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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary 1 Introduction Sociocultural data are of growing importance to the U.S. military. A variety of factors are behind this trend, including the increasing emphasis on accomplishing military missions and strategic objectives without using force, often through cooperation and collaboration. Thus in such theatres as Afghanistan or Iraq, the military’s traditional goal of defeating an armed enemy is expanding to include such missions as winning the goodwill of the local population. This in turn can be helped by insights and techniques from the study of human-systems integration (including critical issues for effectively processing data, training service personnel, and designing human-centered technologies) as well as from the behavioral and social sciences. Recognizing this, the U.S. military has in recent years supported a variety of programs devoted to understanding the influence of social and cultural factors on human behavior and, in particular, to the area of human, social, cultural, and behavioral modeling. At present, a large number of different modeling frameworks and approaches to the data are being used in this modeling, and none of them is widely accepted across the broad collection of people who develop and use these models. In 2009 the Office of Naval Research requested the National Research Council’s Committee on Human-Systems Integration, recently renamed the Board on Human-Systems Integration (BOHSI), to hold a workshop that would examine some of these issues. Overseen by BOHSI, the ad hoc Planning Committee on Unifying Social Frameworks selected the workshop’s presenters and commissioned paper authors from a wide
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary variety of disciplines, including anthropology; sociology; criminology; communications; modeling; and neural, cognitive, and social psychology. The Workshop on Unifying Social Frameworks: Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions, was held August 16-17, 2010, in Washington, DC. This publication is a summary and synthesis of the presentations and discussions that took place during that workshop. The importance of the issues discussed at this workshop is reflected in the breadth and depth of experience of the audience members who elected to attend the two-day event (see Appendix A for a complete list of participants). At the start of each day, the entire workshop audience (including planning committee members and presenters) was asked to introduce themselves by name and professional affiliation. The interdisciplinary expertise attracted to the workshop provided a unique opportunity for rich dialogue. Roughly half the audience consisted of practitioners and the other half of academic researchers. Practitioners were drawn from agencies across the government and the military and represented a spectrum of missions, from senior diplomats to tactical ground forces. They interpreted the workshop presentations on the basis of potential applications to long-term strategic national interests and immediate crisis needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, audience members from academia thoughtfully considered gaps between what research knows (and may know in the future) and what the military needs to be successful. The diversity of the audience at this workshop was a critical element in discussing sociocultural data from an interdisciplinary perspective, and its contributions are evident throughout this report. The statement of task for the workshop (see Box 1-1) defines three specific issues for the workshop to address: the types of data needed to provide a complete picture of the cultural terrain of a given region; the frameworks and databases in use by the military in analyses of sociocultural behavior; and methods and tools that can be used to aggregate sociocultural data from disparate sources into a meaningful whole. In addressing these different issues from different perspectives, the workshop speakers and discussants covered a wide range of topics, as is evident in the pages that follow, from which two broad themes emerged. TWO THEMES The first theme centers on data: its collection, its use in models, and questions about what exactly constitutes sociocultural data. Captain Dylan Schmorrow, acting director of the Human Performance, Training, and BioSystems Directorate, Research Directorate, Office of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering, Office of the Secretary of Defense, commenting from the workshop sponsor’s perspective, explicitly identified this as a
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary BOX 1-1 Planning Committee Statement of Task An ad hoc committee will plan and hold a public workshop focused on the methods and tools relevant to the subject of Unifying Social Data Frameworks. The workshop will feature invited presentations and discussions that will include an analysis of what sorts of data are needed to provide a comprehensive picture of a given region or country (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan) in order to provide cultural and diplomatic knowledge for Department of Defense personnel; an examination of current frameworks and databases used by ONR, while considering alternatives and additions which may prove to be more useful; and an analysis of methods and tools that may effectively combine disparate data sources into a meaningful whole (e.g., through data management and data mining). desired focus: “For me, a big thing I would like to take to my senior leadership is clarification in the understanding of what data are needed and valid innovative methods for getting it.” A number of speakers throughout the workshop touched on aspects of sociocultural data, and the most in-depth discussions came during the final workshop panel, when presenters grappled with a number of difficult epistemological and practical questions concerning sociocultural data and their relationship with sociocultural models. The second theme is concerned with the overall topic of the workshop, “unifying social frameworks” and, more broadly, the