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Communication Behavior in Air Force

High problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) will exhibit higher levels of information seeking behavior than low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to Air Force religion guidelines.

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Organizations are consistently in a search for ways of interpreting, analyzing, classifying, and categorizing, among other things, the characteristics of their people (publics). This research has tapped in the merits of the Situational Theory of Publics propounded and developed by Professors James E. Grunig. The situational theory of Publics posits that publics can be explored and categorized in the conceptual precincts of the extent too; and the context in which they are conscious of the problem and the levels of efforts they will put in towards addressing the problem.

The theoretical framework outlines aspects relating to when and how the public communicates and the manner in which the communication processes targeted at the public are must be expected to be feasible and effective. This conceptual framework has been applied in this study on the explorations of the surmised relationship between identified air force personnel job roles (descriptions) and their communicative patterns. The explorations are done the conceptual and theoretical premise of the Situational Theory of publics variables of information seeking and problem recognition. The research thrust has enlisted the merits of both qualitative to add quantitative research model tenets in which air force employees are probed to draw a clear understanding of how committed they are to the variables of problem recognition and information seeking. The research questions are tailored to be strategically quantitative in order to get clear nuances on the communicative nuances of the personnel. The research also entails a qualitative thrust where-in data is gathered from the communicative traits related to personnel appraisals. All these will help to refute or support claims that High problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) will exhibit higher levels of information seeking behavior than low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to Air Force religion guidelines. The results of the study have indicated that organizations publics’ communication traits and patterns can be categorized in accordance with the ranks or job descriptions of the air force personnel.


The domains of communications and communication behaviors and patterns in organizations have developed be a complex domain. Responses and adaptation from the researchers and scholars have seen the surge of conceptual models and designs tailored to better explore the dynamics of the complexes of organizational communication behavior and patterns. The situational theory of Organisational Publics can be used to project communication performance and dynamics in line with the theoretical three independent variables which are problem recognition, constraint recognition as well as level of involvement. The theory was propounded and developed by Grunig (1878). The thrust of the research endeavor seeks to utilize the merits of this communication analysis conceptual and theoretical framework to validate or refute the hypothetical position that high problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) exhibit higher levels of information seeking behavior than the low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to recently released religion guidelines. High problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) will exhibit higher levels of information-seeking behavior than low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to Air Force religion guidelines. The study will make use of the theoretical framework dependent and independent variables to establish dominant communication behavior patterns. In conclusion, the study will culminate in t a discussion of the outcomes as well as chart a way forward for related future researches.

The US Air Force Directorate of Personnel recently released guidelines with regards to the conduct of air force personnel on the aspect of religious respect. The guidelines come after an extensive review at the U.S Air Force Academy showed that there is a need for complementary guidelines regarding religious respect among air force personnel. The study is thus premised in the outlined background. The thrust of the study is to explore the dynamics of the Air force personnel’s communicative traits. The study will leverage from the conceptual and theoretical tenets of the situational theory of publics in an attempt to classify the air force personnel in the categories of high problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) who exhibit higher levels of information seeking behavior than low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to Air Force religion guidelines.

Literature Review

This research exercise is not being conducted in a vacuum. The research exercise fits into a broad body of knowledge that has had numerous contributions from various scholars, researchers, professionals, and students who have carried similar or related research exercises. Also; the scope and objectives of this research endeavor occur within related and implied theoretical, ideological, and philosophical frameworks which largely influence the disciplines of business. As such the researcher is spurred to consider the other contributions relevant and related to this research endeavor. The researcher will present a literature review conducted in locating the object of this study within the broader confines of the bodies of knowledge in focus.

The aim of this paper, through selective reference to some of the major literature on the situational theory of publics, is to gain a clearer understanding of a major public relations theory and how it may apply to government strategic communications processes. The theory’s variables and several research studies applying its conditions are reviewed and discussed.

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This literature review is divided into four sections. In the first section, the situational theory of the public and its independent and dependent variables are defined. Next, three studies that applied the situational theory of publics’ variables are explained and discussed. The remainder of the paper is devoted to a consideration of applying the situational theory of publics to government public relations or communications and its need to understand problem recognition and the role media plays in the theory.

The situational theory of publics says that publics are identified and grouped based on how familiar they are with the issue and the extent to which they put forth effort about the problem (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). Developed from J. Dewey’s concept that active public forms when individuals recognize a problem and organize to solve the problem, situational publics are defined by three principal independent variables (Grunig & Hunt, 1984).

