Small Wars Journal

Qualitative Analysis Concept in Support of Force 2025 and Beyond (F2025B) Maneuvers

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 11:18am

Qualitative Analysis Concept in Support of Force 2025 and Beyond (F2025B) Maneuvers

John Hoven and Joel Lawton

The use of qualitative analysis within the Army intelligence community can help remedy certain capability gaps in obtaining locally nuanced information. Reliance on quantitative driven surveys and methods such as PMESII-PT (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, Information, Physical Environment, and Time) and ASCOPE (Area, Structures, Capabilities, Organizations, People, and Events) questionnaires for understanding tactical information works largely from a hypothesis-driven approach which can ignore pertinent information (e.g., unknown-unknowns). Army Learning Concepts and their associated Army Warfighting Challenges (AWfC), used to analyze future requirements, present an opportunity to test a new approach for developing localized “situational understanding” (an objective of the AWfC framework). This paper will explore how qualitative analysis can be used within the AWfC concept framework to support situational understanding leading to actionable intelligence.

Army Campaign of Learning

Each year the U.S. Army conducts a Campaign of Learning to help model Army concepts that may lead to capabilities or support acquisition efforts corresponding to a projected strategic environment (SE), operational environments (OE), and subordinate areas of responsibility (AOR). Learning Campaigns include “studies, science and technology, seminars, wargames, experiments, and live exercises.”[i]US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-8-2, the Army’s overarching guide to 2015’s campaign objectives states that its purpose is to describe "an Army learning model that meets the All-Volunteer Army’s need to develop adaptive, thinking Soldiers and leaders capable of meeting the challenges of operational adaptability in an era of persistent conflict.”[ii] Learning Concepts are largely derived from definitions of the SE by national or service specific documents that may include: The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, The US Army’s Operating Concept Win in a Complex World, and US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s (TRADOC) Operational Environments to 2028: The Strategic Environment for Unified Land Operations.

During successive learning campaigns, the Army identifies broad functional areas needed to maintain a decisive advantage in the future SE. These functional areas are supported and defined by AWfCs and are given a proponent Army Center of Excellence or directorate to advance the development of concepts or capabilities based on their respective mission or utility. AWfCs are identified gaps in current Army capabilities that must be addressed to improve chances of success in future conflict.  The current AWfCs are modeled to support the generating and operational force of 2025 and beyond (or F2025B). The 2015-2016 AWfCs that the Army is using to develop concepts include some 20 “first-order problem” areas[iii]:  Develop Situational Understanding; Shape the Security Environment; Provide Security Force Assistance; Adapt the Institutional Army; Counter WMD; Homeland Operations; Conduct Space and Cyber Electromagnetic Operations and Maintain Communications; Enhance Training; Improve Soldier, Leader, and Team Performance; Develop Agile and Adaptive Leaders; Conduct Air-Ground Reconnaissance; Conduct Entry Operations; Conduct Wide Area Security; Ensure Interoperability and Operate in a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational Environment; Conduct Combined Arms Maneuver; Set the Theater, Sustain Operations, and Maintain Freedom of Movement; Integrate Fires; Deliver Fires; Exercise Mission Command, and Develop Capable Formations.[iv]

The use of qualitative analysis within the Army intelligence community may fit several of the ascribed AWfCs. The first AWfC, Develop Situational Understanding, however seems best suited to benefit from the methods and implicit value of qualitative analysis. Qualitative methods certainly have application throughout all military command echelons, but the relevance of its uses is especially striking for gaining tactical (i.e., battalion and below operations) “situational understanding.”

Tactical Qualitative Analysis support to AWfC #1

Warfighting Challenge #1 seeks to develop concepts to mitigate the operational gap of: “How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.”[v] AWfC #1 is assigned to the Intelligence Center of Excellence (ICoE) as the “lead” proponent and Special Operations Center of Excellence (SOCoE) and the Army Capabilities Integration Center’s (ARCIC) Human Dimension (HD) Task Force as “support” to develop learning demands (i.e., essentials used to define and develop the AWfC) or concepts that can mitigate the gap identified.[vi] The employment of qualitative analysis for use in the tactical environment can be nested within AWfC’s requirement itself: “Develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding.” The unique advantage to qualitative methods is its ability to overcome shortfalls in understanding complex environments through causal inference in one-of-a-kind situations (sample size of one) and discovering answers to questions we are too clueless to ask.

The ability of the Soldier to garner sensitive, locally-nuanced, and actionable information will hinge on the ability to adapt to ever changing environmental and social variables. The use of rigid questionnaires, structured interviews, and the impractical employment of probability sampling in an austere environment largely does not provide accurate or actionable information.

