strategic communication

I took advantage of the snow storm and holiday weekend to knock out some professional reading.  The first was a paper by the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom titled:  Strategic Communication:  A Primer.

I’m not sure if there’s anything earth shattering in the paper but they do a pretty good job of depicting some concepts graphically, which I wanted to highlight here.

To begin with, the author makes the case for why strategic communication is necessary and should be incorporated systematically into any strategic plan rather than just be glommed on as an afterthought.  While the author argues that strategic communication should be reserved for geo-strategic issues I’m not sure I agree and see no reason why the principles discussed couldn’t apply also to some domestic issues as well.  Here’s his definition:

Strategic Communication:  “A systematic series of sustained and coherent activities, conducted across strategic, operational and tactical levels, that enables understanding of target audiences, identifies effective conduits, and develops and promotes ideas and opinions through those conduits to promote and sustain particular types of behaviour.”

Here’s his graphic conception of strategic communication.  As I’ve said, there’s no reason this couldn’t (shouldn’t) be applied to non-military issues as well.  This should be different than just cramming a bunch of people or agencies together (like the DHS) and requires coordination between the various contributors to make sure they can compensate for each others weaknesses and compliment each others strengths.

The analogy he uses to capture this idea is an orchestra (and I really like this graphic).

This of course requires an orchestra leader.  Someone has to make decisions.  In the field of intelligence I’ve often harped on the desperate straits we’re in because of weak planning and direction.  It’s the same here.  Without a clear goal and strong leadership your orchestra is going to sound like garbage.

The music is the narrative.  Depending on the effect you seek to achieve, different sections of the orchestra will be used at different times, or with different emphasis. The tempo of the music will also vary, depending on what effect the conductor desires.

Like Bob Dylan said, ‘The times, they are a-changing’ and that’s just as true when discussing threats.  It doesn’t really matter if we’re talking about terrorism, environmental or energy issues, crime or disease, new, potential threats are popping up or looming on the horizon.  Strategic communication provides a way to link various methods to combat or prevent those threats.  These new threats aren’t always vulnerable to traditional forms of power and influence.  Perhaps there’s something fundamentally different in these from past threats or maybe there are some significant differences in the operating environment which make traditional methods of influencing the environment less effective but in either case ignoring strategic communication will make any such task much more difficult.

“Emergent threats are at their most adaptable when they are small. This is when they are able to learn rapidly. Conversely this is also when they are at their most vulnerable. Since military forces will always be resource-limited, a central issue in future campaign planning will be the ability to effectively orchestrate, innovate and adapt effort across all arms of government to achieve effect at the right time. We might refer to this as adaptive campaigning. The essential characteristic of an adaptive campaign is that its structure and behaviour should be able to evolve over time and in a way that tends to increase the probability of ‘success’ through adaptation to the changes in the system, and to the environment in which it is embedded.”

And just like intelligence analysis, we need to be careful that we understand and conduct an analysis of our target and make sure we aren’t just projecting our biases and perceptions upon them.  So, consider this graphic which compares the congative attributes of three different demographics.

“…the chart is illuminating for it shows that at no point do the cognitive attributes of poorly educated Arab males – whom for convenience we may choose to refer to as the Arab Street – match the attributes of educated Americans – whom for convenience we might refer to as Policy Makers. Thus when Policy Makers articulate what they consider to be a reasoned policy for a particular action their audiences are likely to be swayed more by feeling and emotion than the ‘irrefutable’ reasoning that we in the West might find so compelling. This in no way infers that western culture is superior to that of Arab or Muslim culture, instead it recognizes the concept of bounded rationality, irrespective of education.”

Seems to me this would apply just as much to intelligence analysis as it would strategic communication.

Finally, one last point.  The author recognizes the strengths and utility of ‘new media’ as a way of conveying a message.

“There is a danger that this new media – often referred to as social or digital media – is viewed as a leisure activity and not an avenue for telling a story or communicating with audiences.”

Again, the crossover with intelligence is important to note.  New media, as with much open source information, is regularly regarded with suspicion or disdain.  New Media is saddled with the additional handicap that it is often little understood by many decision makers


One response to “strategic communication

  1. good info .. I am very interested with your article …

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