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Towards a Broader Definition and Understanding of the Human Dimension: Part 1
Michael L. Haxton
This is the first in a series of three articles that discuss analytics of the human dimension of conflict. Much is being written on the human dimension of conflict, but much of it is using differing versions of what is important. This first article focuses on defining the concepts for analyzing the human dimension of conflict. Next, there is a growing reliance on analytics to understand the world around us, but caution must be exercised when applying analytics, especially in complex environments, like the human dimension of conflict. The second article focuses on proposing a set of important principles for guiding analytics of the human dimension. Lastly, the human dimension involves are wide range of disparate types, formats, and sources of data. This involves significant and complex challenges for efforts to capture and organize it. The last article discusses the types and sources of data that must be accounted for in the human dimension.
Human Dimensions and Philosophical Differences
Much has been written and done on analyzing the human dimension of conflict, including socio-cultural analysis, human terrain analysis, human geography, getting left of the bang, etc. Analysts are debating many important issues using different terminology, different brands, and different flavors of the same basic concepts. We need to cut through these minor differences and get down to the specifics of what matters and what is needed to ensure US security in the present and evolving international environment. Humans matter. During conflict, after conflict, and before conflict, the behaviors, decisions, and thoughts of humans matter to our national security. To move beyond the debates about tastes and brands, we must define our terms and understand the value of applying well-formed, rigorous analytics to the problem, and more importantly, define the types of analytics that are needed.
What is analytics of the human dimension?
Analytics of the human dimension encompasses a wide range of analysis processes that are designed to find answers to pressing questions in the realm of socio-cultural behavior, relationships, and dynamics (i.e., the human dimension). For clarity and precision, let us first define the analytics portion of this concept, and then address the socio-cultural portion. Clearly defining both is essential to devising and implementing the right analytic methods.
Some Common Definitions of “Analytics:”
- Miriam Webster: “the method of logical analysis”
- Wikipedia: “the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data”
- Business Dictionary.com: “The field of data analysis”
At its most general, Analytics is simply “logical analysis,” but most definitions involve “data.” For our purposes, Analytics is logical analysis based on observation.
Many public and private organizations are extolling the virtues of Analytics to facilitate more efficient operations and better solutions to pressing problems. The key to Analytics is that analysis is based on observation or data. In analytics, observation serves as the basis for inference and for finding solutions to problems. This does not mean that analytics is, by definition, inductive; rather, analytics can be built either on finding and then interpreting patterns in data for general understanding (inductive) or on looking for specific patterns in the data that have been derived from general principles (deductive). In analytics, observation is the source of insight, leading to data when that observation is rigorously conducted and aspects of it recorded consistently according to a predefined process. How the observation is turned into data must be understood (to be discussed in more detail later), but rigorously turning observation into data is a must.
Other means of finding solutions exist, including expert judgment, red teaming, and various forms of abduction. These other means of finding solutions provide useful insights in some circumstances, and can even be superior to analytics at times. However, when there are valid means of getting observation and analytic techniques appropriate to the problem, few approaches can provide better or more enduring insights than analytics when properly implemented. The application of analytics to problems in the human dimension of conflict can be powerful—more later in this series on how to ensure it is done appropriately.
Now, let us address the human dimension: it is the range of non-military human behaviors and dynamics that impact military matters; it refers to the micro-level human behaviors, macro-level dynamics and all of the meso-level relationships that connect them. Socio-cultural data, intelligence, and analytics are all terms that are receiving elevated attention in the United States due to the long-running counter-insurgency efforts this country has been engaged in. LTG Michael Flynn, presently the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has written extensively on the need to understand the “human-socio context,” and in an article from 2012, he and his co-authors put the challenge succinctly,
“Simply stated, the lesson of the last decade is that failing to understand the human dimension of conflict is too costly in lives, resources, and political will for the Nation to bear (Flynn, Sisco, and Ellis, p.13).”
There are a number of distinct, but largely overlapping concepts that surround the human dimension of conflict. The difference between these concepts is relatively minor. They all focus attention on human behavior, dynamics, and influences.
- Human Terrain Analysis—“the social, ethnographic, cultural, economic, and political elements of the people among whom a force is operating.”[i] The focus here is on the human elements where “a force is operating.”
- Human Geography Analysis—the analysis of the “patterns and processes that have shaped human understanding, use, and alteration of Earth's surface.[ii] The focus is principally on how humans have shaped and been shaped by their physical environment. This has strong overlap with Human Terrain, but (1) Human Terrain is focused on overlap with US forces and (2) it is focused on more than just the interaction between people and physical space. As the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has implemented the term, human geography is much more closely tied to human terrain concepts.[iii]
- Sociocultural Analysis—the sum of all learned attitudes and behaviors that influence how a person thinks and behaves; it involves accounting for how individuals sit in relation to their environment and the behaviors of others, including social interaction, social relationships, and culture. This involves no direct, explicit link to geography and space, but clearly it plays a role and is important to capture.[iv]
We must recognize that the question is not which of these concepts matters in the Operational Environment; the point is that all of them matter. We need not distinguish between them as much as define the whole of the human dimension that does matter, ignoring the labels and artificial divisions.
