A few weeks ago Theresa May talked directly about Russia’s attempts to undermine democracy in the UK. It does this by planting “fake news” in social media, as well as direct cyber attacks and influencing individuals. Yet I also heard a claim on BBC News that one government source said there was no evidence that such meddling had been successful in either the Brexit referendum or the 2017 UK general election.
Understanding success criteria is important for those of us who work on projects or programmes, or just work in an organisation that we want to succeed. So this claim of such meddling not yielding success struck me as odd.
Partly, that’s because it rather assumed the speaker had knowledge of Russia’s success criteria, which seems unlikely. But also because it assumed success criteria are binary, which they need not be. Russia could indeed choose a binary success criteria such as “We will only consider that we’ve won when there is a Russian flag flying on the Houses of Parliament”, but from what we know the information war from Moscow and St Petersburg is a long game about disruption. They seek to undermine people’s trust in our institutions (such as the EU), weaken the West, and therefore relatively strengthen Russia. Britain leaving the EU is therefore good for Russia, and the Russian information war will have made that more likely, rather than less, by some non-zero amount. They may or may not have changed which side got the majority vote, but the national divisions are real and lasting, and they helped that.
Like running a project or a business, it’s a matter of return on investment. Are we getting value from the money we put in? As long as Russia continues to fund its information war we can assume that, for them, the answer is Yes. They might like more division; they will also be happy with what they’ve achieved so far.
Meanwhile, what about the West countering successfully? Success measures run in many dimensions, and experts offer a number of suggestions. One of the simpler ones is to ensure we keep the issue alive. When it comes to increasing our chances of success everyone can help move the needle.