The U.S. Air Force (USAF) helps defend the United States and its interests by organizing, training, and equipping forces for operations in and through three distinct domains—air, space, and cyberspace. The Air Force concisely expresses its vision as “Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power for America.” This vision is divided by the distinct capabilities, knowledge, equipment, and training needed to operate in each of the three domains. The specialization within these areas affects most Airmen’s understanding of the overall Air Force mission and its complexity, as well as their roles in the Service. Operations within each domain are dynamic, take place over large distances, occur over different operational timelines, and cannot be routinely seen or recorded, making it difficult for Airmen, national decision makers, and the American people to visualize and comprehend the full scope of Air Force operations. As a result, the Air Force faces increasing difficulty in succinctly and effectively communicating the complexity, dynamic range, and strategic importance of its mission to Airmen and to the American people.
To address this concern, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (CSAF) requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convene a workshop to explore options on how the Air Force can effectively communicate the strategic importance of the Service, its mission, and the role it plays in the defense of the United States. The answer to this question is complex, difficult to state simply, and difficult to describe for each of the operational domains, much less how the Air Force integrates operations across domains. This workshop was developed to address the issue that a diverse workforce encompassing a myriad of backgrounds, education, and increasingly diverse current mission sets drives the requirement for a new communication strategy. In fact, the demographics of today’s Air Force creates both a unique opportunity and a distinct challenge to Air Force leadership as it struggles to communicate its vision and strategy effectively across several micro-cultures within the organization and to the general public. The role of communication in describing the Air Force mission to both internal and external stakeholders has not been well addressed within the military community.
The Committee on Strategies to Enhance Air Force Communication with Internal and External Audiences, composed of experts in organizational behavior, military doctrine, communication, public relations, and other relevant areas, was appointed by the Academies in July 2015 under the auspices of the Air Force Studies Board. The committee planned and participated in the workshop and prepared this report. The workshop was held on September 2-4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Approximately 40 participants, including speakers, committee members, invited guests, and members of the public, attended the 3-day workshop. Workshop speakers were asked by the committee to give presentations that would respond to one or more of the following questions:
- Why is communicating across the generations important to the Air Force’s future? What is the strategic imperative to do so?
- What makes communicating in today’s Air Force different now as compared to other periods in history?
- What proven strategies exist for effectively communicating a complex set of issues to both internal and external audiences? Identify tools and activities that are most appropriate for the Air Force to communicate key messages to its various audiences.
- Are there examples of other organizations that are addressing this challenge? Identify options for potential actions the Air Force can take based on these best practices by others.
- What is the role of social media1 in implementing an effective communication strategy? What role can social media play within the context of developing an effective communication strategy for a military organization?
- What should be the Air Force’s measures of success in its strategic communication plan? How should the Air Force measure effectiveness with both internal and external audiences?
The scope of the workshop focused on policies, practices, and technologies that could be applicable to communication in the Air Force. Consequently, representatives of the USAF Public Affairs (PA) office were invited to present on the current status of and plans for this office and the Air Force generally.
The workshop report begins with a discussion of the importance of an Air Force-wide communication strategy, the current status quo, and the challenges the Air Force will face in developing and implementing such a strategy, should it choose to do so. Chapter 2 describes the issues involved in communicating the value and essence of the Air Force to a wide diversity of audiences, both internally and externally, including the lessons learned by various large corporations with similar communication goals. Chapter 3 outlines possible organizational strategies and processes for implementing a communication strategy in the Air Force, with a special focus on social media. Chapter 4 outlines available tools and techniques for measuring the effectiveness of communication in and by large organizations such as the Air Force.
This report summarizes the views expressed by individual workshop participants. While the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in the report are not necessarily those of all workshop participants, the committee, or the Academies.
1Social media, as defined by Merriam-Webster, are forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.