Many factors that military leaders need to address can only be understood by seeking “more depth but on a narrower range of issues than people do in normal conversations.”[vii] Quantitative methods aided through the use of computer processing can analyze massive amounts of data, but key factors are often unmeasurable. Current frameworks used by the Joint community, such as PMESII-PT and ASCOPE variables, to define the operational environment have value, but largely work from a deductive approach. Inductive reasoning as well as abductive reasoning (i.e., causal inference leading to a hypothesis) allow the collector or analyst to “think about observations, methods, and theories that nurtures theory formation without locking it into predefined conceptual boxes.”[viii]

Qualitative methods can support current frameworks, like those mentioned above, but gleam new insights and a deeper understanding of factors that influence people or affect stability. In order to accomplish this, intelligence specialists and those immersed in a tactical environment must be able to engage populations through conversation and develop follow-up questions that probe at new and undiscovered topics. Instead of asking questions from a preformatted list, Soldiers will be encouraged to ask questions on the spot based on their personal experiences, knowledge of the area, non-verbal cues, and environmental and circumstantial evidence. Rather than having a hypothesis and testing it through deductive methods, Soldiers would be encouraged to discover issues and topics without adhering to formatted or standardized question sets. This is not to say that Soldiers will be expected to completely engage people impromptu, but will be expected to go beyond simply adhering to the narrative of their questions. Current information sources such as PMESII-PT can help the collector with starter questions, but the collector will have the flexibility and means to branch out from basic fact-finding questions to discover new information.

In contrast, Army Field Manual, Soldier Surveillance and Reconnaissance: Fundamentals of Tactical Information Collection, states, "Ask only basic questions as described in this section."[ix] This severely impairs Soldiers’ ability to examine and discover locally nuanced information, as the manual intends: "Interaction with the local populace enables Soldiers to obtain information of immediate value through conversation."[x] A more effective way would be for interviews, conducted by Soldiers, to use probing and follow-up questions, and then reassess. After an initial reassessment of information collected during the opening round of questioning, new themes may emerge leading to follow-on questions to make causal inferences between the interviewee and a topic of interest. Ergo, "This is what we've learned, this is what we need to learn next, talk to these kinds of people, here are some starter questions to steer the conversation in the right direction." These methods allow for the collection of richly detailed, context-specific information rather than database variables, and collection and analysis work hand in hand rather than as separate endeavors.

Qualitative analysis uniquely supports collection efforts where a problem set may be ill-defined or little is known about an AOR. Qualitative analysis starts with unknown-unknowns, where there is no hypothesis to test. In contrast, most intelligence collection starts with a full set of alternative competing hypotheses. Starting with a hypothesis can be exemplified with collection efforts related to priority information requirements (PIR). Commanders will establish PIRs as a way to “identify a specific fact, event, activity (or absence thereof) which can be collected.”[xi] PIRs support understood problem sets and help to identify, articulate, or validate our perceptions or concepts of the OE. Alternatively, qualitative analysis, using abductive reasoning, expects the unexpected (unknown-unknowns). Thus, if a problem set is not understood or poorly defined, the goal of qualitative analysis is to describe the problem or present enough information that makes the problem set a known-unknown (where a hypothesis can be tested). Qualitative analysis does not usually articulate hypotheses at the start of a collection effort, when so little is known. As when our understanding is so frail, one interview is enough (sample size of one) to find what we are looking at (i.e., the initial problem set) may be wrong. Progressively elaborating on initial question sets, refining your topics, and asking casually related follow-on questions discovers answers to questions we are too clueless to ask.

Moreover, the initial use of qualitative analysis to discover new and locally nuanced information can be conducted rapidly. This is the case because qualitative analysis does not require tedious probability sampling techniques which aggregates into statistically significant findings. Also, the use of probability sampling techniques prove inadequate for conflict zones. For example an UNICEF report, “Rapid Assessment Sampling in Emergency Situations,” notes:

Uncertainty over population figures and demographic information constitutes one of the main barriers to conducting accurate assessments. Standard approaches to data collection particularly with regard to sampling are typically not well adapted to volatile settings, and data collection in a humanitarian response can often lack technical credibility and statistical robustness.[xii]     

Given even permissive circumstances, quantitative assessments cannot be conducted expeditiously. Fast learning happens when the cycle time between evidence-gathering and analysis is very short – even zero, when we ask a follow-up question. Qualitative analysis is further codified as a rapid technique to information collection as it does not require probability-based sampling techniques.

The core strategy of qualitative analysis is rapid-fire experimentation before, during, and after taking action: collect information, formulate hypotheses, collect confirming and disconfirming evidence, formulate new hypotheses, and so on: Constantly Collect-Analyze-Act-Assess. Qualitative analysis is not simply analysis of qualitative data. The role of qualitative analysis for actionable intelligence is to collect and analyze richly contextual data in a specific, poorly understood context, to understand quickly how and why relevant actors, actions, and relationships generate cause and effect.

