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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Science and Technology for Communication and Persuasion Abroad: Gap Analysis and Survey

Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has invested heavily in technology-based solutions to understanding, informing, and influencing people around the world and across a variety of mediums. Many of these efforts were sponsored by the Defense Department for reasons that include major appropriations by the Congress, a capability (and culture) of contracting, a capability (and culture) of development, and an imperative for action (non-action may result in an unnecessary death).

In 2009, the Defense Department’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) surveyed the landscape of science and technology programs intended to support Strategic Communication with the purpose of identifying gaps between capabilities and requirements as well as suggesting areas of improvement.

In 2011, the RRTO commissioned the Center for Naval Analysis to update the 2009 report. The new report, written by CNA’s Will McCants and entitled “Science and Technology for Communication and Persuasion Abroad: Gap Analysis and Survey,” (7mb PDF) is now available.

The 2012 report is based on interviews with experts inside and outside government, surveying programs, and reviewing academic and professional literature. Gaps identified in 2009 have not been closed over the past few years, according to this new report.

McCants further identified areas where the Government has made limited research & development investments not addressed in the earlier report. There additional areas include technologies for facilitating and managing online engagement and persuasion campaigns. The specific report headings are:

  • Survey and validation theories and techniques for influence in the digital realm
  • Target audience analysis, trend monitoring, and source criticism
  • Online measures of effectiveness
  • Training in techniques of communication and persuasion in the digital realm
  • Immersive virtual environments and simulation games for non-military purposes
  • Persuasive technology on mobile devices for encouraging positive behavior
  • Crowd sourcing for problem solving and accountability
  • Studying adversary use of social media
  • Technology for promoting freedom under repressive regimes
  • Expanding investment in emerging technologies

This report acknowledges the importance of engagement, empowerment, and cultivating relationships over simply better targeting of messages. The report reinforces the 2009 statement that there are no silver bullets.

“Despite the focus of this report on technology for communication and persuasion, such technology will only succeed in advancing U.S. interests if it serves well-informed policies; if the senior makers of those policies use and understand the technologies themselves; and if the practitioners carrying out those policies remember that putting a human face on an institution’s words and actions and establishing positive relationships — on and offline — with people working toward shared goals matter more than the substance of any particular message. Ironically, digital technology is making this human connection more possible now than at any time in the modern era.”

The survey of current programs included in the report continues to use the taxonomy of program developed for the 2009 report: Collaboration, Discourse, First Three Feet, Infrastructure, Modeling and Forecasting, Psych Defense, Social Media, and Understanding. The inventory reflects an increased understanding of the communication environment and suggests. Out of the some 30 programs listed, only one is at the State Department (the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, or CSCC) and arguably a benefactor of S&T investment rather than a product of S&T investment.

What are your thoughts on the report?

(Disclosure: I was a co-author of the 2009 report and consulted on the 2012 report.)

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