Psychological Struggle,  Public Affairs,  Public Diplomacy

A Theory of Strategic Communication: ‘like an orchestra producing harmony’

DOD OSD PA Theory of SC - like an rechestra producing harmony
DOD OSD PA Theory of SC – like an rechestra producing harmony

This is Part II of two posts on describing “Strategic Communication”. Part I is here.

In addition to the principles of strategic communication, the Defense Department has developed over time a graphical representation of Strategic Communication (click the image to the right or download a PDF of it here.)

Several points to raise with those new to this slide. The analogy of SC as an orchestra has at its middle, the conductor representing the collection of senior leaders, a music score as the SC plan, and an orchestra made up of various SC communities of practice and/or lines of operation

The “orchestra” can be reconfigured for the desired effect. It can become “strolling strings” or anything else as it reshaped, resized, and repurposed. The tempo, sound, etc. may vary, depending on the desired effect.

First, to me, it best represents a point rather than a dynamic model of action. The iterative process in the slide is controlled by the conductor in a discipline of message and action. This does not fit reality nor should it. Our engagement should not be and is not a steady, choreographed message and action stream. Acting like it is generates vulnerabilities. In this model, when an ‘orchestra’ member hits a flat note or misses the cue entirely, it is noticed and stands out for all to see. A jazz jam session would be better if this diagram was put into motion. The jazz jam would be a dynamic environment where bad notes don’t stand out as well. In the jazz jam, the members loosely interact, all headed in the same direction but with a certain amount of liberty absent from this slide.

Second, it is important to acknowledge the U.S. public and U.S. media are stakeholders and intended audiences, a smart phrase, as this slide does. They, like the allies, adversaries, and neutrals (a collection that includes “swing voters”) are targets of what we say, do, and fail to say and do. The adversary is very good at exploiting our “say-do gap”. We must become skilled in not only preventing this gap, but at increasing awareness of the adversaries’ (plural) own gaps, which we are very bad at doing.

Third, the model implies a level of calibration that is difficult in a war of perceptions. Orchestra conductors aren’t known for taking feedback, but the graphical representation outweighs the need for an asterisk saying the conductor here will accept dynamic input.

More to come on this. In the meantime, your comments are appreciated. Comment below or email me.

One Comment


    I like the analogy of the ‘jazz jam’. Makes sense in the ‘rugged landscape’ of finding the right tune/message, and allows extemporising on a theme. For all the reasons you state, the orchestra motif falls a bit flat. At the moment, most agents have the same score but are playing different passages in their own bubbles.