Wednesday, January 9, 2013

British On Why The Rand Report Got it Wrong

Much has been written on the May 2012 RAND study of the effectiveness of US IO in Afghanistan (which you can get at:, one of the most quoted is a British paper “The Effectiveness of US Military Information Operations in Afghanistan 2001-2010 (See

One of the major conclusions, ‘the fundamental failing’ in their words was stated as:
“A na├»ve and immature understanding of the very process of communication in non-compliant conflict environments and misplaced confidence and over reliance, upon marketing and advertising principles…. This paper advocates that marketing and advertising must now be considered as an utterly failed model for IO and MISO/PsyOps, one which must now be discarded in favour of a behaviorally-led approach embracing proper, proven, social and behavioural science.”
The paper contends that the International Security & Assistance Force (ISAF) over relied on commercial advertising and marketing strategies and contended that the product was NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) was the product and the Afghans were the ‘consumer’.

As I’ve posted before, I have never been to Afghanistan, but I believe I have a reasonable picture of the environment. Attitudes are deeply rooted and are unlikely to be changed in the short term. Illiteracy is high and in general there is a lack of the information infrastructure we would normally associate with a ‘developed nation’.

This means that behavioral efforts have to be much more focused, targeted and localized. The nature of the country means that there can be no top down MISO rather the approach is a bottom up one that likely starts with extended families/tribes and moves up to the provinces recognizing that a ‘national’ or corporate approach is not likely to work. 

The paper identified a number of key issues. 

The absence of a narrative that Afghans can believe and trust. To me this is the key. At the risk of pointing out that a fundamental principle of selling is that the prospect has to be listening to you first, unless the ISAF messages are believable and credible in the first place they will be going no where.

Target Audience Analysis is essential and as I’ve noted above as to be bottom up. 

Complex C2 at every level of command breed ineffectiveness and generally yields the too many cooks in the kitchen problem.

Readers are invited to review the source documents themselves add their own personal experience and contribute to the on-going debate.

No comments: