Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There's something happening here

Fellow blogger Jessica Lipnack has sent me news about an extraordinary social media experiment being led by General William B. Caldwell. General Caldwell believes that the strength and expertise of the military can be enhanced by the free flow of information offered by blogs. He has lent his considerable stature as a Three Star General to the concept, and he is in a unique position of influence in that he heads a major component of the officer training center for the US Army.

Here is the introductory paragraph from his product:

The US Army Combined Arms Center Blog Library is intended to inform and educate readers while providing a medium for intellectual discussion and debate about important issues involving the US military in today's environment. The blogs contained in this library are intended to elicit comment. Our blog rules provide a wide degree of freedom. They are intended to allow individuals to express opinion and ideas in the interest of intellectual discourse and increased mutual understanding. We strongly encourage intellectual comments and debate.

Recently, members of Congress offered guest postings on this blog. I am sure that having these champions for our soldiers do so provides still another level of institutional support for this concept.

But this is not just a forum for general policy discussions. For example, look at this post: Campaign Planning in Counterinsurgency. This and other topics traditionally would have been quietly discussed in classroom settings. Here, though, General Caldwell and his colleagues have created an open forum to stimulate debate and creative thinking. The blogs permit this to go on asynchronously, enabling individual reflection on the principles taught in the classroom and allowing people's thoughts to evolve over time, while connecting back in a helpful way to their colleagues. The asynchronicity is logistically important, too, when you consider that our soldiers are stationed in many time zones across the world. I am guessing that our military men and women will gain new insights from this type of learning and sharing.

It is impressive, too, that General Caldwell has not been held back by the traditional view that public disclosure of military topics represents a breach of security. As we all know, many of these topics are in the public gristmill anyway, and many claims of a need for secrecy are overstated. While I am sure that some areas will always have to remain off-limits for national security reasons, it is good practice for military officers and others to express their ideas in a public forum and experience the nonhierarchical give-and-take of social media.

In short, this is a really impressive venture. Jessica first wrote about this several months ago here. One of the comments on that post, however, is indicative of the objections that could arise:

I think the military is one of the few places where Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 / social media paradigm is not appropriate.

The military relies on the chain of command and respect for the hierarchy to operate effectively, especially when lives of the soldiers and civilians is on the line. The web 2.0 paradigm flattens the structure and effectively allows anyone to say anything. That breaks down the chain of command.

The other issue is possibility of soldiers inadvertently revealing operational matters, operational history or location information that could expose information to combatants.

These are interesting points, but I, for one, am confident that people of General Caldwell's intellect and thoughtfulness will work through those issues in a way that is consistent with the core values of military strategy and execution. He and his colleagues deserve our enthusiastic support and appreciation.


Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. It will be very interesting to see where it heads.

I don't think it disrupts the chain of command. "Permission to speak freely" covers that, I think. I just wonder if it will be used to spread disinformation!

Anonymous said...

Nice title on this post.

I hope they succeed at this. There will be plenty of naysayers, but it's worth doing.

I do wonder if soldiers and officers will feel comfortable posting -- that's going to take some time to achieve. When your blog first started, did your colleagues in the field post openly as they sometimes do now?

Anonymous said...

Most people still don't comment here in a way that can identify them. I guess that's just life in the blogosphere.