Cover: Accelerating the Australian Army's Contest of Ideas

Accelerating the Australian Army's Contest of Ideas

Published Jun 2, 2021

by Joanne Nicholson, Marigold Black, Jade Yeung

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Research Questions

  1. Is the Australian Army discussing ideas that are original, comparable, complementary, or incompatible to those of its contemporaries?
  2. Is there is a need to generate increased capacity either in Army or through targeted research to answer some of its most pressing questions or broaden its intellectual discourse?

The Australian Army prides itself on its pursuit of an intellectual edge. In his 2020 Accelerated Warfare Statement, the Chief of Army stressed the importance of an ongoing "contest of ideas" to ensure that the Army does not rest on its laurels and keeps pace with rapidly changing events and technology. Accompanying this is a call to make how this contest occurs more transparent and accessible to all those within the Army, taking advantage of the different media through which ideas can be presented.

In this report, works published between 2014 and 2020 by the AARC in a range of publications, including the Australian Army Journal (AAJ), Land Power Forum (LPF) blog, and Army Research Scheme (ARS) reports, were analysed using a combination of methods, including numerical, categorical, and thematic analysis, and RAND-Lex, a text analytics suite.

The report's findings highlight that each of the Army's publication modes has distinctive characteristics that makes it more suited to particular topics (e.g., futured-focused or retrospective), and that each publishes ideas at different levels of maturity. Recognising the strengths of each publication mode is important for understanding how to progress ideas through the innovation flow process.

Strategic management of the AARC's publication portfolio should therefore include a review of the role of the 2017 Army Strategic Futures Agenda (ASFA) framework and the Army's areas of interest. A revised framework could enable the more effective identification of research gaps and could also be used to measure impact.

Key Findings

  • Each of the AARC's publication modes has its own distinctive role and characteristics, at least for the period under study (2014–2020).
  • The LPF blog is more focused on technology/future-based short pieces and the exploration of raw ideas, with a lower level of entry.
  • AAJ or "Other" works (including occasional papers, research reports and Land Warfare Studies Centre reports) are longer, evidence-based and more contested and validated than LPF blog posts, with a propensity for analysing historical events.
  • ARS reports are representative of deep research across a diverse, unique set of themes.
  • Regardless of the publication mode, words found to be significant (i.e., high-frequency) tended to reflect events of the time.
  • A comparison of these findings with topic categories outlined in the 2017 ASFA revealed that there are some topics that are well addressed by the publications, while others, including "Veterans' issues", are not covered at all.
  • Army captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels were identified as the most frequent contributors, although most authors had contributed only one article.
  • A longitudinal study of AAJ articles published over 20-plus years revealed a realisation of ideas through periodical special issues around set themes. These themes could be traced back to their origins some years before, but important in both starting and completing the innovation flow was the incumbent Chief of Army.


  • The AARC's different publication modes should be managed strategically such that they support and sustain each other and act in complementarity.
  • Strategic management of the AARC's publication portfolio should include a review of the role of the ASFA framework and the Army's areas of interest. A revised framework could enable the more effective identification of research gaps and could also be used to measure impact.
  • Strategic management should also involve coordination of the AARC's internal sources with those that are managed externally within the Australian Defence Force, including (but not limited to) The Cove, Grounded Curiosity, The Forge, and Logistics in War.
  • For AARC publication data to have optimal utility, whether for future research or in accurate record-keeping, they need to be complete, consistent, and accessible.
  • The AARC should consider assuming a greater role in driving ideas through the phases of innovation. Alternatively, it may position itself as curator of the innovation process, collecting evidence that demonstrates how ideas manifest in positive change (or otherwise) in the Army and assisting in the success of future innovation efforts.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Australian Army Research Centre (AARC) and led by RAND Australia.

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