The first variable, problem recognition, denotes the extent to which individuals recognize a problem or issue and comprehend the need to do something to improve the situation (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). As referenced in this concept people do not stop to evaluate situations until they feel that there is a special need for situational improvement (Witte & Allen, 2000).

The second variable, constraint recognition, refers to whether or not the individual believes that he or she can do something to solve the problem (Grunig, 1997). Constraint recognition is the limit to which people see their behaviors as limited by various forces and factors that are out of their own control. Constraints have been described as psychological which could relate to an individual’s understanding of his inability to deliver a desired outcome for a situation (Witte & Allen, 2000). Other forms of constraints include physical which may include distance or inaccessibility of a needed tool to attain a goal.

Level of involvement, the third independent variable, measures the relevance of a problem to an individual (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). Pavlik (1988) suggested that involvement may increase or decrease the possibility of an individual to attend to or understand a message. Dervin (1989) added that a problem or given information may be attended to after the benefits or dangers they bring have “taken on some kind of personal reality or usefulness for the individual” (p. 68). And in order to create involvement, it is therefore necessary that issues and messages have clear or strong arguments (Heath, Liao, & Douglas, 1995).

The two dependent variables in this study are information seeking and information processing. Information seeking, also called “active communication behavior,” is defined as those communicating members of the publics who look for information and attempt to understand it when they get a hold of the information (Grunig, 1997). Thus, publics who search for information become aware publics more than publics who do not communicate or who only route information.

Information processing is the actions taken from the instant a message is sent and received up to the time actions are resolved. Information processing, is also known as “passive communication behavior” (Grunig, 1997). Inactive communicating members of a public will not seek for information, but they will frequently observe information that comes at random, that is, without any exertion on their part.

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Clarke and Kline (1974) suggested that information seeking is premeditated, “planned scanning of the environment for messages about a specified topic” (p. 233) but information processed is “unplanned discovery of a message, followed by continued processing of it, (p. 233). In addition, Clarke and Kline proposed that information seeking and processing behaviors lead individuals to use different communication media, a behavior of casual process that “often takes place randomly,” (p.240) through the use of news media sources such as radio, newspapers and television, and today the internet.

Three Studies of Situational Theory of Publics

Study one

In Major’s (1998) paper posing the need for public relations program to educate people who live in communities at risk, government officials and public affairs directors are urged to develop public communication programs for the purpose. In this instance, the situational theory provides as framework for examining three sets of variables in the risk-assessment process that have been found to influence public response to disaster warnings. It used the New Madrid 1990 earthquake prediction of Iben Browning, then called a “climatologist.” In all, 624 news stories came out after the prediction was announced in 1989 and after the predicted date which was December 2-3, 1990.

Major’s (1998) study found four publics in the situation: the problem-facing public think about the earthquake problem and believe they can do something to protect themselves from the earthquakes; the constrained public acknowledge the earthquake problem but they can see constraints in protecting themselves from the problem; the routine public ignore the problem although confident that they could protect themselves in the event of an earthquake; the fatalistic public report that they do not think about the problem and that they could not do anything to protect themselves in case of an earthquake.

Major (1998) acknowledged that situational theory explains not only communication behavior but also a number of cognitive variables in risk assessment process. The three sets of risk assessment variables are: believability of information and personalized risk both related to problem recognition; second is personal and social factors associated with high problem recognition; and third is societal-level constraint recognition that was closely related to personal constraint recognition. In conclusion, the study also pointed out that, “All too often communication programs rely predominantly on the news media to disseminate information about preparedness” (p. 503).

Study two

Grunig (1989) proposed that members of active publics who join activist groups help to create constraints on organizational autonomy that become major reasons for public relations problems and programs to solve them. His study focused on members of the Sierra Club designed to provide a link between two theories of public relations: a situational theory of publics and an organizational theory of the relationship between environments and the public relations behavior of organizations.

The situational theory was used to identify actively communicating publics who are most likely to develop organized cognitions about issues and to engage in behaviors related to those issues (Grunig, 1989). Grunig’s paper asked whether members of some publics with regards to all-issues, apathetic, single-issue, or involving-issue-only publics have the deeper propensity to join an activist group than members of other publics. It also probed on what incentives such as material, solidarity, purposive, or selective incentives, motivate members of active publics to become activists.

Results showed that members of the most active public, the all-issue public, are most likely to join an activist group as well as participate actively in that group (Grunig, 1989). Members of the active, all-issues public also join an activist group for purposive, political actions and policies.

