responsibilities, appropriate message and correct actions from that perspective. Instead, we should begin this discussion from the bottom up: focus on "target audiences" and work backwards. In fact, from a "customer service" background, the most effective strategy is to first understand who the "customer" is, the needs and demands of the "customer" or "target audience" and then effect the delivery of message or product that best suits the "customer"..

Whatever the organization does to effect the "customer" and convince them to "buy" the message or product, in the end, it is to achieve the organization's over all goals. In business, it is to achieve majority market share, acceptable profits and the long term financial stability and success. In foreign affairs, national security and warfare, it is to achieve the goals of US policy.

Before we breakdown the "target audiences", develop messages, discuss methods of delivery and assign responsibility, we need to put forth a working diagram and a theory. That theory reflects our current and future adversaries: the use of global communications and media, the concepts of distributed networks, dissemination of information and recruitment of "actors" and sympathizers disregarding global borders. In fact, adversaries over the ages have sought to accomplish their goals using all of these methods. More so since the development of global communications and media. Our strategy must take this into consideration and develop around this core idea.

Recognizing Spheres of Influence

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That theory being that, in a global war against such an adversary, using all of the above methods and comprehending the effect of global development on information and interconnectivity of people, there is no such thing as a "neutral" party to the war. In fact, every nation and individual is a potential "target audience" as well as a potential deliverer of the message. Their importance, how the message is shaped and who delivers it is based on the "target audience's" geographical proximity to actual areas of combat operations, their ideological relationship to the adversary or even to the US, including their own national or ideological interests.

All of which indicates their potential acceptance to "blue force/red force" communications and ideas. It also indicates whether they are an effective conduit of either message to other "target audiences" to: pressure the adversary; to pressure his sympathizers, to influence potential allies of either force or even to influence "neutral" parties to act or not act on behalf of either adversarial party.

This theory and its "9000 mile" view of "target audiences" obviously makes a large and unwieldy matrix to work with and plan the message, the method of delivery and the responsible parties. That requires a breakdown and identification of the "target audience" and their geographic and ideological relationship to either entity as well as the most appropriate method of delivery and responsible party. However, this diagram could be used to drill down to each level and category of "target audience", overlaid on each successive group of communities from a global, state and local perspective.

Definition of the Diagram: Spheres of Influence

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The overlapping circles represent these ideas

1) Every entity has a relationship with the other, directly and indirectly, through geography, ideology, economy, security and polity, and through individuals, populations, states or organizations
2) Every entity has influence on the other, through actions or reactions, directly or indirectly, through geography, ideology, economy, politics, security and polity: through individuals, populations, states or organizations
3) Every entity seeks to increase influence on the other to act or react, directly or indirectly, through geography, ideology, economy, politics, security and polity: through individuals, populations, states or organizations
4) Every entity has its own set of goals that it wishes to achieve that is either aligned or in opposition to the goals of the other entities. Such goals include economic, political and security.
5) The importance placed on these goals by an entity; their alignment with any other entity's goals; their relationship with any individual, group or state; the amount of influence each has or can improve on another, will determine what position or sphere of influence the entity occupies on the diagram.

Individual circles:

1) Blue Force/Red Force represents the main protagonist and antagonist, whose goals are similar (such as achieving communications superiority), but directly opposite the other.
2) Green Centers of Influence represents outside entities that share a relationship, influence and some or all of the goals of any entity that it makes contact with. Centers of Influence have their own goals which they attempt to achieve by either supporting the goals of or attempting to influence any of the other spheres it has a relationship with. These spheres of influence are sometimes interchangeable with any other entity on the diagram, most often the "target audience".
3) Yellow represents the "target audience". The target audience depends on a community's direct or indirect relationship to the whole or part of the conflict, it's own goals and from what level it is being viewed and addressed (ie, global, state, local or individuals).

Global Community: Relativity and Friction

Due to the global nature of communications and media which facilitates the global distribution of ideas, the relationship of nations, organizations and individuals invested in global economics, politics and security, this connectivity continuously causes friction which simultaneously maintains those connections.

Achieving Communications Superiority And Limitations

An ideology that bases its primary activities on disseminated and distributed relay or outsourcing of its message and activities, eschewing national borders, a state, or physical assets that can be targeted, nor recognizing any neutral parties to the conflict, cannot be completely eliminated by physical interdiction. For such an ideology to be rendered ineffective, it must be equally marginalized within all public spaces and polities.

This requires the engagement of all parts of society, at all levels, within the global community.

However, we must accept that defeating an ideology does not necessarily equate to eliminating it. The worst ideologies of the 20th century still remain with us today in the form of books, movies, music, internet websites and organizations that continue to attempt to re-establish their organization and ideology. It is only through vigilance and continued influence of the greater polity that these ideas remain marginalized and unable to retain the power that they once held. That may be the most we can expect from any sustained effort against such adversarial ideologies as Islamic extremism where information is retained and reflected in a never ending state on the world wide web.


Anonymous said...

"However, we must accept that defeating an ideology does not necessarily equate to eliminating it. "

No - It kind of becomes a police type of effort, thanks for arriving to the party late- four years earlier might have helped save thousands and thousands of lives.

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