What matters is the set of influences on human behavior and dynamics. By human behavior, we mean the individual level and aggregated behaviors of people, what decisions they make and actions they take. By human dynamics, we mean the sequences of behaviors and actions and their interactions among each other and the surrounding environment (both physical and social). In terms of national security, we care about what people do, who they support and oppose, how and why they support or oppose them, and to a lesser extent, how they individually manage the risks in which they and their families live. Behaviors and dynamics generally rise to the level of national security threats only when the people organize around a person or idea. However, the dynamics of large-scale, self-organized individual actions can lead to national security consequences (e.g., consider the Arab Spring Movement, the dynamics of runs on banks, among many other examples), and these dynamics must be accounted for as well.
Within the human dimension across each of the concepts above, the three levels of analysis, micro, meso, and macro, are relevant. The data and information we gather and develop will exist at each of these levels. At the micro level, we collect data about individual persons, groups, organizations, ideas, etc. Analytics at the micro level takes general principles and applies them to the specifics of the individual case to draw useful inferences, as in human factors analysis of specific leaders. At the meso level, we collect data about individual persons, groups, organizations, ideas, etc. and the relationships between them. Analytics at the meso level focuses on the structure of the relationships and individual things being connected, as in Input-Output modeling of an economy. At the macro level, we collect data to represent aggregations of people, groups, organizations, etc. Analytics at the macro level focuses on drawing inferences about these collections, as in models of political instability that rely on state or regional aggregations of data. Analytics at each of these levels helps answer distinct kinds of questions, and analysts of the human dimension must be able to master each of them.
Analytics of the Human Dimension
Geography is an essential element at each the above levels of analysis, but it is not universally relevant. We must keep in mind that many types of relationships matter in the human dimension, and often, they matter more than positions in geo-space. Thus, human geography and terrain concepts include critical pieces of the puzzle within the human dimension, but we must recognize that relevant influences in a particular place or area always include factors that are located elsewhere. The factors that make them relevant may only be discernible by understanding the non-physical connections, such as affinity or identity. Such relationships offer no meaningful shadows in physical space, and thereby must be accounted for wholly through other means. Analysis of the human dimension must account for both physical and non-physical factors wherever needed.
The array of influences on human behavior and dynamics includes the elements you see in the definitions of each of the terms above, the “social, ethnographic, cultural, economic, and political elements;” the “patterns and processes that have shaped human understanding;” and “how individuals sit in relation to their environment and the behaviors of others, including social interaction, social relationships, and culture.” How people use the environment, technology, infrastructure, institutions, and their social connections (i.e., networks or social capital) to achieve their goals and objectives, both individually and collectively, is the part of “everything that matters” that we care about here. All of these concepts are of critical significance for understanding the human dimension of conflict.
As analysts of the human dimension, we cannot fail to apply every tool and technique at our disposal to understand the human context in which the military operates and across all phases of conflict in which they operate, left and right of the bang. The proceeding articles in this series seek to guide the application of analytic tools for conducting analytics of the human dimension to ensure the rigor that is needed to understand the socio-cultural behavior and dynamics at a given place and time accurately, efficiently, and with sufficient fidelity to be useful to planners and operators. These words are easier to write than they are to implement, but this provides the context and objective for what we seek to accomplish. The proceeding section conveys crucial principles in implementing analytics of the human dimension of conflict.
Flynn, M. T., Sisco, J, and Ellis, D. C.,“’Left of Bang’: The Value of Sociocultural Analysis in Today’s Environment,” PRISM 3, No. 4, pp. 13-21.
Canna, S., ed.,“Operational Relevance of Behavioral & Social Science to DOD Missions,” with Preface by LTG Michael Flynn, produced by National Defense University, available at http://www.ndu.edu/press/lib/pdf/prism3-4/prism12-21_flynn-sisco-ellis.pdf.
“The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century,” by Jacob Kipp and Lester Grau. 2006. Military Review (September-October): 9.
“Joint Publication 2-01.3, Joint Information Preparation of the Environment.” June 2009, p. xi.
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, “Incorporating Human Geography into GEOINT: A Student Guide”, a training course for their analysts from September 12, 2011 and available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/113126238/NGA-Incorporating-Human-Geography-Into-GEOINT-NGA-College-12Sep11.
The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 8th Edition. James M. Rubenstein, 2004. Prentice Hall.
[i] See Kipp and Grau 2006.
[ii] See the College Board online description of the course on Human Geography, accessed on 8 April 2013 from website, http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/sub_humangeo.html. For texts that review Human Geography, see Rubenstein 2004.
[iii] To understand the way in which NGA has defined the concept of human geography, see “Incorporating Human Geography into GEOINT: A Student Guide.”
[iv] This is a fundamental part of psychology, one of the three levels of analysis or approaches to psychology commonly referred to, the other two being cognitive and biological.