Study three

In a study that applied the situational theory examining the extent of citizens’ recognition of bioterrorism as a social issue, their level of involvement with it, and how their perception affected communication and protective behaviors, Lee and Rodriguez (2007) found that problem recognition is positively related to information seeking and processing. Further, constraint recognition was negatively related to information seeking and processing, and that involvement was positively related to information seeking (Lee & Rodriguez, 2007). This is consistent with previous findings that people who recognize bioterrorism as a serious social problem or a high problem situation and perceive fewer obstacles that limit their ability to solve this problem are more likely to increase active information seeking and passive information processing (Lee & Rodriguez, 2007). Involvement also results to active information seeking instead of passive information processing.

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The study further noted the strong link between the publics’ communication behavior specifically the intensity of seeking information as well as the publics’ behavioral intentions before, during and after related terrorism attacks. The publics were more likely to assemble an emergency supply kit, develop a family communication plan, warn others about the dangers, keep water and food supply for emergency reasons, and contact government officers for assistance during bioterrorist attacks (Lee & Rodriguez, 2007).

Involvement with an issue can affect peoples’ susceptibility to social influence through mass communication persuasion, conformity pressures, suggestions as well as face-to-face discussion (Lee & Rodriguez, 2007). It suggested for the need to invest in public information to enhance peoples’ problem recognition and involvement with the issue and trigger more information seeking from audiences (Lee & Rodriguez, 2007).

The variables of situational theory of publics: problem recognition, constraint recognition, level of involvement, information seeking and information processing, are constant among all the studies presented here. Among the studies, there is also a constant presence of the use of media as a “message” conveyor or information channel. Clarke and Kline acknowledged the role of media as fundamental, while Major’s work provided a sweeping role of media as a main source and processor for information itself. Nevertheless, Major was able to identify three variables that provided a deeper understanding on information dissemination as well as reactions of the differing publics. However, it was Lee and Rodriguez who provided another link between the role of media and information officers with regards to information of problem or message that is needed for public comprehension, understanding and action.

Applying Situational Theory of Publics to Government Communication

In all, there is the necessity to address public processing of problem or information dissemination of problems. There is a need for governments and its policy-makers and officials to consider if not reconsider their planning and strategies when it comes to public information campaigns.

It is of note that information dissemination has evolved into another level of speed and variation with the introduction and proliferation of internet’s streaming media. Written, video and audio materials converge in one to onslaught the different kinds of global publics so that certain precautions and strategic intervention of countries’ governments are needed to both safeguard local security and individual rights, but at the same time, need to be proactive to promote the needed information they intend to be reached by their publics.

The situational theory of publics is dependent on proper and strategic communications processes. Communication ways and means have shown through the literature review its effect on different publics and how it could actually influence recognition, involvement, change and conviction. Governments and policy-makers need to be adept in understanding current media cultures in order to properly utilize communications and information means. While there is a need to control these means, a certain degree must be carefully evaluated and implemented which must consider its publics. Thus, there is also a need for recognizing limitations on the part of governments and officials as it implements public information guidelines and campaigns. From here, it can be recommended that governments and policy-makers should be at least a step-ahead of the public when it comes to problem recognition as well as dissemination of information concerning their publics. This is necessary to provide ample information and arouse public involvement where a problem may cause major issues or influence and effects.

This discussion has painted a clear picture of the benefits of using situational theory of publics in information campaigns. The theory states that publics are identified and grouped by how familiar they are with an issue and how involved they become in solving the problem. The paper highlights and defines the theory’s independent and dependent variables, and looks at studies that applied these variables. The variables – problem recognition, constraint recognition, level of involvement, information seeking and information processing – are constants in all the studies discussed. The situational theory of publics has proven to be a valuable theory is dissecting the communications from and for key publics.

The resource captures conceptual and theoretical aspects relating to the ways in which people communicate and when the communication is highly likely to accomplish desired effect. The resource outlines the ways in which the situational theory can be used to project communication performance in line with theoretical three independent variables which are problem recognition, constraint recognition as well as the level of involvement. The resource also entails the further development of the theory by the propagators of the theory Grunig (1978) and the contributors Repper et al (1992). The source captures that the three outlined variables of the situational theory of the publics predictor variables were illuminated after the September 11 attacks in the US. According to the scholar the theory then provided a feasible basis for researches into the reaction of the tourism industry following the terrorists attack. Grunig’s core theoretical perspectives entailed in the resource hold that problem recognition is the level to which people get conscious of the ways in which issue and events are a problems. From another perspective constraint recognition is outlined by Grunig as the degree to which people regard their behaviors as restricted by impediments beyond their capabilities. The third aspect which is the level of involvement deals with the ways in which a problematic issue is particularly and personally relevant and pertinent to individuals.

