top of page

The Multiple Streams Framework and Civil Affairs Operations

(Figure 1 Photo provided by

By Alan Goodman


In the late 1990s, Yugoslavian president, Slobodan Milosevic, denied the results of parliamentary elections, attempted to control all aspects of the country's higher education, and enacted policies to move the country closer to a dictatorship than a democracy. The region was still in the midst of the Yugoslav Wars, and the national mood would no longer tolerate the oppression of an authoritarian regime. For many, the desired way forward for the country was to determine their national leaders through legitimate democratic practices. The combination of a rising despot, a national mood tired of conflict, and a vision of a clear path forward opened a window of opportunity for activists to form an organization named Otpor!. Otpor! launched a series of non-violent resistance campaigns resulting in the overthrow of Milosevic.[i] Civil Affairs (CA) practitioners studying Otpor!’s resistance can analyze the three conditions outlined above (a dictatorship problem, opposing national politics, and a proposed solution) by mirroring the three streams of what is known as the multiple streams framework of policy analysis; the problems, the politics, and the solutions.[ii] Utilizing this framework can assist CA in leveraging indigenous populations and institutions to win without fighting.

How does a Policy Analysis Framework assist Civil Affairs?

How does a policy analysis tool help CA forces affect an enemy outside of kinetic operations? Thomas Birkland defines a policy as "what a government intends to do about a public problem."[iii] When an American thinks of policy analysis, what may first come to mind are debates and studies conducted by official experts pertaining to domestic issues, not countering threats to the nation. However, what from an American point of view is a foreign policy issue is more often than not an indigenous policy issue that creates violent conditions within an operating environment.

CA engage and leverage the civil component of an operational environment to deter threats while enhancing governance.[iv] As the Department of Defense’s governance experts, it is essential for CA Forces to understand how governments, or organizations conducting governance, make decisions to solve their problems. It is crucial because CA units can fall victim to putting the cart before the horse. Civic action programs, humanitarian assistance, or digging wells are stereotypical civil affairs operations meant to help a government solve its problems. While these approaches may be applicable in certain situations, more often than not, they are uncreative examples of applying a tactic without the proper analysis. This often results in minimal to no effect on an enemy or, in the worst case, a loss of rapport with a local population or institution to the enemy’s benefit. Applying a policy analysis framework to CA operations (CAO), which other experts use to study governance decisions and problems, equips CA forces with the proper tools to determine the best method to attack a problem set. Utilizing a policy analysis method gives CA practitioners a flexible framework to attack an enemy that is not dependent on specific tactics, focuses on a mission, and encourages constructive creativity.

What is the Multiple Streams Framework?

The multiple streams framework is a simple, organized, and visual model that can easily nest within the military decision-making process (MDMP). The multiple streams framework was derived from the earlier garbage can model of policy analysis. The garbage can model stated that an organization's decision-making process was not formed from a logical process of solving well-defined problems but through merging unrelated problems and solutions. Essentially decisions are only made after every variable is gathered and considered independent of each other.[v] The garbage can model mirrors how CA currently plans operations. Information is gathered and then consolidated in a format that organizes and states the information (PMESII-PT/ASCOPE crosswalk, civil considerations paragraph, Annex K), but deciding on a course of action is ultimately left up to an individual’s ability to analyze and understand every piece of information individually.

Figure 2 Garbage Can Model of policy analysis[vi]

John Kingdon studied federal health and transportation policy and refined the garbage can model into the multiple streams framework. Instead of every piece of information that influences a policy issue being considered on its own, Kingdon divided them into three streams: the problem stream, the political stream, and the policy stream. These streams are leveraged by policy entrepreneurs who converge on a policy window that results in a policy output.[vii]

Figure 3 Multiple Streams Framework[viii]

