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Research Questions

  1. What is command narrative?
  2. How can the geographic combatant commands most effectively use command narrative?

In the contemporary era marked by informational competition, one of the most important activities of a strategic or operational command is the development, presentation, and support of the command's narratives. Drawing on the scientific literature and lessons learned from the joint force, the authors of this report describe best practices for the effective use of command narrative.

While this research is primarily aimed at the geographic combatant commands, it should be of interest to any military command that needs to ensure that words and actions from the command are in harmony and support operational goals. To make the recommendations of the study as accessible as possible to practitioners, the project produced not only this report but also a four-page quick reference Smart Guide that provides definitions, summary guidance for developing a narrative, and a checklist for assessing the quality of the output of the narrative development process.

Key Findings

  • Narrative matters because it is the primary cognitive framework human beings use to make sense of the world.
  • Effective narrative development must account for complexity — multiple concepts, moderators, and emotional strategies that make narrative more or less effective.
  • Audience is central to effective narrative.
  • Effective communication practices, including command narrative, require assessment.
  • There is wide variability in how combatant commands organize for and understand the broader issue of coherency in communications.
  • Communication efforts involve risk, and thus risk-aversion may hinder communication.


  • Systematically implement an evidence-based command narrative that supports the command's campaign objectives.
  • Generate and maintain trust with audiences.
  • Put the audience — not the command — at the center of narrative crafting.
  • Implement best practices in crafting narratives.
  • Implement best communication practices in military processes and structures.

This research was sponsored by U.S. European Command and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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