The other resources consulted on the theoretical framework entail three variables as the independent variables in situations theory of publics models. Krugman, H.E. Hartley, E.L. (1970) have outlined the two categories of the dependence variables of the situational theory of publics. The first aspect in the dependent variables category is the information seeking aspect which relates to the ways in which active individuals of publics seek information in an attempt to interpret it and make use of it. The scholars outline that publics members who search for information become the conscious individuals than reluctant members who do not communicate but only process received information. According to the scholars, information seeking can be termed “active communication behavior”. The second dependent variable outlined by the scholars is the information Processing variable.

This category can also be termed “passive communication behavior”. This dimension can be applied to individuals within public’s paradigm who do not seek information. The members’ activity is limited to processing information that comes to them randomly. As such these passive communicators apply no significant efforts on the aspect of obtaining information.

Limitations of Literature review

The research exercise has endeavored to solicit as much detail as possible under the scope and objectives defined and implied in the thesis statement. Nonetheless the research exercise has not been in any way exhaustive and the researcher herein acknowledges the limitations of the research exercise owing to it’s encompass and goals among a host of other factors. The focus of the research, and as such the literature review, is thus limited to the time-frame, conceptual scope and objectives defined and implied in the thesis statement.

Research ideology and methodology

To meaningfully frame the ideological, theoretical and conceptual platform for the research into it is imperative to consider the employ various research models that will enable the researcher to bring a considerable proportion amount of research detail into perspective. The research thrust will adopt the two salient research theoretical frameworks, the positivist and non-positivist research paradigms. (Barker E: 2003) contends that the positivist theory entails the economic, behavioral, cognitive, motivational/trait/attitudinal, and situational viewpoints. According to the scholar the viewpoints are treated as the conventional perceptions as they came before the crafting of the non-positivist model.

In the views of the scholar, the positivist model which is still the principal framework reinforces the superiority of human reason and stresses that there is one objective reality which can be unearthed by scientific means. As such this design renders the world as an ordered and coherent environment with a well defined past, present and future. The tenets of the theory are clearly underpinned on the suppositions of rationalism.

On the other end the contrasting non-positivist model holds the interpretive and post-modern viewpoints. Tenets of this model entail that the world be view as s composite social and cultural world contrary to the viewpoints of the positivist paradigm which hold the world in a rationality view that supposes a homogenous social fabric.

Leveraging on the theoretical and principal tenets of largely, the non-positivist research theory, this research exercise will provide new perspectives, findings and insights that will assist in the exploration of the dynamics the communication patterns of the air force personnel.

This is based on the supposition that high problem recognition publics (Air Force officers) exhibit higher levels of information seeking behavior than low problem recognition publics (enlisted airmen) with regards to Air Force religion guidelines. The research exercise will not be exclusive to any research thrust and will thus employ various research tenets where deemed relevant to gather and collate data germane to arriving at meaningful positions on the research matter and subjects under probe.

Quantitative Analysis versus Qualitative Analysis

James Neil outlines, “Qualitative research entails the analysis of data such words, pictures or objects gathered in the research drive. The gathered elements are evaluated in subjective and relative manner toward the making of conclusion and recommendations in tandem with research scope and objectives. On the other end quantitative research involves a scientific evaluation of numerical data.” The research thrust will leverage predominantly on the quantitative model of data gathering and analysis.

Research model rationale

The design of this study has been modeled in the frame of quantitative research as outlined above the research thrust can not be limited to the quantitative research thrust as the scope and objectives of the research require that a broad approach be applied to effectively zero in on the patterns perceivable in the air force communication patterns.

Dependent variables

In the category of dependent variables Grunig has outlined that information seeking which has also been termed “active communication behavior” is attached to the way in which publics members search for information and go on to attempt meaningful interpretations of obtained information. This category of the publics becomes the aware lot compared to the inactive members that do not make efforts to obtain information and only go as far as processing the information they receive randomly.

Independent variables

Propagators of the situational theory of publics contend that problem recognition related to the degree to which individuals identify a problem that faces them. (Grunig & Hunt, 1984) have expressed that, “Human beings do not cease to think unless they understand something that can be done to for the betterment of a particular situation”

The dependent and independent variables become handy conceptual frameworks elements to be used in the exploration of the communicative patterns and dynamics of the air force personnel.

