Paper #30. Assessment & Combined Effects Strategy: COVID-19 and the Next

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Leadership, Strategy
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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.

Hierarchy of Effort

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.

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Effort

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.

Strategic Priorities

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:

  1. Decrease in the death rate to that of the common flu
  2. Positive two-year annual economic growth rate

End-State

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:

  • Lower infection rates
  • Lower transmission rates
  • Increased health care capacity
  • Lower death rates to common flu levels within a year

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.

Objectives

We continue to get more specific. To achieve the end-state, let’s go with three objectives:

  1. PPET: manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment and testing (PPET)
  2. CTS: compel and persuade counter-transmission (CTS) policies
  3. V: develop and distribute a vaccine and treatments (V)

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.

Effects and Activities

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.

Influencing Capability and Will

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.


Figure 2: Information Environment Framework

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?

Capability Components

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.

  • Information Capability
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: look deeply into supply chains for vulnerabilities and opportunities to build resilience
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: provide updates to the public about the virus’ transmissibility
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: collaborate globally in vaccine, therapeutics and diagnostics R&D
  • Expert Capability
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: learn how to shift manufacturing and gain expertise to provide PPE
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: technical experts on transmissibility collaborate, produce “the infectious truth”
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: network with leading researchers, practitioners and administrators
  • Resource Capability
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: acquire machinery and materials for PPE
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: increase public awareness of practices that detect, prevent transmission
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: invest in vaccine development supported by National Institutes of Health
  • Location-based Capability
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: place people, materials and data in physical cloud locations to meet PPE demand
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: disseminate counter-transmission lessons learned to communities and online
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: global virtual R&D with local physical deployments

In sum, these activities to influence and leverage capability tell us that we need:

  • Information about supply chains, virus transmission, and collaboration
  • Expertise in flexible manufacturing and infectious diseases, and how to network both
  • Resources to acquire PPET, increase public awareness, and develop vaccines
  • Networked locations to produce and distribute, and to disseminate counter-transmission messaging

Will Components

Now we turn to activities that can influence each component of will—expected outcomes, interpersonal, routinization, justification.

>>WARNING<<

Failing to perform will-related activities destroys chances for success, even if capabilities are fully realized.

  • Expected Outcome-based Will
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: conduct cost-benefit analysis of on-shoring / off-shoring PPE
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: highlight dangers of transmission rates, and the need to have responsibilities toward others
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: leverage venture capital and government R&D to invest in vaccine development
  • Interpersonal Will
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: reinforce branding for companies manufacturing or distributing PPET
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: reinforce social status of public administrators and law enforcement, and anyone who is a counter-transmitter
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: incentivize development and recognition of infectious disease experts
  • Routinized Will
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPTE: habituate dual-use PPET manufacturing and distribution in supply chains
    • Activity for OBJ 2 CTS: show respected public figures preventing transmission
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: establish response-reward cycles to promote risk-taking and innovation
  • Justified Will
    • Activity for OBJ 1 PPET: promote PPE production as consistent with self-reliant American values
    • Activity for OBJ 2 TS: show a citizenship narrative that complies with counter-transmission practices
    • Activity for OBJ 3 V: emphasize legacies of top firms in vaccine design and development

In sum, the activities to influence and leverage will tell us that we need:

  • To incentivize three expected outcomes: on-shoring PPET; no transmission of the virus; and vaccine development
  • Interpersonal approaches that fortify company brands, social status, and peer recognition
  • Patterns of dual-use manufacturing, modeling compliance by respected people, and R&D risk-taking
  • A justificatory narrative to promote PPET, counter-transmission, and responsible vaccine leadership

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

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.

Designed Hierarchy of Effort

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?

Figure 3: Designed Hierarchy of Effort

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.

Activities & 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.

Activities & Tasks to Influence Capability

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.

