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TECHNIC A L REP O RT
Strategically Aligned Family
Supporting Soldier and Family Quality of Life Research for Policy Decisionmaking
Carra S. Sims
Prepared for the United States Army
Approved for public release; distribution unlimited
A RROYO CENTER
Sarah H. Bana
John D. Winkler
The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army under
Contract No. W74V8H-06-C-0001.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sims, Carra S.
Strategically aligned family research : supporting soldier and family quality of life research for policy
decisionmaking / Carra S. Sims, Anny Wong, Sarah H. Bana, John D. Winkler.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-8330-7789-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Families of military personnel—Services for—United States—Evaluation. 2. Families of military personnel—
United—States—Social conditions. 3. Quality of life—Research—United States. 4. Social indicators—
Research—United States. 5. Soldiers—Services for—United States—Evaluation. 6. Soldiers—United
States—Social conditions. I. Title. II. Title: Supporting soldier and family quality of life research for policy
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The Army spends more than $2.3 billion annually on soldier and family support or quality of
life (QOL) programs that are intended to ease the stress of military life and thus enhance wellbeing, 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 policy and program
decisionmaking to align its strategic goals in recruiting, retention, and readiness with the needs
of soldiers and families. Such an agenda is expected 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.
The Army asked RAND Arroyo Center to help improve its use of research on soldier and
family quality of life matters to inform policy and programming decisions. The Army wanted
a better assessment of the support programs that soldiers and families need and a research
agenda to determine effective support services in light of resource availability and the need
for accountability. The Army asked Arroyo to pay particular attention to recruiting, retention,
and readiness as strategic outcomes for QOL. The goal of this study is to take a first, high-level
look at how QOL research is currently used, to identify gaps in knowledge to suggest areas for
new research, and to consider how the Army should think strategically about using research,
including its investment in new research. The ultimate objective is an organizational mechanism that strategically aligns research. This first phase can begin to address the Army’s objective to make research-informed QOL policy and program decisions and support its research
needs. In some ways, the course we undertook for this analysis is similar to the process the
Army itself will need to undertake in greater depth and represents the first iteration of a QOL
policy and program agenda-setting or roadmapping exercise.
Conclusions and Recommendations
We reviewed of a wide range of literature on QOL, its measurement and linkage to strategic
goals, as well as literature on research roadmapping. We also interviewed various policy and
program officials to determine how and why they used research. We summarize our findings
Strategically Aligned Family Research
from these approaches below and provide references to relevant chapters for more detailed
The relationship between strategic goals and QOL is not well established (see Chapter Two). The Army’s strategic goals for QOL lie in the areas of recruiting, retention, and
readiness. Assessing the relationship between QOL and these outcomes is complicated by the
lack of precision surrounding just how QOL is defined and measured. Nevertheless, it is possible to discern relationships between QOL and the Army’s goals.
With regard to recruiting, the evidence is scarce. The Army offers many benefits, from
monetary bonuses to join the military to free or subsidized access to health, recreation, education, housing, relationship counseling, and childcare and youth services. These benefits, which
can affect individual views of QOL, are seen by the Army leadership as important to recruiting. Also, how soldiers and their spouses perceive and experience Army life can affect their
children’s consideration of the Army as a potential future employer.
Research reviewed indicates that how well families adapt to the stresses associated with
Army life, in part by using QOL programs and services, can affect retention. For example, the
relationship between spousal support and retention is strong, and programs that help spouses
cope with the demands of Army life can foster such support.
“Readiness” is a multidimensional concept, with little consensus on its definition. Because
readiness is difficult to define, it is difficult to identify what influences it. Nevertheless, some
research indicates that the same factors that influence spousal support promote readiness.
Other work also shows that satisfied families have higher levels of readiness (however defined).
Beyond the Army’s strategic goals, research on other QOL topics indicates relatively consistent findings. For example, junior enlisted members and their households tend to experience
more stress and are less able to address problems.