The independent variables enlisted in this study entail the problem recognition dynamic. The following five-point Likert scale (demonstrated in the diagram below) questions were used to obtain nuances regards the air force personnel inclines towards the aspect for problem recognition.

Picture one

  • Have you experienced any problems in the aspect of religious respect in your interaction with other personnel?
  • What problems do you anticipate to be alleviated by newly released air force religion guidelines?

The second independent variable drawn from the Grunig theory is the Information Seeking dynamic. To obtain data for their variable the research ahs made use of quantitative yes/no typical answer questions to establish if target research respondents are seekers of information or not. Below are the Questions made that have been used.

  • Have you taken steps to obtain information with the recently released Air force religion guidelines?
  • If the answer to the first question is yes; do you take steps to act on the obtained information?


The subjects and participants of this study are the employees of the US Air Force. The study will use the insights and facts gathered from air force personnel responses to the presented research question to establish the patterns perceived to exist with regards to the workers communication characteristics and performances upon the aspect of the supposed differences between the commutation traits and tendencies of the organisation’s publics; the air force officers and the enlisted airmen.


A bulk of material used in this study is made up of the complaints log of religious respect related problems among the US Air Force personnel.

The material used in this study also constitutes personnel appraisals of the air force personnel by management. The appraisal have provided handy data on detailing the manner in which the personnel communicative traits come up as the employees function and operate I various facts of the organisation. This has enabled to study to trace workers’ communication patterns and a characteristics.

Design and procedure / data treatment

The design and procedure thrust of the research entails the evaluation and of individual air force personal commitment levels towards obtaining information and enlightenment of the released religious respect guidelines. With support of the qualitative thrust the study has managed to quantify and classify results in tandem with the communicative performance in the conceptual precincts of the research scope variables.

The research exercise also involved the collection of quantitative data on an identified air force’s employee’s problem-solving related communicative traits related appraisals. The study made use of 190 such appraisals and also entailed an evaluation of qualitative data made available on the employees’ communicative abilities and also in relation to their tendency towards the information seeking aspect.


The outcomes of the evaluation of the results both qualitative and quantitative have indicated that Situational theory of publics is well applicable in the identification of communicative behaviors of organisation publics. The applications of the theory enabled the classification air force employees as either the ‘aware’ or the “passive’. In response to the core research questions and hypothesis it can be mentioned that the research outcomes indicate that the majority of air force officers are high problem recognition publics. A majority of these indicated that had taken step to obtain information and enlightenment of the newly released guidelines on religious respect. These showed higher levels of information seeking behavior than the enlisted airmen who indicated nominal levels in the aspect to recognizing exist and potential problems. The qualitative thrust also shows that the “aware” lot by extension take preemptive measures to curtail looming problems related to religious respect I the workplace.


Results obtained from the evaluation of research data have prompted the presentation of the following as discussion focus areas in light of the implications of the research outcomes. As Buchanan, R. et al (1990) note, “It is wise that service providers clairvoyantly improve their client-oriented service practices and avert imminent activism and protests emanating from the ever evolving environment which is becoming more dynamic owing to factors such as globalisation and stiffening of competition in various industries”.

The other area of discussion pertains to the importance of getting publics members’ to be active information seekers as this is perceived to galvanize them to be cognizant of existent and potential problems. This will embolden their sensitivity to the crucial aspect of problem recognition and potentially problem resolution. These are crucial aspects for the improvement of clientele service in order to meet customer satisfaction goals and gain the desired merits of customer retention resultantly.

Research Limitations

The research has been limited in its thrust at exploring the communicative patterns of air force personnel. The presentation of results also implies that the communicative patterns of the air force offices and those of the enlisted air men are different. This is not entirely true. Whilst the research is being conducted in commitment to the ideals of objectivity and authenticity, the concepts and ideas used and developed in the course of the study are by no means exhaustive nor are they sacrosanct in any way.

The research endeavor may not accomplish the desirable and ideal zero incidences of ambiguity. The research is also prone to suffering the blow of some perceivable logic leaps much attributable to the novel approach towards fulfilling the scope and objectives of the study as well as supporting or refuting the hypothetical research notions. On another dimension the ideas presented in this study must be construed and used in the full cognisance of the tacit and underlying assumptions for instance the assumption that personnel communicative patterns can be categorised orderly according to the personnel job descriptions.


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