Holistic Thinking: Mapping Unknowns of the Human Domain

By Adam Scarisbrick




The best example of holistic thinking was given to me during a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) exercise. My mentor said to think of this from a SPECTRE mindset, “Imagine we are in dark water, and we know that there is a threat out there, but we can’t see it. We can see ripples in the water, we can see shadows move, and every now and then we get lashed from a tentacle seemingly coming out of nowhere. We map and analyze each attack, shadow, and ripple in the water. We layer these actions on top of what we have already mapped about the environment to anticipate where the head is moving and how we can stop it.” This analogy very closely represents complementary disciplines of Civil Information Management (CIM) and Human Network Analysis (HNA).

The CIM process drives the mapping of the operational environment (OE). HNA applies network engagement methodologies to illuminate how the human networks affect, or potentially could affect, the OE. The vehicle that drives these activities runs on the rails of civil reconnaissance (CR) and civil engagement (CE). When this machine is well fueled and maintained, it provides precise data that empowers commanders to make well-informed decisions. Therefore, Civil Affairs (CA) teams’ valuable reporting must be maintained and easily accessible to others.

Civil information lives in many domains. These domains include reporting and intel platforms, command summaries, consolidated SITREPS, DoS cables, network maps, running estimates, common operating pictures, storyboards, shared drives, portals, essays, and white papers. Some of these products actually feed strategic and operational plans. Since CA teams don’t always get feedback on their bulk reporting, a common sentiment exists that these reports don’t provide value to the force, which is simply not true. Each department concerned with civil information collected from CR (DIA, DoD, DoS, OGAs, USAID) has their own priorities and, as such, will take what they need and forgo giving credit to the originator of the content. When we look at our reporting as a contribution to the whole enterprise, our value is immeasurable.

When we are told to conduct Civil Affairs Operations (CAO), what we are truly tasked with is mapping the human domain in as many areas as possible to feed the larger information machine that will drive operations in the future. By 2035, multi-domain OEs will be more complex than any of us understand today, with variables so numerous it’s enough to overwhelm an army of data scientists, let alone an HNA section staffed with two 38Bs and one 38A. Despite this challenge, we have the opportunity to establish a baseline that shows us what normal looks like.

How do we ensure that this valuable data gets to a repository and is accessible in the future and, once we have the data, how do we use it to our advantage? I have seen our community agonize over these questions during my tenure in CA, and I have seen firsthand these issues’ prevalence grow. Civil Affairs teams can overcome these issues by implementing three solutions:

1. Follow a naming convention. Find your reporting Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). If you don’t have one, then seek one out from the greater CA community. “Improving” on existing naming conventions completely disrupts the data analytics on a reporting platform. Remember that we are an organization that has many types of learners. What makes sense to one Commander, Team Sergeant, Team Leader, or Civil Military Operations Cell Chief won’t necessarily make sense to the incoming personnel. Just because you don’t like the naming convention doesn’t mean that changing it will improve anything.

For example, if I wanted to find out how many “first responder” activities have been conducted in country X, at present I would have to go in to Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) and find all country X activities. I would then download them to excel, sift through to see what activities are “first responder” related, and open each individual report to verify if it was indeed “first responder”. Based on that list I would drill down to create a verified list of actual executed activities by CA teams, then map the 5w’s and begin the analysis.

Note: This process of one CA soldier looking at one activity over the span of five years in one country takes a minimum of two days. However, if a proper naming convention was used the search would be reduced to no more than ten minutes.

2. Train on Social Network Analysis (SNA). SNA models all data in the form of nodes and links, weights relationships, and enables analysts to determining how they affect the human network. This is going to be a critical skill of the future; civil affairs soldiers must master the process now.

3. Develop a Publicly Available Information (PAI) research plan for your team. If you don’t know where to get one, go to your HNA/CIM section. If they don’t have one, then search up the chain of command until you find it. The ability to use PAI in operational environments is imperative when conducting HNA. Gone are the days where we can blithely use Google with impunity. When you have the tools and training to conduct PAI research (Tier 0 or Tier 1) your team can effectively conduct targeted CR in the digital space.

These three practices ensure that our civil information is well organized, we can analyze the value of the data, and we can safely and effectively use the tools we have been trained and equipped with. The results will yield a CA force that is able to track and predict actions of friendly, enemy, and neutral networks within the human domain. The goal is to arm commanders with the civil information relevant to the OE that will empower them to make well-informed decisions. The way to execute is to master the basics of CIM, HNA, SNA, and PAI methodologies until our technology catches up and unifies our data.


About the Author


Adam Scarisbrick is a Civil Affairs NCO that has experience in the CENTCOM and PACOM AOR. He has served at the TSOC and JTF levels and currently serves at the 97th CA BN (SO) (A) HNA section. He can be found on LinkedIn.


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

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