application of theory-based approaches from the behavioral and social sciences to broad military contexts. Captain Schmorrow referred to this in his comments when he described the array of sociocultural approaches being used across the Department of Defense, all with different data and different models, asking, “How do we begin to do something that will support everything from intelligence analysts, operations analysts, operational planners, war gamers, folks in the field?” Much of the research funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Human, Social, Culture, and Behavioral Modeling program, while tightly focused, seeks to enhance and provide innovative solutions in the broad scientific, modeling, and analytic domains. While narrowly focused projects can be and are quite valuable, he said, still, they strive for “commonality or something generally useful across domains, because I believe the benefits would be huge.” Several of the workshop presenters addressed this issue, either directly or indirectly, and they generally observed that attempts to create broad,
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary integrated approaches to social science issues or to base practical applications on such integrated theoretical foundations are not likely to be successful. Perhaps the most forceful proponent of this point of view was David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, whose presentation described a program that has dramatically cut the homicide rate in several American cities by targeting so-called core offenders. In the past, Kennedy said, it was common in the fields of criminology and criminal justice to believe that “there is something unifying that, if we get it right, it will tell us what to do.” People in those areas spent a great deal of time working on broad theories about the causes of crime and about who is likely to commit crimes, thinking that at some point those theories would point the way to successful programs for reducing crime rates. “That turned out to be a fruitless project,” he said. What has worked has been intense, tightly focused programs that draw on the experience and insights of front-line people. The programs are informed by existing social science and research in a broad variety of areas, but they are not derived from the research or from any broad theoretical understanding. Robert Rubinstein of Syracuse University offered a similar observation toward the end of his presentation on models of cooperative behavior in various cultures. Any efforts to find a general predictive model of the social and cultural elements of cooperative behavior that could be applied without reference to specific contextual factors would be a “fool’s errand,” he said, because it would generate technique without any validation against the real world. Mark Bevir of the University of California, Berkeley, approached the issue from a very different direction but ended up with a comparable take-away message. Discussing data and models from the perspective of the philosophy of the social sciences, Bevir argued that sociocultural data can best be thought of, not in terms of objective facts, such as are dealt with in the physical sciences, but rather as stories or narratives about the meanings that people attach to things or situations or actions. “Policy makers should expend a lot more of their time than they do exploring diverse stories about the data,” he said, “and they should see that these stories can be ways of seeing new aspects of a phenomenon in front of them. So instead of imagining that the data [will] provide them with a guarantee of a certain sort of knowledge which is going to inspire certain action, they should see these as useful stories from which they can learn and know that there’s going to be a gap between the stories and the action. They should use the stories as a way to entertain hypotheses and see new aspects in a way that, although you can’t formulate it in a straightforward scientific way, informs their decision making and action in a way that does enrich and improve it.” More generally, Captain Schmorrow indicated in his comments that, in addition to long-term research programs, the Department of Defense
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary is looking for sociocultural tools to make into capabilities that can be put to work quickly. “The challenge is that I don’t think we have tons of time,” he said. “I cannot emphasize enough how much the operational people want this information [sociocultural data and capabilities] and want to be able to make the right decisions. It falls on all of us to make sure that we do our best to provide them that type of data.” Furthermore, the techniques must be taught to soldiers as part of a training and education system that is subject to a variety of constraints (see Box 1-2). Viewed in terms of how quickly a technique or method could be put to work—or whether it could be put to work at all—the presentations BOX 1-2 Training and Education in the Armed Services As a late addition to the workshop agenda, Allison Abbe with the U.S. Army Research Institute, described the types of training and education provided to Army ground forces in the area of human social, cultural, and behavioral sciences. The basic distinction between training and education, she said, is that “training is for the known, education is for the unknown.” Much cultural training is offered in predeployment when a unit knows where it is going. The training tends to be culture-specific, and, Abbe said, much of it is not really training at all. “It’s more country orientation, to tell you the dos and don’ts of the place you’re going to be deploying to, help people learn a little bit of the language, some of the gestures that they should and should not use in that region.” With all of the other things that must be taken care of during the predeployment phase, cultural training has relatively low priority, she said, and 50 minutes is a typical amount of time that is devoted to it. Cultural education, in contrast, is provided at various times over the span of a military career and not simply during predeployment. It focuses on