The problem stream of the framework consists of the various issues that a group of people and their government want addressed. Security, health, food availability, and many other issues can be addressed in this stream by plugging in many of the tools CA already uses. For the CA practitioner, the problem stream also includes the problem that their mission is intended to address, the enemy. The policy stream constitutes all possible solutions to solve the issues in the problem stream. The word policy can be substituted for a solution, project, or program for CA forces. Kingdon describes the politics stream as influenced by the national mood, pressure groups, and legislative turnover. Kingdon’s original three parameters are based on an American political environment, but the politics stream can take on many characteristics in the context of civil affairs operations. The politics stream is where the cultural information gathered through mission analysis and civil reconnaissance is applied. The policy window is a critical point in time when a policy, or course of action, is amicable with the political atmosphere to solve a problem. Policy entrepreneurs are those who recognize the critical junction in time and take advantage of the opportunity to turn the three streams into a policy output.[ix] CA Forces are entrepreneurs, but they are not the only ones. An enemy, allies, NGOs, or completely neutral parties can all act as entrepreneurs. In a CA practitioner's case, the policy output is the desired outcome of a course of action. In the example at the beginning of this essay, the organization Otpor! were the entrepreneurs who recognized that the political atmosphere allowed them to enact non-violent resistance to unseat their problem: Slobodan Milosevic.

The multiple streams framework’s primary advantage for CA is assisting the practitioner in determining what course of action best aligns with the political and cultural atmosphere at a given time. The framework is adaptable and not tied to a specific condition of the operating environment. Adaptability prevents copy-and-paste tactics, techniques, and procedures, while refining more effective methods of incurring costs on an enemy. As a force that deals with the human terrain, it is vital for CA forces to understand that political will and social movements are rarely created out of thin air, and the multiple streams framework assists CA practitioners in identifying how to take advantage of the political atmosphere they find themselves in.

Case Studies

To understand how the multiple streams framework applies to civil affairs operations, below are a few examples of its application. A few different types of conditions that CA may encounter are represented. It is important to note that the intent of the policy entrepreneur in each example may not live up to the values and ethics that American Civil Affairs are expected to uphold. The examples are, however, successful applications of the framework that produced effects on an enemy without actually fighting and present valuable lessons to learn.

Counter Insurgency: After World War II, the Philippines became an independent nation that had to figure out how various ethnic groups form a cohesive nation after a legacy of centuries of colonization. Creating a new nation is difficult, and not every member of a new country may be satisfied with the newly formed government. In the Philippines, the Hukbalahaps, a Marxist group of farmers from Luzon, were unsatisfied with the new Filipino government. The Hukbalahaps were a guerrilla group that fought the Japanese occupation in World War II and then fought the Filipino government in what is known as the Huk Rebellion.[x]

In 1950 the Filipino president requested then Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lansdale, a veteran of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Philippines, to assist in countering the rebellion. Lansdale's problem, within the policy stream, was straightforward; the Hukbalahaps were attacking the Filipino government and soldiers. To most observers, the obvious solution, or policies in the policy stream, would be to counterattack the Hukbalahaps. The political stream, however, was more complex than the problem or policy streams. Many Filipinos admired the Hukbalahaps because they saw them as targeting privileged elites and standing for the average citizen. Increasing violence against the Hukbalahaps could increase general resistance to the Filipino government. The political stream for Lansdale included the Filipino locals' general feelings and what was important to the Hukbalahaps. As farmers, the land was precious to them, and access to it was difficult when under pressure from government troops. The Hukbalahaps also had a motto meant to appeal to the average Filipino of “land for the landless.” Lansdale, the policy entrepreneur, recognized the window of opportunity and enacted a policy of resettling Hukbalahaps who defected onto farms up to twenty acres in size. The output was Huckbalahaps voluntarily surrendering in search of a new farm, taking themselves off the battlefield, and reducing the number of guerillas attacking the government.[xi]

Insurgency: The multiple streams framework can also be applied to the insurgents themselves. The Islamic State’s affiliate in Sahelian Africa, ISGS (The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara), had a problem in its early days of formation: it had to recruit members and supporters. In the early 2010s, Jihadism spread rapidly across West Africa following the toppling of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Instability in Libya enflamed ethnic tensions across the Sahel, causing local violent extremist groups to appear. A multitude of jihadist groups coopted these indigenous organizations triggering the formation of named terrorist groups.[xii] This included Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and ISGS.[xiii]