Objective 1: PPET

  • Objective 1 Effect 1: Secure and Induce Sufficient PPE and Tests at the Right Places and Times
    • Activity: look deeply into supply chains for vulnerabilities and opportunities to build resilience
      • Tasks: identify non-transparent suppliers; source from alternative Southeast Asian and American suppliers
    • Activity: learn how to shift manufacturing and gain expertise to provide PPE
      • Tasks: identify specialized production centers; regionalize operations to diversify
    • Activity: acquire machinery and materials for PPET
      • Tasks: identify co-located suppliers; near-shore production in Mexico
    • Activity: place people and materials in physical and cloud-sharing locations to meet PPE demand
      • Tasks: modify the warehouse management system; develop a demand plan
  • Objective 1 Effect 2: Defend Against Disinformation Interfering with Supply Chain
    • Activity: provide updates to the public about the virus’ transmissibility
    • Activity: experts on transmissibility collaborate, produce “the infectious truth”
      • Tasks: Center for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, research universities webinars
    • Activity: increase public awareness of practices that detect, prevent transmission
      • Tasks: advertisements in hot spots; cogent findings from reputable studies
    • Activity: disseminate counter-transmission lessons learned to communities and online
  • Objective 1 Effect 3: Persuade Belief in US Government Narrative (federal and states)
    • Activity: collaborate globally in vaccine R&D
    • Activity: network with leading researchers and practitioners
      • Tasks: aggressively pursue networks of tech, biopharma; pursue due diligence to avoid duplication of work
    • Activity: invest in vaccine development supported by the world’s national institutes of health
      • Tasks: beyond current government investment of $2 billion ($7 trillion has been spent on workers’ income), pass a COVID-19 bill to incentivize commercial investment
    • Activity: emphasize legacies of top firms in vaccine design and development
      • Tasks: firms such as Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer receive government funding and logistics support for clinical trials; displace the info-demic with these firms’ stories, consistent with a broad-based narrative.

Objective 2: CTS

  • Objective 2 Effect 1: Persuade loyalty from “undecideds” and discredit disinformation narrative
    • Activity: coordinated science-based media campaign on government and private websites, television, radio stations
      • Tasks: develop pathogen data base as an early warning system of viral transmission; compare historical case studies
  • Objective 2 Effect 2: Dissuade belief in “hardcore” disinformationists and induce disinformation awareness
    • Activity: establish a national public and private school framework for competition to hunt and destroy disinformation
      • Tasks: provide an “arm the mind” critical thinking tutorial; secure private investments to fund elementary school competitions

Objective 3: V

  • Objective 3 Effect 1: Narrative persuades development of vaccine and objectives 2 & 3
    • Activity: promote innovative entrepreneurship, rapid flexible responses, and public-private partnerships with global connections
    • Tasks: highlight CZBiohub and Operation Warp Speed

Activities & Tasks to Influence Will for Desired 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.

Objective 1: PPET

  • Objective 1 Effect 1: People Receive PPE and Tests at the Right Places and Times
    • Activity: conduct cost-benefit analysis of on-shoring / off-shoring PPE
      • Tasks: calculate and compare labor, subsidized competition, transportation, volume, environmental regulations
  • Objective 1 Effect 2: Disinformation Does Not Interfere with Supply Chain
  • Objective 1 Effect 3: People Believe US Government Narrative (federal and states)
    • Activity: habituate dual-use PPET manufacturing and distribution in supply chains
      • Tasks: federal funding to incentivize state government dual-use programs
    • Activity: promote PPE production and pandemic compliance as consistent with self-reliant American values
      • Tasks: publish lessons learned from pandemic threats in the Americas;

Objective 2: CTS

  • Objective 2 Effect 1: USG wins compliance from “undecideds” and discredits disinformation narrative
    • Activity: highlight dangers of transmission rates, and the need to have responsibilities toward others
      • Tasks: insert danger zone ratings and positive influencer stories
    • Activity: reinforce social status of public administrators and law enforcement, and anyone who is a counter-transmitter
      • Tasks: record and post on social media oaths of office; recognize compliance
    • Activity: show a citizenship narrative that complies with counter-transmission practices
      • Tasks: information campaign that explains the Bill of Rights and shows its compatibility with social responsibilities
    • Activity: show respected public figures preventing transmission
      • Tasks: video clips of private industry leaders, sports figures, music stars, all levels of government officials, community leaders
  • Objective 2 Effect 2: USG defeats “hardcore” disinformationists and expands disinformation awareness
    • Activity: expose and ridicule disinformation about transmission rates
      • Tasks: grade disinformation examples; create disinformation meme competition

Objective 3: V

Assessable Strategy

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.

Combined Effects

In summary, our three objectives require the following six effects to work together as combined effects:

  1. Secure and Induce Sufficient PPE and Tests at the Right Places and Times
  2. Defend Against Disinformation Interfering with Supply Chain
  3. Persuade Belief in US Government Narrative (federal and states)
  4. Persuade loyalty from “undecideds” and discredit disinformation narrative
  5. Dissuade belief in “hardcore” disinformationists and induce disinformation awareness
  6. Narrative persuades vaccine development and objectives 2 & 3

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.

Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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