Saturday, November 21, 2015

Quotable: David Hylton on “STRATCOM” in the armed forces

Friday, November 20th 2015

U.S. Air Force
Public Diplomacy officers who have dealt with armed forces counterparts learn of their focus on strategic communications (STRATCOM), communications strategy (COMMSTRAT), communications synchronization, communication through action, and the “say-do gap.”   Army Lieutenant Colonel David Hylton, a public affairs officer, usefully reviewed these concepts in an article, “Commanders and Communication” in the September-October, 2015, issue of Military Review.

Strategic Communication

  • Strategic communication (STRATCOM) was the first term adopted by the government (popularized following 9/11) that attempted to provide a working definition for synchronized strategic-level activities aimed at communicating a unified message supporting strategic objectives.

  • STRATCOM was initially viewed as the guiding force behind alignment of the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power to achieve national goals and objectives—a complex and daunting undertaking.

  • . . . STRATCOM was conceived as being formulated at the highest levels of government power and then permeating all levels of government activities to create a unity of messaging that harmonized and supported all other strategic activities.

  • Subsequently, STRATCOM became primarily focused on public communication activities.

  • . . . Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines strategic communication as—focused United States Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.

Communication Strategy

  • COMMSTRAT is inherently difficult to coordinate. The different goals, objectives, priorities, opinions, and agendas among all of the parties involved are often contrary to those of the commander. Additionally, COMMSTRAT relies on the guidance from high-level, whole-of-government STRATCOM policy makers at the Department of Defense or Joint Staff to guide and align its efforts with other government players.

Communication Synchronization

  • Joint Doctrine Note 2-13, Commander’s Communication Synchronization, published in 2013. The publication defines communication synchronization as—a joint force commander’s process for coordinating and synchronizing themes, messages, images, operations, and actions to support strategic communication-related objectives and ensure the integrity and consistency of themes and messages to the lowest tactical level through the integration and synchronization of all relevant communication activities.

Communication through action

  • The 2008 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) theater strategic communication strategy says, Ensure actions match words. We must ensure we do what we say we do. Our actions will invariably have a greater impact than what we communicate verbally or in writing.

  • All actions—such as leader engagements, military-to-military engagements, movements on the ground, visits by leaders, overflights of aircraft, and transits of ships—send messages. In the Internet age, reports of actions taken and the results of those actions are quickly spread across the globe; they affect the perceptions of the audiences the commander is trying to engage. It is important to envision how the actions will be perceived by the different audiences and what message they will deliver.

  • . . . there is risk that actions taken may not deliver the desired messages or may conflict with words and images used. Moreover, inaction is a form of communication since not acting can also send a message, which may also pose considerable risk.

[The “Say-Do Gap”]

  • From a strategic perspective, planning a communication strategy should emphasize not permitting a say-do gap to emerge. A say-do gap arises in the minds of the targeted audiences when an organization’s statements conflict with the actions it takes.

  • Recent examples of a say-do gap came from operations in Afghanistan, where NATO forces proclaimed respect for the Afghan people and Islam, a verbal message that appeared contradicted by images and incidents of civilian casualties and military operations in and around mosques. Such apparent inconsistencies were successfully exploited by the Taliban via globally distributed images on the Internet.

  • We hurt ourselves more when our words don’t align with our actions. Our enemies regularly monitor the news to discern coalition and American intent as weighed against the efforts of our forces. When they find a “say-do” gap—such as Abu Ghraib—they drive a truck right through it. So should we, quite frankly.

Author: Donald M. Bish

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