Strategic Narrative; a perspective

Narrative is not a static craft, it by its very nature is mutative. And in the age of internet, it’s the technology that enables how things ‘are’ done and how ‘they’ get done. Strategic Narrative is a way making sense of and developing the ability to comprehend the effects and causes. In an ideal situation a strategic narrative has be non-linear in nature based on diverging views. The importance of a strategic narrative comes into plain view when we recognize the evidence—from neuroscientists to psychologists to sociologists, as well as by way our universal engagement with the arts, myth and so forth—that people make sense of their world through stories. Although facticity is clearly critical, even scientific facts are not meaningful to a group until they are placed in a context.  We are, in other words, all in a constant state of sense making about what we think is happening to us.  Because of the way stories work, we engage with them emotionally and see ourselves in them, so they also act as subtle guides to how we should behave.

The beauty of a strategic narrative is that it never challenges a ‘core value’ proposition and it has capacity to capture the aspiration of an ordinary Pakistani. Generational analysis reinforces the need to understand and build an effective use of immersive techniques to create a backloop to the ‘core value’. Any substantive change provides an episodic capacity for redressal. Even for professionals to manage and create strategic narrative at a policy level there needs to be a governance model with enough flexibility so the ‘core value’ is not threatened. The elements of strategic foresight in order to bring into view both weak signals and the different conditions emerging that will produce new challenges and opportunities — on that landscape of the future what is possible? What kind of future story could be told — as we imagine it from here -in which current problems have found solutions? With these two pieces in hand, the steps to work out a new vision that takes enduring and important elements from the past and sees how they might be brought into an unfolding story in which steps will be taken, and innovations attempted, that will drive toward the futures story as it was imagined at its most productive. There is also a critical last step, which is to make sure this narrative is both a story that can be told and an action plan — so versions of metrics or benchmarks that make it implementable are critical.

Therefore, it also is an exploration of ‘what ifs’? Transformative within its contours which debunks common myths and unpacks metaphors. So basically, a strategic narrative centers on a leaderships ability to coherently present a captivating vision and strategy for the future of a country. It captures the past, the now and an imagined future not as a failure but as a struggle. This compelling nature of storytelling creates perception of a country that takes pride. Now, pride and dignity are a powerful phenomena thereby, implying that the narrative-directives need to be human-centric, sympathetic with a degree of acceptability towards change. Inclusivity and co-creation is key. A genuine strategic narrative takes a life form itself, it is realistic, credible and moreover relatable. So it has multitude-systems, with an inherent processes of learning, unlearning and relearning at various implementation phases with the possibilities of tweaks according to behavioural changes and emerging trends. So that it becomes a shared value, rather than one which is perceived to be imposed, that later creates space for non-aligned entities to hijack pushing the framework in to one which may call a ‘narrative trap’.

Pakistan’s Strategic Narrative needs to be linked to various forms of communication techniques, that links people to its global outlook, regional dynamics and local underpinnings. The people are part of the process and outcome, they are simply not just the audience. They become the community of interests that can comprehend and communicate the ‘core value’, promoting smart power on international forums and reinforcing the same with equal vigour to domestic audience.

A strategic narrative is concise, it inspires, it engages, it excites, it attracts and it influences. Within that framework of a thinking model in human context, professionals create choices. It becomes the brain. Strategic Narrative gives a nation the intellectual wisdom on global complexities and how they impact regional and local politics. The scope of a strategic narrative goes beyond persuasion and coercion. It is no longer about ‘whose story wins’; rather, ‘whose story is more credible’ in a non-coercive practice.

For example: When do societies become pragmatic or when is it they decide become contrary to that?

This quite easily can become an academic debate. But for the sake of argument when we localise the context of what pragmatism mean with in our societies; it is very much a product that conveniently find roots in decades of social conditioning. So, what is this social conditioning – In Pakistan just like in any other country many of us come with a set of inherent biases either through our education system, the way we are raised or our own set of very personalised experiences and interests. In each or either of the cases or instances, this is what we usually bring to the table when we are confronted with a challenge or even an opportunity. For a nation-state dealing with homogeneity is very simple; but what we are failing to grasp is that this is changing; people have far greater choices and ultimately create enough resources to become self-sufficient. Technology is the driver. And as when people become more aware of how the information ecosystem works they demand for more transparency and this is why striking the right balance as to how a strategic narrative is created is extremely important. Narratives are associated to interests and behaviours. In the international system the Strategic Narratives are created by great powers examples of which can be found when you closely study the Cold War, War on Terror, The Rise of China, and in Pakistan’s context it can be found in the Fall of Dhakka, Kargil War so on and so forth. Currently, Zarb-e-Azb, CPEC and SCO are a good case studies in themselves.

At a policy level, decision makers can make at least two determinations. One is simply to recognize that policy and its effects does not stand apart from narrative but is one of the elements that drives forward the larger “play” that we are all acting in and that tells the narrative. One may simply ask what are the implications of this policy, how will it be interpreted, and what will lit communicate to begin to get at that. At a strategic level, it would be useful for politicians and policy makers to recognize how facts are filtered through our story making.  The “facts” of globalization and immigration were transformed into radically different stories by different parties in the UK.  Tactically, knowing that the story we all feel we are acting out matters should give policy makers provide tools for helping people to arrive at new identities for example (when older people did not see themselves in the unfolding story of UK in the EU, they were alienated. What kinds of education and real support, say retraining for new skills, could have helped their integration into a new chapter of UK identity before they all voted themselves out?)

The purpose of a Strategic Narrative is to create and shape identities not in isolation but as a behavioural norm, which could be based on short-term tactical gains or long-term sustainable visions with the range of possibilities.

Note: I would like to thank Prof. Amy Zalman for her guidance. Founder & Principal, Strategic Narrative | Laura Roselle work on Strategic Narrative: A means to understand Soft Power.


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