Research currently does not meet the needs of users (see Chapter Three). Typically,
policymakers and those who run programs are the users of research. They need research to
inform budget decisions, to evaluate programs, and to serve purposes such as identifying the
best practices in given areas. They are generally not satisfied with what is available to them.
It is also difficult for them to find out what research is available that might help them make
Research alignment can help improve decisionmaking (see Chapter Four). Roadmapping is a technique that can help align goals and strategies, and it has been used effectively in a range of venues. The practice would likely benefit the Army as it attempts to match
research with its strategic goals. The Army itself is best positioned to construct such a roadmap, since it will require substantial work across multiple organizational boundaries to construct one. Additionally, it will take a collaborative effort and a mandate (and new resources)
to develop and implement a roadmap that would involve and affect a number of organizations within the Army and across the Department of Defense that have roles and responsibilities for QOL policy and programs.
Our analysis of the data resulted in four overarching conclusions:
Some prerequisites for a rigorous roadmapping exercise are missing. A thorough
understanding of the current state of the art and established findings is missing. Also absent
is 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 major organizations
involved in promoting QOL for soldiers and families in various domains to undertake an
active roadmapping process. The resulting research agenda would reflect their concerns and
would be designed to achieve their objectives at the program level and support strategic Army
vision at the policy level.
Domain-specific research remains central to developing solutions and assessing
their effectiveness. Even though QOL requires a big-picture understanding, domain-specific
research remains critical. “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
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 what is currently offered by the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
Therefore, we offer the following recommendations.
Develop an agreed-upon QOL lexicon, outcomes, and metrics. The Army needs to
identify within and across domains the key terms and agree on their meanings. When different
terms are used to talk about the same thing and, conversely, the same terms are used but with
different meanings, it hinders communication among Army leaders, QOL policy and program
officials, and soldiers and families. Similarly, there should be explicit agreement among these
stakeholders on the desired outcomes for QOL programs and activities. After there is agreement on the lexicon and desired outcomes, 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. QOL research should
not merely take an amalgamated approach. Domain-specific research is critical to tease out
complexities. For a big-picture view, a holistic perspective encompassing multiple domains is
essential to appreciate the complexity of relationships between stressors, problems, needs, and
effective solutions. Moreover, simultaneous examination of multiple domains enables consideration of coordinated solutions.
Take a comprehensive approach to needs assessment. This approach should be less
program-based and focus more on individual soldiers and families. Soldiers do not tend to
deal with problems in terms of programs. Soldiers and their families, like their civilian peers,
approach life as a set of interrelated issues. Relationship stress, for example, may result from
multiple issues including finances, childcare issues, and marital discord. Thus, assessments
need to take into account multiple influences and their linkages 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.
Strategically Aligned Family Research
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. A sense for the relative impact of various domains on QOL and even on strategic goals would enable more targeted research to areas
where policy programs and services can have the most potential influence.
Make Army QOL research roadmapping a socialization and knowledge-sharing
process. The process of building a roadmap is as important as the roadmap itself. The roadmapping process would bring together different viewpoints and organizations relevant to the
building, implementation, and evaluation of a research roadmap. For some of these participants, the roadmapping process may be the first time they meet other relevant organizational representatives and learn about their viewpoints. Their interaction over time could foster
common understanding of problems, lead to agreement on lexicon, desired outcomes, and
metrics for evaluation, and help them to leverage resources for coordinated actions. Other
important benefits include increased professional networking and knowledge sharing, which
can help engender a community of interest in QOL research and its application to inform
policy and programming decisions.
Target research in areas where the Army can make a difference. Some things are
beyond what the Army can influence. The Army should focus its research efforts where it can
make a difference. This includes interventions in the form of policies, programs, or services to
mitigate stressors. It should also take steps to manage QOL expectations among soldiers and
families when Army resources are finite and priorities should be given to areas where widespread and unmet needs can negatively affect the Army’s strategic interests in recruitment,
retention, and readiness.