Amongst this crowded jihadist space, ISGS’s problem stream was how to recruit support, especially with the decline of IS main in Iraq and Syria. Their political stream was punctuated by ethnic tensions, particularly the violence between the Tuaregs and Fulani along the Niger-Mali border. Many of the Tuaregs were already affiliated with other groups, while the Fulani were a generally marginalized population across West Africa. ISGS, the entrepreneur, in this case, recognized the window of opportunity and filled their policy stream with promises of protection, Fulani youth engagement, and by marrying into Fulani families. The output was an increase in Fulani recruits to ISGS. So much so that the Fulani referred to ISGS as their "Saviors" and nicknamed their ISGS leadership as "Higo," friend in Fulfulde.[xiv]

Unconventional Warfare: When a state takes up activities to enable a resistance movement that coerces, disrupts, or overthrows a government in a denied area, they are conducting unconventional warfare (UW).[xv] UW typically entails the use of guerilla forces to conduct limited disruption attacks. In 2014, Russia successfully coerced and overthrew the local Crimean government with relatively little violence.

After the Euromaidan uprising, where Ukrainian demonstrations led to the resignation of pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych, Russia perceived a threat to their security. From the Russian perspective, Euromaidan was reminiscent of the color revolutions across the globe that Russian leaders believe are influenced by western governments. Russia's problem stream was that a successful color revolution in Ukraine could threaten Russian interests (in hindsight, as of the writing of this essay, a large-scale military operation in Ukraine would be a costly policy solution).[xvi]

In 2014 Russia instead examined its politics stream and how Russia and Ukraine have shared histories and ethnicities. Crimea, and all of Ukraine, have been under the control of Russia in some form in the past. Russia, the entrepreneur, saw an opportunity to choose a strategy in their policy stream that took advantage of their shared ties without having to launch an all-out invasion. Russian government officials encouraged pro-Russian politicians in Crimea’s Rada, the local legislative body, and pro-Russian political parties to hold a series of votes and referendums to change the Crimean government and eventually reunite with Russia. When a manufactured vote did not go Moscow's way they employed mysterious soldiers, later identified as Russian special operations, for intimidation. The output of this framework was that the pro-Russian politicians had internationally justified the annexation of Crimea into Russia with relatively little need for large-scale combat operations.[xvii]


The examples mentioned earlier are great for understanding how the multiple streams framework can be seen in different situations, but it is unlikely that those policy entrepreneurs consciously applied the framework to their operations. The framework can, however, be adapted by CA forces to the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). The framework must be adapted to the MDMP process, not an additional proprietary CA format. Unique CA analysis and planning frameworks that have been applied in the past were not understood by personnel outside of Civil Affairs as non-Civil Affairs personnel were not trained on those processes. However, MDMP and its big brother, the Joint Operations Planning Process (JOPP), are already universal languages across the joint force. The multiple streams framework nests well with the MDMP process because it already nests within policy analysis processes, such as the "Eightfold Path," which closely mirrors the seven steps in MDMP.[xviii]

Instead of using the multiple streams framework separately or clumsily shoehorning it into MDMP, the framework should be used as a guide for course of action (COA) development, analysis, and comparison. Specifically, the framework should be a guide when creating evaluation criteria. The first two steps in MDMP are receiving (Initiating planning in JOPP) and analyzing the mission that has been given. Steps three through six are COA development, COA Analysis, COA Comparison, and COA approval, with the final seventh step being orders production.[xix]

Figure 4 The seven steps of the Military Decision-Making Process[xx]

During COA development, a CA planner establishes evaluation criteria based on the commander's guidance to measure the effectiveness of draft courses of action against each other during COA analysis. The evaluation criteria are then plugged into a decision matrix that assigns a numerical value to the subjective criteria during COA comparison. The values for criteria are next added up during COA comparison for the various draft COAs. The final scores are used to recommend a final course of action during COA approval.[xxi] Once again, the framework continues to be applicable because the policies that the multiple streams framework would address in a non-military context are also evaluated with a similar outcomes matrix with assigned criteria.[xxii]

Figure 5 Example standard decision matrix.[xxiii]

The streams from the multiple streams framework are applied as the evaluation criteria. The entrepreneur is already established as the organization planning through the MDMP process (CA forces), and the desired outcome is already established through the mission, purpose, intent, and end state.

