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Handbook 07-34
September 2007

Chapter 5

Implementing Strategy

Planning a Course of Action 

Provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) have used a variety of informal and formal planning processes, as well as short-term and long-term focus throughout their existence. However, a consensus is emerging that PRTs are most effective when they develop a multi-year plan of action based on their mission analysis and shaped by their analysis of what is driving instability and conflict in their area. The PRT plan should be: 

  • Driven by its mission guidance and directed tasks. In addition to the PRT’s own plans, the PRT needs to interface with and help implement other plans. There may be multiple documents (host nation, U.S. government [USG], international [e.g., United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty Organization]) that should be acquired and understood. Some U.S. planning documents may be classified, so the PRT may need to work with contacts, usually at the embassy, to learn what strategies are relevant. Although the responsibility for coordinating these various frameworks falls at a higher level than the PRT, to be fully effective, the PRT leadership needs to be cognizant of all relevant strategies and the degree to which the PRT will interface with each strategy. Whether the mission is counterinsurgency (COIN), post-conflict stabilization, or reconstruction, the PRT must ensure that its strategy, plans, and actions support and further those overarching objectives. 
  • Shaped by a full understanding of the area assigned to the PRT. As described below, the plan should be developed following an assessment of the threats to stability in the PRT’s area of responsibility (AOR), including factors that increase and decrease the likelihood of conflict.  The assessment should strive to determine the key impediments to achieving mission success. There may be instability based on tribal competition, conflict perpetrated by criminal or insurgent activities, or weak local institutions that prevent effective extension of the national government. This assessment provides a common operating picture for all USG actors in the province that will shape, sequence, and focus their efforts towards achieving the mission of the PRT. 
  • Multi-year. PRT team members understand that achieving success in their AOR will take many years even though they are often deployed for no more than a year. Rather than a series of one-year plans, it is important to develop a multi-year (three to five) strategy that promotes continuity of effort. The strategy should include: 1) Key strategic interventions that are necessary to address the causes of instability and conflict; and 2) A long-term end state goal and the required objectives to achieve sustainable stability sufficient to provide an environment where normal development programs can flourish. The strategy can and should be reviewed and routinely revised, particularly before unit rotations or large personnel turnovers or as guidance or conditions change. The strategic objectives provide the basis for a multi-year implementation plan that should cover a time frame of at least two years to facilitate continuity. 
  • Interagency. The PRT is an interagency team and needs to plan as a team. Ideally, the PRT’s planning team should include functional, regional, and planning experts representing all the agencies active in the PRT. There may be a tendency for each agency to want to perform separate assessments and then build separate action plans based on those assessments. Institutional culture, personal expertise, rotation cycles, and separate reporting chains can all push PRT members in this direction.  But without a joint assessment, strategy, and implementation plan, the PRT will lack a common understanding of the situation, making it hard to agree on where resources should be focused and prioritize and integrate each agency’s efforts. 

Start with an Integrated Assessment 

The PRTs are deployed first and foremost to foster stabilization, and their actions, projects, and programs should all support that goal. To do this, the PRT members need to assess and understand the factors that cause instability and conflict in their area. The local causes of instability and conflict may be similar to those driving the national conflict, but there will likely be additional complexities and local aspects of the problem (e.g., local resource issues and relationships among local actors, tribes, sects, or groups). The PRT’s job is to understand what is causing the instability and conflict in their area, so that its interventions can reduce conflict and promote a more stable environment: 

  • Drivers of conflict. While the complexity of a PRT’s area of operations cannot always be fully analyzed by a specific doctrine such as COIN or any one methodology, there are several good conflict assessment frameworks that can form the basis for a PRT’s expanded assessment process. Conflict is frequently conceptualized and assessed in terms of sources/causes, parties, actors, “drivers,” and potential triggers. The sources and root causes of conflict can be described in terms of stakeholders’ frustrated needs and grievances. The “drivers” of conflict are the dynamics of how those frustrations and grievances are expressed and manipulated. Triggers are often thought of as shocks to the system (a drought) or events (an election) that spark conflict. The PRT needs to assess the potential drivers of instability and conflict in its AOR. These may include resource competition, sectarian animosity, ethnic violence, lack of meaningful economic opportunity, and culturally sanctioned vendetta. This assessment entails mapping the social, cultural, political, and economic networks that the population lives with daily. The mapping is not a doctoral dissertation, but it should touch on the key aspects of the environment that impact the level of conflict. 
  • Assessment tools. There are several common conflict assessments tools that can be used by the PRT, including the Interagency Methodology for Assessing Instability and Conflict developed to gather situation-specific information for policy-level strategic planning; USAID’s Conflict Assessment Framework designed for the strategic and operational level; and USAID’s Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework, which was developed to inform tactical level planning and program design. 
  • Performing a conflict assessment. Listening to and engaging with the local population, including different levels of society and the various groups in the PRT’s area, are keys to a good assessment. Typical steps in a conflict assessment include: 
    • Collecting data (through interviews, observations, field-based activities, or secondary sources). Data should include information on background factors and underlying risks, such as stakeholders’ interests/needs; opinion leaders’ motivations/means; potential triggers; potential “spoilers”; and international or regional actors or factors. 
    • Describing the dynamics (conflict drivers) that are factors that contribute to escalation of the conflict. 
    • Prioritizing the “drivers” according to the degree they contribute to escalation of the conflict. 
    • Identifying conflict mitigation and resolution mechanisms. 

