U.S. military and civilian agencies frequently deploy on complex missions that require them to operate in the same environment, whether in humanitarian disasters or in violent conflicts. The success of these operations depends in part on whether each agency understands the resources, purposes, and authorities of the others. While coordination has improved, better integration is still needed to accomplish the goals of these critical missions—saving lives and stabilizing areas in turmoil.
The U.S. Institute of Peace advances thinking and practice on key national security challenges. One way is to foster broad, effective cooperation to curb violent conflict. Through education and training and by convening working groups and other forums, USIP urges a comprehensive approach across government agencies as well as non-governmental and international organizations.
The Interorganizational Tabletop Exercise (ITX) represents one such effort.
What is an ITX?
- In a 2-3 day exercise, civilian and military personnel jointly work through real-world challenges of communication and coordination—the kind of problems that arise from operating in the same complex environment.
Participants may include the State Department, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the military’s Combatant Commands, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and multinational organizations.
- Lessons from the exercise improve preparation and future field work of each participating agency.
Why an ITX?
- An ITX promotes and develops relationships, mutual understanding, knowledge-sharing, and cooperation among civilian and military personnel to increase their effectiveness as they work—and cross paths--in the same crisis situation.
- The exercise allows senior leaders to discuss shared and potentially conflicting objectives and operating requirements that might arise.
What Makes an ITX Unique?
- The ITX format places civilian organizations in the lead. They develop and implement an exercise that reflects certain priorities, both thematic and geographic.
- The objectives of each participating organization are given equal weight, demanding a maximum degree of cooperation.
- The theme and geographic focus of each exercise, as well its goals and measures of success, are determined collaboratively by the participants. The exercise includes facilitated dialogue and work by small groups on scenarios, all of which helps build civilian-military relationships.
What Results Does ITX Achieve?
- Senior leaders of the participating civilian and military organizations are briefed on ideas for collaboration, and they may take relevant recommendations back to their agencies for action.
- A typical ITX produces after-action reports, publications, data from participant surveys and interviews, and actionable recommendations.
USIP has hosted two Interorganizational Tabletop Exercises
Scenario: Deteriorating security in South Sudan, including the overrun of a U.N. compound, with response capability tested by a simultaneous earthquake in Ethiopia.
Participants: More than 15 U.S. government agencies, departments, and bureaus as well as non-governmental and international organizations.
Sample Challenges: How to institutionalize civilian-military relationships, share information, clarify lines of authority, and communicate organizational priorities.
Results: “I gained greater appreciation of the perspectives of other actors, including USAID and NGOs. I gained a better understanding of dealing with crises, both in the short- and long-term.”
“ITX-type events/exercises need to be regularly organized to improve inter-organizational coordination and benefit from the knowledge/experience of others.”
Scenario: Dozens of governmental and non-governmental organizations operating to reduce and prevent violent extremism in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger).
Participants: About 50 representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, non-governmental organizations and international organizations.
Sample Challenges: Compare understandings of violent extremism and best responses, share initiatives, discuss progress and shortcomings. Examine the interplay of various programs to counter violent extremism.
Results: Senior leaders of participating organizations asked staff to propose concrete solutions to likely challenges that emerged. Three interorganizational working groups explored how to synchronize civilian and military policies on countering violent extremism, and by March 2017 identified gaps in learning and knowledge-sharing. A follow-on forum co-led by USIP will continue the work.