Figure 6 Example decision matrix incorporating the multiple streams framework.

The example decision matrix above conceptualizes the multiple streams framework as evaluation criteria. The criteria are subdivided based on the details of the mission but under the categories of the three streams before being scored.

Figure 7 Example multiple streams framework-based decision matrix with example courses of action based on the Huk Rebellion

Here is a simple decision matrix using fictional COAs that could have been applied to the example of the Huk Rebellion mentioned earlier. COA 1 represents the actual guerrilla farming resettlement program that was implemented. COA 2 is a military counterattack on the Hukbalahaps. COA 3 is an agricultural civil action program for the local population that is reminiscent of what a CA team may employ today. In this instance, criteria under the problem stream must reduce attacks on the Filipino government while strengthening a US ally in the Pacific. The politics stream's criteria must address land issues and the public's view on government elitism. While the solutions/policies stream must address what resources are available and the speed of implementation.

For simplicity, in this example, a higher score means that the COA is more favorable. It is also appropriate to score a decision matrix with a lower score determining a COA recommendation. As there are three COAs, they are scored one through three on how well they address each stream. Weights are applied to each stream based on a commander's guidance and multiplied by each score. In this example, the politics stream is given a weight of two, although the priority may change based on the situation.

Here COA 1 scored high in its ability to address the problem and politics streams but the lowest in solutions/policy streams because of its resource intensiveness. COA 2 scores the highest in the solutions/policy stream as the Filipino Army was already available and could be quickly employed. COA 2 scores a medium on the problem stream as it does not address long-term issues with the Hukbalahaps and scores the lowest in the political stream as there is a potential to negatively affect the local perceptions of the government. COA 3 scored in the middle on the politics stream, addressing the assigned criteria at least with a civilian population. COA 3 also scored in the middle on the solutions/policy stream, as resources are generally available for such a program. However, COA 3 scored the lowest in the problem stream as there are no guarantees that it will affect the guerillas. When the points are added up, COA 1 comes away with the high score and is the course of action that proved successful.

Reducing the multiple streams framework into a few criteria may seem to be a massive simplification of the concept, but the concept is intended to be simple and therefore adaptable to a broad range of situations. For the Civil Affairs Soldier or Marine, comprehending the overall concept of the framework ensures that they understand how governance decisions are made. Using the framework to set criteria creates a planning guide that ensures they choose appropriate courses of action to affect an enemy. Distilling the framework into criteria on a decision matrix guarantees that the reasoning behind a course of action can be explained to anyone across the joint force when conducting multi-domain operations (MDO).


Any serious student of policy formation would quickly point out that the application of the multiple streams framework and the policy analysis process presented in this writing does not line up precisely with how a professional bureaucrat or consultant would employ them. However, any service member that studies policy would be remiss not to notice the similarities between the military and civilian formal processes of solving a government problem. Often an operation starts with the good intentions of addressing civil considerations and accomplishing lofty strategic goals. The easy solution, for both CA and other forces, is to do what they have always done, whether or not it is the best path forward. Tactical competence must be aligned with operational and strategic goals.[xxiv] Civil Affairs are best employed as tactical elements to address operational and strategic objectives. Utilizing the civilian multiple streams framework within MDMP compels CA forces to focus on civilian and governance-based solutions that achieve those strategic objectives.