Implementing Qualitative Analysis as a Concept

Improving situational awareness for future forces will require a whole-of-Army approach. Concepts will have to be developed to approach both operational (e.g., combat ready) and generating forces (e.g., training and developing) throughout the Joint Phasing model. The employment of qualitative analysis at the tactical level will improve upon general understanding of the AOR and will help the first users to derive locally nuanced information that will be the foundation for planning where Army forces are deployed and have to interact with local or indigenous populations.

Current efforts to promulgate concepts to enhance situational awareness for improving lower command echelons’ situational awareness are being discussed within Headquarter (HQ) TRADOC, Fort Eustis and within the capability and concept development communities. The ICoE, SOCoE, and HD Task Force collaborate continuously to develop AWfC #1 and often seek academic and private sector input. The action officers at each of these organizations are likely candidates to present this topic to AWfC working groups as a potential solution. However, given the scope of the HD Task Force’s mission within ARCIC, and their location at HQ TRADOC, they are most optimal change agents. The HD Task Force serves to provide concepts and solutions to the Army that “assist in the synchronization and integration of personnel-related policies, with ‘training and education, science and technology (S&T), medical and social science efforts’ as mechanisms for providing the Army with a “dynamic competitive advantage’ in current and future [volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous] environments.[xiii] Using their mission and proximity to general officer staff at within HQ TRADOC, the HD Task Force may be able to publicize concepts and capabilities supported by qualitative analysis. 

For more information on how qualitative methods and analysis can support tactical intelligence operations and inform situational awareness, please see capstone paper: John Hoven and Joel Lawton. "Locally Nuanced Actionable Intelligence: Operational Qualitative Analysis for a Volatile World." (Forthcoming, American Intelligence Journal


The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors, and do not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Army, or TRADOC.

End Notes

[i] US Army. TODAY'S FOCUS: 2013 Army Campaign of Learning. September 21, 2012.

[ii] US Army. "The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015." TRADOC Pam 525-8-2. 2011, 5.

[iii] US Army. Army Warfighting Challenges. Information Paper, ARCIC, TRADOC, 2015, 1.

[iv] US Army. Army Warfighting Challenges. Information Paper, ARCIC, TRADOC, 2015, 5-6.

[v] US Army. Army Warfighting Challenges. Information Paper, ARCIC, TRADOC, 2015, 5.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Rubin, Herbert J. and Irene S. Rubin. Qualitative interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data. 2012, 3e.

[viii] Tavory, Iddo. Abductive Analysis: Theorizing Qualitative Research. 2015. (accessed 02 22, 2015).

[ix] Army FM 2-91.6 Headquarters, Department of the Army. Soldier Surveillance and Reconnaissance: Fundamentals of Tactical Information Collection. 2007, 1-16.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Spinuzzi, MAJ Marc A. “CCIR for Complex and Uncertain Environments.” 05 January 2007.

[xii] United Nations. “Rapid Assessment Sampling in Emergency Situations.” United Nations Chilrens Relief Fund, Asia-Pacific Shared Services Centre, 2010, 2.

[xiii] Nabi, Farzana PhD. "Culture of Learning, Innovation & the Human Dimension." Information Paper, ARCIC Human Dimension Task Force, 2014, 2.


About the Author(s)

John Hoven <> ( is an innovation broker between those who do qualitative analysis and those who need its capabilities for operations and assessment. He recently completed a 40-year stint analyzing complex, dynamic relationships in merger investigations, as a qualitative microeconomist in the U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division. Dr. Hoven earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, an M.S. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a B.A. in mathematics and physics from the University of Montana at Missoula.

Joel Lawton <> ( is a former member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). His work with HTS included working in the U.S. and two tours to Afghanistan, where he conducted socio-cultural research management, collection, and support; as well as open-source intelligence analysis and qualitative data collection and analysis. Joel served in the USMC, deploying to southern Helmand Province in 2009 in support of combat operations. Further, Joel is an advocate of qualitative analysis and its use in military intelligence collection efforts. He currently works as an intelligence analyst for the Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).



Thu, 07/16/2015 - 2:35pm

In reply to by SWJED

I apologize, noticed it after your reply. Thanks Dave.


Thu, 07/16/2015 - 1:40pm

In reply to by joel.b.lawton

Joel - The disclaimer is in there - just above End Notes - Dave


Wed, 07/15/2015 - 10:27am

I have to put this disclaimer since this was published independently:

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors, and do not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Army, or TRADOC.