more in-depth information and understanding. Over the past couple of years, Abbe said, all of the services have been developing service-wide strategies for teaching cultures, languages, and regional information in order to prepare service members for the types of operations now being undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the services are trying to figure out the best way to deliver this sort of education, she said. Traditionally, much of the career development in the services has been offered through in-residence courses, with individuals being sent to the schoolhouse for a certain number of weeks. Now, however, a number of efforts are under way to develop approaches that do not require time in residence at a school. “Because culture is seen as an add-on and not a primary focus for most personnel, they’re trying to figure out if there are ways we can do this via distance learning, through knowledge management, knowledge sharing among personnel, and things like that,” Abbe said. For example, the Command and General Staff College has a program in which some people never go into residence but instead get a master’s degree entirely via distance learning while doing other things. One final distinction, Abbe said, is that much of Army training is offered at the level of the unit or team, whereas career development is focused on the individual learner.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary tended to fall into two categories. Some presenters, such as Kennedy and Hsinchun Chen, of the University of Arizona, described methods that have already had success in other fields (crime prevention and the identification of terrorists, respectively) and could presumably be adapted for use by the military in a relatively straightforward way. Other presenters, exemplified by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of the University of Michigan and Brant Burleson of Purdue University, offered details about various sociocultural phenomena and, in particular, described how attitudes and behaviors differ from culture to culture. These presentations, while providing insights that could be valuable to military personnel in cross-cultural contexts, were generally more focused on sociocultural theory and research rather than on tools that might be adapted to use in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq. As Catherine Tinsley of Georgetown University, a member of the work s hop planning committee, explained in her introductory remarks, the work shop was organized in terms of the various broad types of activities in which the military engages. In particular, she went on, “Given those key activities, what is the appropriate social and cultural knowledge that is needed to do those activities most effectively?” WORKSHOP AND REPORT ORGANIZATION The first panel focused on sociocultural knowledge and methods that can help the military succeed in conflict environments: combat, counter-insurgency, counterterrorism, and so on. The second panel looked at more cooperative relationships and what types of sociocultural knowledge are necessary for military personnel who are working cooperatively with people to make local populations feel safer, including such missions as postconflict operations, negotiations, and diplomacy. The third panel’s subject was nation building and the sociocultural awareness that is necessary for such missions as helping partners develop stability, security, and governmental functions. The fourth panel focused on persuasion and the sociocultural knowledge that may help make persuasive messages more effective in fostering social change. A fifth panel was devoted to the methods and tools that are needed to acquire and utilize sociocultural data and knowledge. This summary is structured to follow the same broad outline. The next chapter, Chapter 2, summarizes the workshop’s keynote address, which was delivered by Major General Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army, via a live telephone call from Afghanistan. MG Flynn described the current situation in Afghanistan and how sociocultural knowledge and methods are being applied by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The speech provides valuable context for the remainder of the workshop.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary Chapters 3 through 7 describe the presentations and the discussions that took place in Panels 1 through 5, and Chapter 8 revisits the broad themes of the workshop and several lessons learned as offered by the closing speaker, David Laitin of Stanford University. The purpose of this report is to document the key ideas that emerged during the two-day workshop presentations and discussions. The report is confined to the material presented by the workshop speakers and participants. Neither the workshop nor this summary is intended as a comprehensive review of what is known about the topic; although, it is a general reflection of currently available research and literature as discussed at the workshop. The presentations and discussions were limited by the time available for the workshop; see Appendix A for the workshop agenda and a list of participants. Some important subjects and areas of research were not covered in the workshop, and their omission from this report should not be interpreted as the planning committee’s assessment of their value one way or another, but only that time did not allow them to be presented or discussed at the workshop. This report was prepared by a rapporteur and does not represent findings or recommendations that can be attributed to the planning committee as a whole nor individual members. The workshop was not designed to generate consensus conclusions or recommendations but focused instead on the identification of ideas, themes, and considerations that may contribute to understanding the current full spectrum of military operations with a sociocultural perspective. The report summarizes views expressed by workshop participants, and the planning committee is responsible only for its overall quality and accuracy as a record of what transpired at the workshop.
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