Information operations · Public Diplomacy

BBG and Public Diplomacy: Are you using my money well?

Give-a-damn-capability vs effectiveness
Give-a-damn-capability vs effectiveness (Photo credit: CoCreatr)

If you read this blog objectively, I don’t say that Al Hurra, Radio Sawah, RFE/RL, Marti or any other Public Diplomacy efforts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) are doing a good or a bad job. I don’t have any Measures of Effectiveness (MOE), so I can’t say. The Measures of Performance (MOP) that are provided are meaningless, ‘we broadcast 22,000 hours’ or ‘we have a reach of 20%’.  MOE are very difficult. I’ve spent countless, hundreds of hours discussing MOE with other influence professionals.  Seven years ago I was discussing a very large IO campaign and Dr. Dorothy Denning, who I consider a friend and a mentor, rocked my world when she simply asked: “What are your MOE”?  I had been hurtling down this path to right all the wrong in the world (figuratively) and her simple question reminded me that MOE should drive what we do, not gut feel.  Too often government influence professionals drive too far down this road before realizing their mistake.

The plain fact is that MOE are sometimes very difficult and the outcome of some efforts to measure them are sometimes not consistent. If Congress had its collective act together they would mandate MOE and MOP for all operations using US taxpayer dollars. ‘Show us that you are using this money wisely’.  But Congress obviously has higher priorities, like elections.

Someone commented in response to an older blog, Strategic Communication: Radio Sawa in Tripoli, Libya at 106.6 MhZ, how BBG operations are perceived in the Middle East, based on “recent reports”.  My comment in return is to ask, when you read “recent reports”, do you consider the source and their inherent bias? I can find numerous reports on almost every issue, pro and con on any perspective I might choose. The idea is to find reports which are objective. An interpretation based on facts is fine, but zoom down to find out which facts are being used and then judge how the facts are being interpreted – or skewed. Every reporter has a built in bias, every human intelligence collector has a similar bias. Later in the reporting business, every editor and every intelligence analyst has a bias but they usually have the luxury of writing in a non-threatening environment. Their boss then usually has the final say-so, change this or change that and therefore, change the perspective, sometimes very subtly but it my change the perspective in a major way.  So… pay attention to that bias, see if it is consistent and then judge the reports.

More importantly, however, is the comment that BBG efforts in some parts of the world might be judged as irrelevant.  Why is that?  Have people in other countries stopped listening to their AM, FM or shortwave radios?  Have they stopped watching television?  Instead, do they watch satellite television? Do they get cable?  Do they read their news online?  Have they found other sources?  The reports from BBG mostly say there is a swing to this end, but according to a recent interview I conducted at the BBG, the biggest efforts remain with broadcasting.  There is a strong online presence and there are strong efforts to counter filtering, jamming and blocking.  The BBG does analysis of effectiveness, I just question some of their methodology and the results. I’m not dismissing it as irrelevant, I just need to do a deeper dive into “how” they put together the surveys used, how they contacted respondents in various environments, how it was all normalized, compensating for different environments and what calculations were used to derive the results.

I recently questioned a close friend about his approach to how we do public diplomacy, strategic communication and information operations collectively, at the US government level.  The preponderance of our new efforts focus on combating extremist ideologies.  Because much of it is highly classified I am having a difficult time determining percentage of effort.  Combating Violent Extremism (CVE) is the phrase du jour for these new efforts, but I want to know how it fits into the big picture.  How does the bigger, broader Public Diplomacy effort synchronize with CVE?  Are they reinforcing?  Are they coordinated?  The simple answer is no, the BBG is an independent agency and their broadcasting efforts are staunchly independent from any efforts by the Department of State.   For shame, US Government, especially you folks in Congress, for shame.  You’re not using my money well.

This all comes together whenever we objectively look at all efforts at the government level to inform and influence other governments, their militaries and/or their people.  So… beyond asking the easy question, “Are you using my money well?” I ask, how do you know?


6 thoughts on “BBG and Public Diplomacy: Are you using my money well?

  1. I’ve thought pretty hard about this MOE business, and let me tell you, your blog entry is nowhere near as technical as these MOE! Which is a good thing! After going through it, I came to the conclusion that in order to achieve the proper MOE, we would be in need of super computer that can run the necessary tool needed to achieve this. The tool would reflect something as a Google Earth type platform with multiple layers of mapped analysis, timeline function, dynamic scoping ability, and adjustable variable calculator for real and hypothetical scenarios. My favorite function of this tool the ability to see the almost energetic level of conceptual knowledge. Imagine that!

    1. Actually, it’s not that complex, although eventually we will have the computing power necessary to do that complex of a model. In Iraq, for instance, one of the MOE was bakery bombings. At one point there was x amount of bakery bombings per month and it was fairly consistent. After one specific IO campaign the number of bombings reduced. That was an effective campaign. The problem with this simplistic model is that we ‘believe’ the IO campaign was the cause for the reduction in bombings but it could also have been a lack of materials, a lack of bombmakers, or even a lack of bakeries! The local Imam might have even told his congregation ‘stop bombing the bakers’.

      You’ve raised a very valid point with your complex theory. On August 8, 2008, then JFCOM Commander General Mattis did away with the field of Effects Based Operations. One of his reasons was that we lacked the computational power to deal with such complexity. Also we lacked sufficient knowledge of the human psyche. This is why, to many, some say what we do is an art and not a science. I’m one of those, however, trying to nudge the field towards the scientific model more quickly.

  2. Ahh the good ol’ causation vs correlation mystery. It is quite a humbling reality, isn’t it? But it does give one a place to start once it is asked. I have this piece of paper that came off some engineer type’s desk from NASA, it reads:

    “We have not answered your
    questions. In fact, your
    questions have spawned other
    questions which we are
    unable to answer. The result
    is that we are confused about
    more important things than
    we were before you asked
    your quesions.


    We thank you.”

    Fitting, yeah?

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