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Research Questions

  1. Based on the existing literature, what are the building blocks that contribute to resilience and readiness?
  2. What are the short-term and intermediate outcomes that MWR programs and services aim to achieve, and how do these compare to resilience and readiness building blocks in the literature?
  3. Moving forward, what steps should the Air Force take to move closer to evaluating the capabilities of the MWR portfolio with respect to enhancing Airman and family resilience and readiness?

Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs and services are considered an integral part of resilient and ready Airmen and families. However, the Air Force currently lacks an evidence-informed evaluation framework for MWR programs, especially one that identifies short-term and intermediate outcomes that contribute to Airman and family resilience and readiness. A necessary first step in determining the possible impact of the MWR portfolio is to identify, and then assess, the contributions of each individual program or service. To understand the ways that MWR programs can contribute to resilience and readiness, the Air Force asked RAND researchers to develop an evidence-informed framework that links program and service activities to such outcomes and provides guidance on collecting and managing the data needed to measure those outcomes. To accomplish this, the authors developed a model of resilience and readiness building blocks — that is, precursors to overall resilience and readiness identified through a review of existing literature. They then used this model as the basis for comparing the building blocks and short-term and intermediate outcomes targeted by programs and services within the MWR portfolio. Together, these two efforts allow the Air Force to examine whether and how the MWR portfolio could be used to foster resilience and readiness across the total force. The report concludes with a discussion of next steps that the Air Force can take to move closer to evaluating the capabilities of the MWR portfolio with respect to enhancing Airman and family resilience and readiness.

Key Findings

Each MWR program and service measure of effectiveness was matched with building blocks of resilience and readiness based on existing literature

  • Through a review of the literature, the authors developed an evidence-informed model containing 22 building blocks of readiness and resilience, organized across four system levels: individual, family, peer/squadron, and community.
  • Of the 22 building blocks, 18 were covered by the intended outcomes of at least one MWR program or service.
  • The building blocks targeted by the largest number of programs included social network, sense of belonging, sense of community, access to community activities, family functioning and relationships, and coping strategies and skills — representing building blocks at all system levels.
  • All MWR programs and services target at least two building blocks, though some programs were matched with as many as nine building blocks.
  • There is a fair amount of overlap in the specific building blocks covered by programs and services, suggesting that many offerings in the MWR portfolio are contributing to resilience and readiness through similar pathways. However, evaluation is needed to understand whether programs and services are achieving intended outcomes, and whether the overlap in coverage of building blocks is functional (e.g., by reaching different subgroups).


  • Conduct process evaluations to understand who is using MWR programs and services, whether there are opportunities to engage populations not currently being reached, and whether the overlap in building blocks targeted by MWR programs serves a larger purpose.
  • Conduct outcome evaluations to understand whether MWR programs and services are achieving their expected outcomes, and therefore contributing to resilience and readiness as expected.
  • When using the results of this analysis and any evaluations, consider the full range of goals that the MWR portfolio is designed to achieve. Though some programs or services may not have a substantial impact on resilience or readiness, they may contribute to other important goals, such as retention or morale.
  • When designing or developing documentation related to MWR programs and services, make the intended purposes of MWR programs and services more explicit. This will facilitate evaluation and portfolio management efforts.
  • Understand the ways in which current data management systems can support program evaluation, and identify opportunities for improvement. This includes examining the data infrastructure to identify system(s) to support collection and management of high-quality data for evaluation.
  • Review existing data to assess alignment between it and the data recommended for evaluating MWR programs and services, and develop needed data collection processes and instruments to address gaps between current and recommended data for evaluation.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services, Directorate of Services (AF/A1S) and conducted by the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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