Information operations

The 3-C Model

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United States Declaration of Independence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Information Operations is changing from a focus on the former five components to ‘how’ IO works.  What is lacking is a model.  Without a model we can talk about IO in a general sense but there are no ways to divvy up what we do into logical divisions, dissuading useful discussions within our field.

My good friend and mentor, Dr. Daniel Kuehl, recently relocated from the National Defense University in Washington DC to Mercyhurt College in that resort town by the lake in Erie, Pennsylvania.  During his tenure at NDU he taught many of today’s leaders in the military and the US  Government about Information Operations.  On many of his briefing slides he described a model for IO called the 3-C model.   Up until 2011 most discussion on IO centered on the five components, which truthfully distracted us from discussing the real issues.  I was recently asked to expand on the subject, I will defer to Dr. Kuehl when he chooses to write further on the subject.

Connectivity, Content and Cognitive.  The 3-C Model.


Connectivity is about using media, it is how we convey information to a target audience.   It seems to be very close to Communications but Dr. Kuehl chose his words deliberately.  This could even be called the ‘how’, as in how we get the content of a message to the target audience.  For the sake of discussion, I will expand outside the military definition of connectivity (The ability to exchange information by electronic means.  DoD Dictionary of Military Terms) and include non-electronic means as well as the sensors of the human body.  It is one long chain from where the information is gathered, how it is transmitted and how it is received.  Humans have five senses, I will not restrict information gathering in the connectivity chain to just the eyes and reading/viewing, Pavlov’s dog is a perfect example how other senses receive incoming data (and subsequent reactions).

In one of my outside projects I am conducting research and interviewing people at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  My first series of interviews center on connectivity, more specifically how do we get information into denied areas.  In other areas of the world citizens can turn on their television and receive news without any problems, by land transmitters on UHF or VHF, by cable, or satellite.  The same for the internet, most websites and messages/emails are not blocked or filtered in any way. The same for radio, on AM, FM or shortwave, from land transmitters or by satellite. They also can read newspapers with content from around the world. They can also communicate via cell phone networks, with voice or by SMS/text.  But in denied areas, such as North Korea, Cuba, Iran and China, many of these means of communication are blocked, filtered or jammed.  In some areas, such as North Korea where shortwave receivers are illegal, conveying information into North Korea might have to be done by sneaking information into the country, sometimes by balloon.

At the same time we must not forget word of mouth, newspapers, magazines and other means of communications which date back centuries.


Content is the message, the narrative, what we actually pass to the audience.   In content we see how language effects a message, transmitting German to a person in North Korea is probably not at all effective.  Cultural factors also should play a large role in forming a message, as well as history, religion, the demographics of the target audience.  The list of subjects to be included in content is large, this is only a quick overview.

One of my contentions is that we influence professionals can learn from the esteemed professions of marketing and public relations. The people who work within these fields have tons of experience and studies and can teach us how to sell a widget in India versus Brazil, the differences are immense.   If we are promoting our government or military to different audiences, the message will change from place to place and time to time.

In addition to words, the use of graphics, video, smells, sounds (music works well and is the subject for some interesting studies), tastes, even textures – all may impact how our message is received.  The most effective communications use more than one sense, more than one medium, they stimulate our brain.


Cognitive is what I term our efficiency at getting a message into the target audience’s head and then measuring how it resonates.  Measures of Effectiveness (MOE) are the basis for almost all parts of this.  Another friend, Dr. Lee Rowland, has a somewhat different approach to this. He asks the question “Under which conditions will this behavior change?”

The secret to the cognitive piece is to consider the MOE when first planning an information campaign.  Without doing so we are blindly broadcasting information and we may never know if the way we communicate is working or not.  For instance, land transmitters tend to not work in mountainous areas, whereas satellite transmission do, but they’re generally less powerful.

Sometimes results are easily measured.  In Iraq one of the things measured was the number of bakeries that were bombed.  Rightfully or not, that was one of the ways we measured how efficiently our information operations were. This, however, was an indirect effect of a wide variety of inputs to the people in Iraq.  The BBG has a somewhat different measurement in that they measure reach. How many people in a certain area can receive the message they are broadcasting.  They also hire an outside company to measure, usually by telephonic survey, if the people are receiving the message, how well the message is received and if there has been any impact.

How do we put it all together?

According to Dr. Kuehl, the beauty of what we do is based on how the three parts above fit together and work together.

The synergistic combination of Connectivity + Content + Cognitive impact defines the information environment, and they are technologically pure: the Declaration of Independence stuck to a tree and surrounded by Bostonians nodding and cheering is an example of the Three Cs long before the Interconnected Age.


I can barely cover this model in any depth and keep it to a length that most people will endure.  There are multiple ongoing efforts to define IO in the future.  We have problems describing IO today, hopefully this helps.


A good friend sent me a comment about this on Facebook.  He touched on what might seem to be good points but superficial inspection reveals his approach is flawed.

  •  <deleted> This is essentially 2/3/6 With Cognition being “2”, Content being “3” (39?) and Connectivity being “6”.
  • Joel Harding Very superficially, I agree. Once past the initial categorization, however, this approach falls apart. For instance “content” is about the message and no operations model deals with verbiage, narrative, culture, history, religion, language. The only serious effort in this vein would be the Human Terrain Team and Human Terrain System, but they were basically an afterthought and have never been inculcated into real operations. Cognition might equate to intelligence, but unfortunately IO today is based off of conventional intelligence estimates and not on real IO studies, they’re missing the point. Connectivity is a 6 function, agreed, but after interviewing the folks at BBG, they use comms synergistically, nothing like the one-dimensional approach the military uses. Good points, I might have to include this as a footnote to the article.

One thought on “The 3-C Model

  1. Joel

    I was rereading this great blog on the 3 C’s. I would recommend a modification of the model which would result in adding a fourth C and rearranging the order slightly.

    4 C’s as a planning model before execution: 1) Content, 2) Connectivity, 3) Constraints, 4) Cognitive

    I think it would logically flow to start out with Content first– develop your narrative, messages tied to objectives and endstate. Next move on Connectivity to determine which distribution channels or message conduits both human, technical are most conducive for the message to gain traction with the specified audience. There may be room for a 4th C- Constraints- what constraints (legal authorities, policies, any inhibitors that may hinder, limit, or affect the Content and Delivery or Cognition of the message…Last, cognitive your MOE or another way message transmitted encoded, received or decoded- how is it perceived and what is its effectiveness on selected audience or individual- Cognitive would be shaped by culture, language and noise or interference – literal and metaphorically within the Information Environment (ie competing narratives/messages etc) all having impact on perception and behavior.

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