The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees and directs the work of the 17 agencies and organizations responsible for foreign, military, and domestic intelligence for the United States, has a growing interest in research from the social and behavioral sciences (SBS) that may be beneficial to the Intelligence Community (IC). To develop a systematic understanding of these potential benefits, ODNI requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conduct a decadal survey of SBS to identify research opportunities that show promise for supporting national security efforts in the next 10 years.
A decadal survey is a method for engaging members of a research community to identify lines of research with the greatest potential utility in the pursuit of a particular goal. The National Academies pioneered this type of survey with a study of ground-based astronomy in 1964.1 Since then, committees appointed by the National Academies have conducted more than 15 decadal surveys. The Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security represents the first opportunity to apply this approach to SBS. Its purpose is to develop an understanding of the lines of research in these fields that offer the greatest potential to enhance
the capabilities of the IC. To carry out this work, the National Academies appointed the Committee on a Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security (Decadal Survey Committee); the committee’s charge appears in Appendix A.
The Decadal Survey Committee has pursued many avenues in collecting information about the needs of the IC and relevant cutting-edge SBS research. As part of its information-gathering process, the committee held a series of six workshops—the first three on October 11, 2017, and the second three on January 24, 2018.2 These workshops, for which planning began early in the committee process, were designed to explore areas about which the committee wished to learn more and to allow the committee to engage with a broad range of experts. The topics selected for the workshops do not necessarily indicate the ultimate direction of the committee’s deliberations. The six topics addressed by the workshops were
- changing sociocultural dynamics and implications for national security;
- emerging trends and methods in international security;
- leveraging advances in social network thinking for national security;
- learning from the science of cognition and perception for decision making;
- workforce development and intelligence analysis; and
- understanding narratives for national security purposes.
Separate steering committees, whose membership included both members of the Decadal Survey Committee and additional experts in the topics to be addressed, were appointed to plan these workshops. Each of these committees was guided by its own charge. All were asked to bring their expertise to bear in identifying specific areas of promising research and experts with deep knowledge who could offer a range of insights.
This Proceedings of a Workshop, prepared by the workshop rapporteur, summarizes the presentations and discussions at the sixth workshop, on understanding narratives for national security purposes.3 This workshop was planned by the Steering Committee on Understanding Narratives for National Security Purposes, whose charge is presented in Box 1-1. The workshop’s purpose was to explore the current state of research on understanding narrative in the national security context. It should be noted that the steering committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop, and that the views contained in this proceedings are those
3 The archived webcast of the workshop and available presentations can be found at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BBCSS/DBASSE_184655 [April 2018].
of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the steering committee, or the National Academies. The agenda for the workshop appears in Appendix B; a list of individuals who attended the three workshops held on January 24, 2018, is presented in Appendix C; and biographical sketches of the steering committee members and speakers are provided in Appendix D.
In an opening session for the three January 24, 2018, workshops, the chair of the Decadal Survey Committee, Paul Sackett, University of Minnesota, and sponsor representative William “Bruno” Millonig, ODNI, provided background information on the objectives for the six workshops.
Sackett observed that the Decadal Survey Committee will rely heavily on input from experts in the communities of national security and behavioral and social science research. Given the breadth of the committee’s charge, he explained, it must cast a wide net, extending well beyond the specific expertise of its members to seek feedback from many sources. He described the six workshops as an important part of the effort to gather ideas. The workshops would support the committee by helping to identify promising research areas and allowing the committee members to engage in discussion with experts in a wide range of areas salient to its work.4
Millonig expressed appreciation to all those contributing to the committee’s work through the workshops and other activities, noting that the participation of the full range of experts in the intelligence and behavioral
and social science communities would be needed to make the decadal study successful. His remarks focused on the importance of SBS to the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other automated tools. As an example of the value of such research, he noted that research on modeling behaviors and interactions is “fundamental to our ability to move forward [in utilizing these tools].” The research discussed at the workshops, he said, will help the IC understand the current and future contributions of these sciences.
The history of narrative and storytelling ranges from prehistoric cave paintings to modern-day social media hashtags, remarked Carmen Medina in opening the workshop. As an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 32 years, Medina has a clear understanding of the connection between narrative and national security. For example, she noted, nonstate actors often use stories as a tool for attracting followers and discrediting enemies. She added that narrative has also had a significant impact on such international events as the United Kingdom’s 2017 Brexit election.
Medina pointed out that the steering committee for the workshop designed it to encourage discussion among the panelists, who each have different approaches to understanding and working with narratives based on the business or academic disciplines they represent. She added that the workshop was also designed to encourage lively discussion between the panelists and the audience, noting that after each of the panels had completed its presentations, the audience would have 15 minutes to make comments and ask questions. Furthermore, she explained, the committee had invited members of the IC to participate as active listeners and offer their thoughts on the discussions held throughout the day. The event would end, she noted, with an hour-long discussion open to everyone in attendance.
This proceedings follows the structure of the workshop. Chapter 2 summarizes the workshop presentations and discussions on narrative research in SBS. Chapter 3 turns to the science of narrative communication. Chapter 4 explores emerging technologies and how human–computer interactions influence the flow of narrative. Chapter 5 focuses on the relationship between narrative and power. Finally, Chapter 6 includes the reflections of a panel of career intelligence analysts on the presentations summarized in Chapters 2 through 5.