Strategically Aligned Family Research

Supporting Soldier and Family Quality of Life Research for Policy Decisionmaking

by Carra S. Sims, Anny Wong, Sarah H. Bana, John D. Winkler


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Research Questions

  1. With respect to major Army and Defense Department organizations that produce or consume data and analysis on QOL for soldiers and families, how do the users of research define QOL or apply it in their work?
  2. How do research users assess the needs of soldiers and families?
  3. How do users use research, what research do they find useful, and what are the challenges to using research?
  4. What do users think will improve strategic development and use of research to promote QOL for soldiers and families?

The Army spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on soldier and family support or quality of life (QOL) programs intended to ease the stress of military life and thereby enhance well-being, improve readiness, and sustain recruiting and retention. However, research in support of these programs to determine needs, access, and effectiveness is fragmented, duplicative, and at times lacking in quality or depth of analysis. The Army leadership wants to develop a research agenda to inform the Army of the QOL needs of soldiers and families, help gauge the success of programs, improve coordination of research efforts, and determine how best to allocate resources to achieve its objectives. This analysis concludes that the Army currently lacks a clear awareness of relevant research on soldier and family QOL, and it also lacks the institutional mechanisms and resources to systematically collect and synthesize data and analysis to inform decisionmaking. Furthermore, both domain-specific research and a broader, more holistic understanding of QOL — to put domain-specific research in context — are critical. As a first step, the authors recommend that the Army develop an explicitly agreed-upon lexicon, outcomes, and metrics to identify and develop relevant research to inform intra- and interorganizational discussions and decisionmaking on QOL. The Army should also consider adopting a comprehensive approach to needs assessment to develop a holistic picture of support service gaps and their relative importance to well-being.

Key Findings

Some prerequisites for a rigorous roadmapping exercise are missing.

  • The Army needs to gain understanding of the current state of the art and established findings, along with an agreed-upon definition of the key terms relevant to a discussion of QOL for soldiers and families and strategic goals for the Army.
  • Resources are needed to enable the organizations involved in promoting QOL for soldiers and families in various domains to undertake an active roadmapping process.

Domain-specific research remains central to developing solutions and assessing their effectiveness.

  • "Domain-specific research" refers to data and analysis covering a defined area, e.g., health, childcare, and spouse employment. This type of research offers the best practices to respond to issues and to measure the effectiveness of programs.

Assessing QOL needs requires a big-picture understanding of stressors within and across multiple domains in life.

  • QOL is a cumulative expression of wellness, and it cuts across multiple domains, from physical and emotional health to wellness in relationships, personal finance, and other areas. The relationship of these domains to one another and the interactions among them are complex; thus, research that improves the big-picture view is especially valuable.

Current needs assessments are not broad enough.

  • Current soldier and family needs assessments do not provide the holistic perspective and rigorous evidence-based research that policy and program officials need to inform planning and budgeting decisions. A needs assessment that tries to understand what support services are needed from the beneficiary's perspective rather than a program-centric one will offer insight into potential redundancies and gaps in existing program coverage.


  • Develop an agreed-upon lexicon, outcomes, and metrics. Once this is done, metrics can be developed to measure effectiveness in ways that all can find meaningful and reflective of their goals.
  • Focus research on individual domains to build the big picture. Domain-specific research is critical to tease out the complexities of relationships between stressors, problems, needs, and effective solutions. Moreover, simultaneous examination of multiple domains enables consideration of coordinated solutions.
  • Conduct a comprehensive needs assessment, less program-based and focused more on individual soldiers' and families' perspectives. Assessment should take into account multiple influences that affect soldiers' lives to determine what the needs are, e.g., for relationship counseling, personal finance education, and the right QOL support services to provide in terms of quality and quantity.
  • Improve knowledge management to expand research use and identify important areas for new research. A deliberate approach supported by adequate resources will help the Army determine what research is available, how well it answers questions about needs, and what constitutes effective responses in a given domain.
  • Make Army QOL research roadmapping a socialization and knowledge-sharing process that brings together different viewpoints and organizations relevant to the building, implementation, and evaluation of a research roadmap. This interaction will foster common understanding of problems, lead to agreement on lexicon, desired outcomes, and metrics for evaluation, and help leverage resources for coordinated actions.
  • Target research in areas where the Army can make a difference. This includes interventions in the form of policies, programs, or services to mitigate stressors.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Linking Army Strategic Goals and QOL

  • Chapter Three

    Meeting User Needs and Systemic Challenges

  • Chapter Four

    Aligning Research to Improve Decisionmaking

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    List of Organizations Interviewed

  • Appendix B

    Protocol for Semi-Structured Discussions with Army and OSD Officials

  • Appendix C

    Sample Army and OSD Research

  • Appendix D

    Protocol for Semi-Structured Discussions with Non-DoD Respondents

  • Appendix E

    Some Definitions of Research from Federal Regulations

  • Appendix F

    Major Reference Research Roadmaps

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center.

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