As the debacle of Libya and the international community’s dire response to it rumbles on, questions are raised over the role of strategic communication and its utility.
As many begin to really appreciate the value of strategic communication, empirically studied in RAND’s “Victory has a Thousand Fathers” and found to be a highly important pillar in a multipronged approach, capturing the essence of strategic communication appears to be as slippery a prospect as ever.
Its utility is laden with difficult issues, not least from the starting definition which is variously described in different fashions depending on who one talks to, which government or organisation they represent, the particular context and the phase of the moon. But the inherent issues remain locked solid.
The question of how strategic communication informs and guides policy formation, support objectives and permeates deep-held beliefs and values can generate considerable communication in itself. How and the degree to which strategic communication is managed, especially within an information-rich and technologically dizzying environment, at all levels is debated and scrutinised on both sides of the Atlantic. Deciding the mechanisms, both organic and external, to employ equally can invite headaches and ethical dilemmas.
In multilateral organisations, abutting national and non-governmental entities, synergy of communicative action – considered a mainstay of the strategic communication ‘profession’ – can be but a glint in the dreamy-eyed politico, yearning for some coherency of message and consistency of action in order to close the ‘say-do’ gap. And then, even if a concert of communication is glimpsed, internal machinations and concerns over domestic public opinion often prevail to muddy an already turbulent stream of collective consciousness. Even within the major publics, diverse interests drive the agendas, colliding and careening off each other, refusing either to be harnessed within or at, sometimes utterly violent, odds with strategic objectives.
The information environment itself poses considerable and rapidly evolving challenges. Not only do domestic audiences create world views, opinions, attitudes and behaviour motivated through ever more multi-spectral channels, and increasingly contribute to those mediums, but publics in far-flung places across the globe, places rife with geo-political angst, do so equally, often with little understood effect and consequences. Events in the Middle East have indicated the catalysing effect of such technology – even NATO are now actively cogitating over this.
The very nature of human interaction and collective capability is evolving swiftly, in which the ways in which we cooperate, contribute, co-opt, consult and create are subject to new dynamics. As such, the manner of top-down hierarchy is giving way to flattened networked linkages, diffusing power from traditional nodes to looser organisms. And the feedback loop in these new dynamics is growing in volume, ignored at one’s peril – strategic communication can no longer be a one-way street. This is all occurring within our own settings and within disparate, distant and devolved social entities, with profound effect.
In the early 21st century we are only just beginning to grapple withthese issues and realise the complexities of a vortex of new politics, new technologies and new societies, all subject to and fonts of masses of information. An understanding of that information, its utility and its management is now an imperative, utterly essential and fundamental to any who wish to operate in this vortex.
Put simply, communication is defined by the response you get. In today’s complex geo-political environment, strategic communication is defined by how you get the response needed.