Mitigate Conflict and Build Local Capacity 

In the follow-on planning phase, PRT planners decide how to mitigate the dynamics that “drive” the conflict and strengthen the dynamics that mitigate or defuse the conflict. Factors that demonstrate local and regional capacity usually contribute to mitigation of the conflict. These factors include the legitimacy and effectiveness of the host government; its political, social, economic, and security institutions; and the resilience of civil society. 

In most interventions in countries in crisis, the USG goal is to achieve a sustainable peace where the host government is able to meet the fundamental needs of its citizens for security, social well-being, just governance, and economic livelihood.  In many reconstruction and stabilization environments, this institutional capacity is limited or absent. Identifying the areas of need, mentoring key individuals, facilitating training, and focusing intervention are all potential tools. 

Building governmental capacity above the provincial level is clearly beyond the scope of the PRT and is the responsibility of the national-level program; however, the PRT is best positioned to understand the specific needs within the province, district, or regional area within its responsibility and use the information to design local programs and inform national-level planning. While every situation is different, local governments often need help developing processes for citizen input, prioritizing government programs and projects, implementing budgeting processes, and establishing public security capabilities. Keep in mind that not all institutions are governmental; building the capacity of traditional governing mechanisms and civil society (religious groups, business institutions, and political parties) may also be required. 

The graph below provides a visual summary of planning process goals (to increase the capacity of local institutions to respond to local needs and wants, while reducing the drivers of conflict). 

Graphic - Strength vs. Time
Figure 5-1

Develop Long-Term Strategic Objectives 

Once the PRT has assessed local needs, identified key drivers of conflict, and built connections to local institutions, it needs to develop intervention strategies to be implemented through an action plan. For example, if the two major tribes in a PRT’s area are engaged in ongoing, low-level hostilities over historic grievances and competition for scarce water resources, the PRT may decide it needs a strategy for a peace-building process supported by a water management strategy to address this underlying source of conflict. Taken together, the major mission elements or objectives should be: 

  • Developed from an assessment of the causes of conflict and instability. 
  • Necessary to achieve the goal and succeed. 
  • Sufficient to achieve the overarching objectives or goal. 
  • Stated as measurable, realistically ambitious objectives. 
  • Integrated across agency stovepipes when necessary to achieve the goal. 
  • Able to help identify cross-sector issues that may be overlooked by the bureaucracy. 

The PRT may not have the resources and tools to address larger and more complex issues. In these cases the PRT should flag these parts of the plan for consideration by the embassy and higher military headquarters. For example, the PRT may identify a corrupt and poorly trained police force as a significant factor undermining local support for the national government. Police training likely needs to be conducted as part of a national program and should be raised with the embassy. However, setting up a public safety commission to represent citizen interests in interactions with police authorities might be something the PRT could help with at the local level. 

Develop an Implementation Plan with Tasks, Activities, or Interventions 

The implementation plan consists of the major mission elements or operational objectives the PRT has identified and the intervention activities or essential tasks the PRT should undertake to achieve them. In the example involving competition over water resources, the PRT may want to seek input from a hydrologist. The hydrologist might recommend a regional solution, which might be expensive and need to be referred for higher level action. But he might also identify smaller local projects that would improve lives in the short term and provide space for the peace-building process to proceed. The completion of these projects might be identified by the PRT as essential tasks. Essential tasks should be: 

  • Necessary and, taken together, sufficient to achieve the major mission element (MME)/objective. 
  • Stated as measurable outcomes. 
  • Managed by implementing agencies or PRT members. 

PRTs can draw on a document called the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Essential Task Matrix to help possible tasks and programs. The document can be found at: <>. 

The action plan should identify which agency or PRT member has the lead for a specific program or action and the source of funding. However, not all the essential tasks involve expending program funds; some may involve diplomatic, political, or other initiatives undertaken by the PRT’s leadership and advisors. The plan’s time frame varies according to the circumstances, the nature of U.S. involvement, and the overall strategic plan but should be at least two years long to provide continuity of PRT personnel. While actions and programs for the current year will need to be identified, the MME/objectives will likely be multi-year. 

