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Research Questions

  1. What lessons (good and bad) from the Coast Guard's Evergreen strategic foresight initiative's 20-year history can shape future analytic support to service strategy making and planning?
  2. How can scenario development be structured to better posture the Evergreen initiative to meet broader Coast Guard strategy-making and planning needs?
  3. What types of scenarios bridge the gap between future challenges and near-term plans, which typically focus on the urgent needs of the present?

The U.S. Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus — always ready. But for what? The service carries out 11 diverse statutory missions and must address both immediate needs and future contingencies, which makes this question difficult to answer. Future changes to the operating environment in the physical, economic, social, political, and technological domains promise additional stresses on service resources, in addition to changing the makeup of the service itself.

One way to aid decisionmaking in the face of a deeply uncertain future is by more effectively leveraging the Coast Guard's Evergreen strategic foresight initiative. Analysts from the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center adapted an approach to developing future scenarios and, in this report, present example components of Coast Guard global planning scenarios related to future service readiness. These posture the Coast Guard to better integrate slow-burning issues and problems that might emerge only down the road into nearer-term decisions that can help prepare the service for upcoming challenges.

Without weighing the long view of changes in the operating environment alongside current or nearer-term demands, the Coast Guard will not be able to have full awareness of what blind spots might exist in current strategies and plans. Being ready for the spectrum of challenges the future might bring requires mindfulness of both the near and long terms and how change will affect the Coast Guard.

Key Findings

Lessons from prior Evergreen activities can illuminate what has historically been valuable and what could be improved in the future

  • Generally speaking, Evergreen participants value the experience of considering the implications of longer-range future scenarios for Coast Guard operations.
  • Because of the perpetual urgency of immediate operational needs, Evergreen scenarios and foresight activities have historically been limited in their ability to foster deliberation about long-term issues.
  • Products and findings from Evergreen activities have not historically been directly used in some Coast Guard decisionmaking because of differences in planning time horizons. This has also made it challenging to trace Evergreen's effects.

The purpose, inputs, and outputs of Coast Guard planning (as part of Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution) and the service's strategic library can shape Evergreen scenarios

  • Identifying potential needs for continued or additional decision support from Evergreen analyses helps focus scenario content.
  • The lack of a robust bridge between slow-burning or emerging future problems and decision points in the near term represents both a challenge and an opportunity for Evergreen and speaks to the need for scenarios that enable discussion of trade-offs relevant in the near term even if the motivating problems might be longer range.
  • Strategies cover some stressors and shocks less densely than others, which can form important scenario inputs to stress-test current plans.

Recommendations

  • Frame Evergreen scenarios with the decisions they are intended to support.
  • Use a stressors-and-shocks framework, which has its conceptual roots in a large body of academic and applied resilience work, to systematically compile, review, and update information about future trends and contingencies that could stress the Coast Guard in decision-relevant ways.
  • Employ the concept of scenario families to summarize different types of futures subject to changes along a common set of trends; distinct families can be combined to create a richer scenario narrative.
  • Add various types of compatible shocks to scenario narratives that present additional challenges for the Coast Guard and, in particular, simulate the tension between day-to-day demands resulting from stressors with sudden resource-consuming perturbations.
  • Consider opportunities for incorporative quantitative, along with qualitative, information into Evergreen scenarios.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Insights from Evergreen's History and Relationship with Coast Guard Strategic Planning

  • Chapter Three

    A Framework for Organizing Mission-Relevant Drivers of Change

  • Chapter Four

    Shaping Global Planning Scenarios for Evergreen Analysis

  • Chapter Five

    Findings and Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Full-Length Exemplar Scenario Narratives Used as the Basis for Evergreen Activities in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020

  • Appendix B

    An Expert Workshop to Identify Important Drivers for the Coast Guard

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Coast Guard Office of Emerging Policy and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) federally funded research and development center (FFRDC).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.