As we watch the media count COVID-19 death rates, it reminds me of the ”body count“ metric during the Vietnam War.
Counting the number of enemy dead did not assess progress from a US point of view because the statistic was not related to political conditions for success. Other metrics for combat effectiveness also failed to measure political control. The US government defined victory vaguely (peace and stability) or boldly (a free and independent South Vietnam) while ignoring a critical uncertainty: the will of the Vietnamese and American people. Consequently despite superior US military capability, Vietnamese will forced the withdrawal of US troops. The US was politically polarized.
Today, we also have a deficit of will more than capability, and a polarized electorate. Consider the CoV-2 virus, responsible for more than 770,000 deaths. The current global weekly death rate averages 40,000 killed. The number of new cases in the US each day topped 62,000 – more than continental Europe, and Arizona and Florida have the highest per capita death rate in the world. Our political disease is the same: an aversion to assessable strategy.
Fortunately, we can treat this. Drawing from our JMark Services’ course in advanced analysis, this paper focuses on how to set priorities and assess effectiveness in a strategic, replicable way. We need a transparent framework such as the one introduced here. There will be more pandemics. And the information environment is filled with infectious parasites of many sorts.
We begin with a hierarchy of effort. For this or any other framework to work, we need political leadership to set specific and attainable strategic priorities.
I‘ve argued for a COVID-19 strategy that combines the following six effects: secure vulnerable populations, supply chains, and social conditions; induce controls on population movement and economic growth; persuade scientific collaboration; dissuade exploitation of the pandemic, deter and defend against social and other threats.
Even if political leadership actively supported those effects, we would still need to align and assess strategic priorities. The purpose of that is to evaluate whether the effects are being achieved, and to adjust the strategy accordingly.
So, what are the long-term essential interests (strategic priorities) for the US with respect to COVID? Without answering this question, there is no strategy. At best we have a process ”that developed as as we go along.“ Well, strategy is a process of managing ends, ways and means. So let’s clarify those elements.
Let’s say the ultimate ends or strategic priorities are two-fold:
The end-state specifies more clearly when we have achieved the strategic priorities. It’s basically a set of required conditions to be managed. Considering our strategic priorities, we break this dynamic down into four variables.
The end-state is four-fold:
The logic of our end-state as it relates to the strategic priorities is as follows. Lower infection rates lead to lower transmission of the virus. This condition frees up health care capacity for better treatment and more testing that results in lower death rates. All of that permits economic recovery. Note that the number of cases, however, may be higher due to more testing.
We continue to get more specific. To achieve the end-state, let’s go with three objectives:
Production and distribution of personal protective equipment and testing won’t matter much unless counter-transmission policies are enforced (hand-washing, social distancing, mask-wearing). A trusted vaccine is needed for long-term success.
Next, we specify effects that our activities need to create in order to realize our three objectives. To generate effective activities, we will think through how activities can influence will and capability. If we don’t do this, more activities will be generated for their own sakes and interests, without useful effects.
This is an approach to targeting for influence. The following components of will and capability help us conceptualize various types of activities that can influence will and capability. The idea is to influence multiple aspects of will and capability for desired effects.
This approach to targeting creates a broad-based strategy that can be more effective than using the same hammer all of the time.
The question here is, what types of activities to influence will and capability to realize the desired effect?
For each of our three objectives, we provide an example of an activity that influences a different component of capability—information, expertise, resources and locations.
In sum, these activities to influence and leverage capability tell us that we need:
Now we turn to activities that can influence each component of will—expected outcomes, interpersonal, routinization, justification.
Failing to perform will-related activities destroys chances for success, even if capabilities are fully realized.
In sum, the activities to influence and leverage will tell us that we need:
We now have a foundation of activities with which to influence capability and will in support of our three objectives. How do we get from activities to objectives? We need to change the state, or conditions, of a system. This level of specificity is about effects.
Effects in our hierarchy of effort refer to the physical or behavioral psychological state of a system. Effects are critical to achieving objectives for two important reasons. Activities in the Information Environment are contested and uncertain.
Objectives are not automatic results of exquisitely executed activities. Actors are conducting all sorts of activities—some cooperative and some confrontational. The intent of activities is often unclear. When intent is clear, the laws of physics guarantee a quantum of uncertainty. The CoV-2 virus is also an actor, a unique infectious parasite that adaptively generates effects on its host to achieve its objective of survival.