The PRT constantly needs to balance conflicting goals. Is effective direct intervention in local disputes more important than efforts to increase the capacity of local security forces? Should limited reconstruction funds be used to build necessary government infrastructure or to increase the general population’s general welfare. (Are police stations more important than sewage systems?) 

There will always be tradeoffs in the planning process, including staffing and budgetary cycles, limits on uses of funds, national versus provincial imperatives, different time frames for achieving immediate security requirements versus stability, and other constraints that will affect what can be done. But a good planning process and framework leads to the best use of resources within the inevitable constraints. 

Given the changing nature and stability dynamics of the AOR, the implementation plan should also identify triggers for contingency plan activation to support local and national government response. For instance, natural disasters significantly strain nascent government capacity. The ability of the local government to respond to natural disaster can reduce resulting instability and impact the population’s perception of government legitimacy. A PRT contingency plan to support government response can help the government address short-term stability requirements while also addressing long-term capacity building. 

Measuring Performance (Metrics) 

PRTs will be asked to assess their progress and report on it. This assessment will probably include the development of indicators or metrics as part of a process called performance monitoring. Performance monitoring involves the repeated review of reported information to inform decision making. The reported information is a combination of metrics, other information gathered, and the review and analysis of that information. The purposes of performance monitoring are to gather and present systematic, analytic information for the PRT’s own use in assessing the impact and effects of its efforts; to inform decision makers up the chain of command; and to report to Congress and the public. The best time to consider how the success of the PRT’s plan will be measured is while the plan is being developed. Note that there will also be demands from higher agency levels for assessments that may or may not track those of the PRTs. 

Impact assessment can be difficult in a reconstruction and stabilization context— the full impact of a PRT’s activities may not become clear for some time, and public databases that might track changes in indicators over time may not exist or be reliable. Nonetheless, it is important that the PRT assess its output—the immediate effect of its activities—and the short- and long-term impact of these activities. Ultimately, the impact is what matters. Output is usually easiest to measure, (e.g., number of wells drilled, schools built, police trained), but it does not measure the effects the PRT is trying to achieve. Outcomes or intermediate effects (how many have access to clean water, growth in school enrollment, public perception of police) and longer-term impacts of activities on the overall situation (impact of wells on local power structure, perception of education’s impact on social values or economic prospects, impact of police training on public security, and support for the government) may require more creativity. A few clear, insightful measures are better than many indirect or less obvious ones. Examples of indicators include: 

  • Impact indicator. Overarching goals are achieved: 
    • Functioning economy that provides tax revenue and facilitates licit economic activity: 
      • Percent of country’s economy that can be taxed by federal government 
      • Relative personal income rates across key identity groups 
    • Government that ensures the rule of law and protects civilians: 
      • Polling on “how safe citizens feel” across identity groups 
      • Human rights assessments 
    • Political processes that are seen as legitimate and credible: 
      • Participation in political processes by major groups or factions
      • Civil/political rights assessments 
  • Outcome indicator. Measures the effect of activities on achieving broader objectives: 
    • Increase in employment 
    • Shorter pre-trial detention periods 
    • Increase in participation in political processes by former combatants 

While output indicators can help PRTs track their efforts, when USG planners and policymakers use the terms “performance” or “results,” they are referring to those objectives nearer the top—at least at the outcome level. 

Continuity Process 

PRT staff is subject to a high rate of turnover. Civilians generally serve 12 months but often have gaps between assignments, while core military members serve 12 months and often have assignment overlaps. However, some military members may only serve six months. Unfortunately, changes in personnel often result in changes in PRT direction, objectives, and programs. Without a long-term plan, new arrivals are left to improvise their own programs, drawing on their own expertise, which results in choppy and ineffective PRT programming that wastes time and resources. 

A long-term common operating picture and strategic implementation plan assists with continuity. During their predeployment training, PRT members should strive to understand the specific area analysis and implementation plan provided by their predecessors. The new PRT should be aware of the causes of instability and conflict; strategies and implementation interventions, programs, activities, and measures of effectiveness as they relate to their work; the objectives of the maneuver brigade and other PRTs in the particular region; and the longer term USG provincial goals and objectives. In addition to forwarding the planning documents, during the last month of deployment, PRT and military teams should complete the following tasks: 

  • Capture their experiences (both lessons learned and good practices) and present them to the incoming PRT, maneuver commanders and staffs, and implementing partners. 
  • Send materials from briefings to PRT training units, both military and civilian, in the U.S. to update training materials. 
  • Attend and assist with the training incoming teams and overlap with their successors, if possible. 
  • Highlight particularly valuable lessons learned on how to work in the environment; how to be a team player with civilian/military teams; how to engage the local community appropriately; and how to alter programming based on local input, while making it complementary to PRT and the maneuver commander’s goals.


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