Friday, December 03, 2004

Beacon Reads "Strategic Communication"

One particularly action-packed paragraph caught my eye while reading the Defense Science Board's new 111-page report, Strategic Communication (which you can download from here).

On pages 26-27 the DSB task force throws in a laundry list of what the U.S. is doing or failing to do in the field of opinion and media research:

U.S. strategic communication is limited by insufficient and decentralized research capabilities. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) engages in foreign opinion polling and provides daily reports on foreign media editorials and commentary. Its small annual budget has long been stable at approximately $6 million ($3 million for polling, $3 million for analysis). Opinion research is appreciated in the Bureau, but more for its contribution to all-source intelligence products than for strategic communication.

Other government and private organizations also conduct opinion and media studies. The Foreign Broadcast Information Services collects and analyzes foreign print, radio, TV, web-based, and gray literature publications, including assessments of Al Jazeera and other Arab/Muslim satellite TV broadcasting. The Broadcasting Board of Governors engages in audience and media research through contracts with Intermedia, a private research organization. Foreign opinion and attitude assessments are available also from U.S. embassies, the DOD, U.S. combatant commands, the CIA, non-governmental organizations, and commercial polling organizations.

Each of these activities has merit, but overall U.S. government opinion and media research faces a number of challenges. Research findings are not used sufficiently in policy formulation and policy advocacy. Policymakers, diplomats and military leaders often do not appreciate that “listening” and influence analysis are critical prerequisites to effective communications strategies. Funding is woefully inadequate. Collection often outstrips analysis. Data bases are stovepiped; “the U.S. often doesn’t know what it knows.” Users often do not task for product; providers often are late in delivering product. Media trends research and media framing analysis have low priority relative to polling and strategic communication requirements.

The gist of all this is that listening to foreign opinions is important, underfunded and frequently ignored—none of which is news. But what does stand out here is that the State Dept., armed services, CIA, NGOs, and private polling organizations all assemble information on what citizens in other nations think.

Perhaps an intelligence reform bill—dead for the time being but sure to be resurrected in the 109th Congress—could include a way to collate all this data to help improve the picture civilian policymakers get about other nations, masking each bit's agency origin to keep anyone from having to be responsible for an individual poll's conclusions.

Just a thought for the weekend. I'm going to get back to reading. ...

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