As we strive to understand all relevant actors’ actions and intentions, we at least need to discern the effects that our own activities are causing. And, how they interact with competitors’ effects. So we need measures of effectiveness to tell us whether the activities are having desired effects.
Let’s look at our hierarchy of effort to understand how effects fit in, and help us adjust strategy.
Our designed strategy for COVID-19 includes 1-3 effects that support each of our three objectives.
The key questions here are, what effects do we want to cause, and what effects do we want to prevent?
Effects for Objective 1: PPET
The manufacture and production of PPE and test kits need to include distributing those at the right places and times to the right people. Active measures such as hostile disinformation can disrupt this objective, so need to protect the supply chain with secure information. People need to believe the US government narrative. Therefore any activity should include reassurance against foreign or domestic interference.
Measures of effectiveness: the right people are getting the PPET done on time, based on hot spots; social media absorbs the US government narrative.
Effects for Objective 2: TS
The US government has to win, not assume, the loyalty of “undecideds” skeptical about the virus. There are conspiracy theorists, pranksters, scammers and the like. There are also “hard core” disinformationists and criminals who exploit the divisiveness of this and other issues. These groups are why targeting disinformation with the truth is not enough. A foundational narrative must appeal to American values and interests. Stories emerge from the narrative.
Measures of effectiveness: social media reflects evidence being disseminated in the narrative.
Effects for Objective 3: V
That narrative needs to support all three objectives. This means a narrative that contains self-reliant American entrepreneurism (on-shored PPE) with collective responsibility toward others (counter-transmission) and commitment to a cure (multiple vaccines). We can see elements of a narrative in appeals for made-in-the-USA, Strategies to Reduce Spread of COVID-19, and Operation Warp Speed.
Measures of effectiveness: evidence of increased on-shore PPE production & distribution, and testing; hits on Center for Disease Control website that disseminates counter-transmission strategies; staged progress of clinical trials/government approval/deployment of vaccines.
Now we turn to the details of how to achieve effects via activities and tasks.
Any leader who cares about an assessment process should use it to prompt decisions about relative priorities. So that what we actually do aligns with our strategy. That scrutiny should invite the question, why are we doing this?
Figure 3 above shows the basic strategy of why (strategic priorities) and how (end-state, objectives, effects). Our next section adds specific activities and related tasks to achieve our three desired effects.
Here are the capability-related activities aligned with objectives and effects. What’s new are the two supporting tasks for each activity. These technical details are often contested, and influence the effects.
Here are the will-related activities aligned with objectives and effects, each with two supporting tasks. Just as the capability-related activities and tasks are contested technical details, these will-related activities and tasks are contested motivational details.
In the run-up to our Presidential election, it’s easier to blame than assess strategy. For many actors, the desired effect is to blame the other side anyway. On the left and the right, body counts are bickered over. Objectives and strategic priorities are left vague because the recurring goal is to acquire power. There is no cure for the politicization of strategy, but there is a treatment: assessable strategy.
The basic logic of our highlighted strategy is that lower infection rates lead to lower transmission of the virus, which enables more treatment and testing that results in lower death rates and economic recovery.
Using a hierarchy of effort (Figure 1), we derived strategic priorities, objectives, and a desired end-state. Using an information environment framework (Figure 2), we reasoned how to influence capability and will to achieve desired effects. This generated activities and related tasks. All of that designed a designed hierarchy of effort (Figure 3), specific enough to assess.
The next step is to develop measures of performance (MOP) for each activity so that we know each activity is actually done to standards. Those MOP need to support the measures of effectiveness (MOE) under Figure 3. MOE are the key to evaluating effectiveness and the need to adjust the strategy.
In summary, our three objectives require the following six effects to work together as combined effects:
All of these effects interact among one another. Securing and inducing PPE and tests rely on defending against disinformation, which will affect persuading people to believe in the USG narrative, particularly the “undecideds.” Dissuading alternative beliefs spewed by “hardcore disinformationists creates space for the truth. Inducing disinfo awareness is critical to a sustained defense.
As a combination of effects (secure-induce-defend-persuade-dissuade) in a diffuse information environment, the narrative is the vital adhesive.
Bottom line for this strategy and the next: maintain a truthful narrative focused on combined effects broadly assessed.