A strong case can be made that contemporary strategic communications, as ‘synchronized coordination of statecraft, public affairs, public diplomacy, military information operations, and other activities’[1], is failing to achieve its potential at the national level due to organizational failings as well as problems within its constituent parts.

Yet, there are specific areas which are immediately recognised as impediments, notably organizational and managerial issues.  At a major US-UK conference in late 2005, examining information effects in counter-insurgency and stability operations, senior military and civilian personnel rounded upon the managerial aspects of communications and information:

Participants concurred that “we should all work together,” but recognized that strong organizational challenges remain. Participants agreed that the military needs clear strategic guidance on the proposed end-state and overall information strategy to effectively fight the informational fight. However, this strategic vision sometimes has been lacking, which has meant that, by default, the military was shaping policy through its actions on the ground. Many also thought that overall coordination mechanisms are lacking.[2]

Do fancy diagrams like this really address the organizational challenge?

Organizational structure and managerial capabilities in civil-military interventions may be seen as being hampering the communication function through their functionality being framed through an industrial warfare perspective:

[T]he traditional kinetic focus of U.S. military operations often jeopardizes communication-based shaping efforts.  U.S. forces are trained primarily for kinetic operations and inflicting casualties on an enemy, not for shaping noncombatant attitudes. Both force structure and mind-set can be incompatible with shaping goals.[3]

US military doctrine is pervasive throughout most militaries operating in multi-lateral civil-military interventions and thus structures, management and ethos are often replicated.

Corncerns over organizational and managerial issues at the senior levels of strategic communication, have also been raised before.  Once again taking the US example, the DSB reported in 2008:

Nevertheless, the task force finds reasons for continued concern.  Positive changes within organizations are real, but they depend to a considerable extent on the skills and imagination of current leaders.  These changes must be evaluated, and those that work should be institutionalized. Resistance from traditional organizational cultures continues. Resources for strategic communication have increased, but they fall substantially short of national needs.  This task force’s primary concern is that fundamental transformation in strategic communication has not occurred at the strategic and interagency level.[4]

Within this management challenge is the continuing top-down management processes within the foreign policy process, out of kilter with the contemporary information environment.  Faced with a rapidly changing environment, with regard to public diplomacy, Cull claims:

none of these changes is as challenging as the reorientation of public diplomacy away from the top-down communication patterns of the Cold War era[5]

Equally, the continuing disconnect between communication efforts and policy, also present an organizational and managerial challenge.  This is nothing new, as Edward R Murrow pointed out in the 1960s, famously claiming that communication personnel had to be ‘in on the take-offs of policy’ if it was going to be expected to be ‘in on the crash landings’.   As Cull, re-iterates:

[T]he most important link in any public diplomacy structure is that which connects ‘listening’ to policy-making and ensures that foreign opinion is weighed in the foreign policy process.[6]

It is therefore seen that there are problems within multilateral communications and many of these are attributed to managerial and organizational issues.  An examinination of those specific organizational and managerial aspects of multilateral communicative efforts during civil-military foreign policy interventions is well overdue.  This work would not be done without precedent; much has been done in the corporate world, but there is little evidence of deep analysis of communications management or organization against the backdrop of corporate lessons learnt.


[1] Jones,J. B., “Strategic Communication: A Mandate for the United States,” Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue Thirty-nine (Fourth Quarter 2005), p. 109.

 

[2] Collings, D. & Rohozinski, R., “Shifting Fire: Information Effects in Counterinsurgency and Stability Operations” , US Army War College (2006), p.12

[3] Helmus, T.C., Paul, C. & Glenn, R.W. “Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation” , (2007), p.17

[4] US DoD, “Task Force on Strategic Communication: Report of the Defense Science Board”, (2008), p. xi-xii

[5] Cull, N.,  Public Diplomacy: Seven Lessons for its Future from its Past in “Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World”, (2008), p. 25

[6] Ibid (2008), p. 20

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