American Civil Affairs are far from the only ones looking to win without fighting. China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has coined the term "non-military war operations.” Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui of the PLA state that the concept of non-military war operations extend the understanding of war to every facet of the human experience.[xxv] This concept, coined in 1999, can be seen as the genesis for the gray zone operations, competition below the level of armed conflict, which punctuates the coming era of great power competition. The multiple streams framework is meant to be adaptable, as highlighted by the diversity in the examples mentioned previously. This will prove vital as Civil Affairs wades into the uncharted waters of winning without fighting in the gray zone, under the shadow of great power competition. As B. A. Friedman stated in his book On Tactics: "Overwhelming military success once was enough to bridge the gaps between tactics and policy…Military success alone is no longer enough…."[xxvi]

About the Author: Alan Goodman is a Civil Affairs Special Operations Governance Officer currently pursuing a Master's in Public Policy at American University in Washington, DC. Alan served in the 91st CA BN (SO) (A) and commanded Civil Military Support Elements in East and West Africa.

Disclaimer: The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.


[i] Srdja Popovic, Blueprint for Revolution (New York: Random House, 2015), 7. [ii] Nikolaos Zahariadis, “Multiple Streams Framework; Structure, Limitations, Prospects,” in Theories of the Policy Process (New York: Routledge, 2007), 71. [iii] Thomas Birkland, An Introduction to the Policy Process (New York: Routledge, 2016), 9. [iv] FM 3-57 Civil Affairs Operations (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2021), 1-1. [v] David L. Weimer and Aidan R. Vinning Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice sixth edition (New York: Routledge, 2017), 267-268. [vi] Einsiedel Jr., A. A. (1983). Decision-making and problem-solving skills: the rational versus the garbage can model of decision-making. Project Management Quarterly, 14(4), 52–57. [vii] Weimer, 267-268. [viii] Zahariadis, 71. [ix] Zahariadis, 71-74. [x] Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation), 104-117. [xi] Boot, 101-129. [xii] Mark Moyar, Countering Violence Extremism in Mali (MacDill AFB: Joint Special Operations University), 21-41. [xiii] Jason Warner, Ryan O’Farrell, Heni Nsaibia, and Ryan Cummings, the Islamic State in Africa; The Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront (New York: Oxford University Press), 26-27. [xiv] Warner, 182-183. [xv] Joint Publication 3-05, Special Operations (Washington DC: US Department of Defense, 2018), 11-9. [xvi] Kent DeBendictis, Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’ and the Annexation of Crimea: The Modern Application of Soviet Political Warfare (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022), 31-179. [xvii] DeBendictis, 31-179. [xviii] Eugene Bardach, Eric M. Patashnik A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving (Los Angeles: Sage, 2016), xvi. [xix] FM 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2018), 9-2. [xx] “About the Military Decision-making Process (MDMP),” the Lightning Press, 16 September 2022, [xxi] Joint operations Planning Process (JOPP) Workbook (Newport: Naval War College, 2013), 4-5 to 5-3. [xxii] Bardach, 41-63. [xxiii]FM 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, 9-40. [xxiv] Mick Ryan, War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Great Power Competition and Conflict (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2022), 151. [xxv] Qio Liang, Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare: Translated from the Original People’s Liberation Army Documents (Echo Point Books), 38. [xxvi] BA. Friedman On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017), 143.



Arthur Davido
Arthur Davido
Aug 06, 2023

Let's talk about, the true superheroes of academic writing! Seriously, these guys saved my sanity. I was buried under a mountain of research papers, and I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. But then I discovered this gem of a service. The writers at are wizards. They transformed my jumbled ideas into a well-structured and cohesive paper that got me top grades. The best part? The whole process was hassle-free. From placing the order to receiving the final paper, everything was seamless. If you're drowning in deadlines, give a shot. You won't regret it!


Ian T. Bennett
Ian T. Bennett
Dec 27, 2022

Excellent article, Sir. I love that you recognize that there is no perfect path to success in planning. Introducing the practitioner to the policy and politics aspect of problem-solving is nothing new, but giving them a name outside “facts and assumptions“ even provides a glimpse into Mission Analysis, not just COA DEV. What I took from your article is another tool for tactical and operational-level practitioners to analyze their operational environment, inform better decisions, and create more effective outcomes. Thanks for putting this out there, great read! - Ian

bottom of page