Socio-Cultural Modeling & Analysis at NPS

Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey is one of our government's educational jewels. Nestled in the beautiful landscape of the Monterey Peninsula, this institution brings togethers a diverse group of educators, researchers and student practitioners to promote a vigorous debate of the issues facing our national defense, and the advancement of solutions addressing these issues. Last week I had the pleasure of giving a couple of talks and participating in a panel discussion at NPS. Here is a quick rundown.

The first day, I was the invited speaker for a panel discussion on Socio-Cultural Modeling & Analysis. This panel discussion explored the problem of modeling and analysis to provide insights to decision makers on complex socio-cultural issues from the perspective of both social scientists and computational modelers. The panel discussion addressed the questions:

  • How does the inherent variability within humans impact the ability to draw insights from modeling and analysis?
  • What strategies can be used to address the challenges of modeling and analysis in the human domain?

My presentation sparked some interesting questions like how can we convince the Commander to help with data collection when the Commander sees no immediate return on the invested overhead. I suggested that DoD can replicate what consulting companies do: Put a resource who has no execution task other than recording knowledge in project executions. Panel discussion generated a lively debate between social vs. computational scientists. One of the computational scientists on the panel said that everyone wants to solve "easy to model" instead of "hard to model", which is what the decision maker is interested in. For instance, coloring the map of failing states using the Political Instability Task Force (PITF ) or our Predictive Societal Indicators of Radicalism (PSIR) models provides hardly any new insight to the General in charge.

Another criticism was the publishing delay in social science data sets (e.g. CIRI, MAR, Uppsala, etc.). For instance, human rights data set publishers wait for the State Department and Amnesty International to publish their annual reports for the previous year in spring this year. Then they take a couple of more months to code the reported incidents and publish. Such a delay does not exactly match DoD operations focusing on the current. I advocated the need for publishing real-time social science indicators that can be adjusted later like the government's GDP revisions six months later.

Social scientists on the panel stressed the importance of representing qualitative in addition to quantitative knowledge in these models. For instance, socio-cultural responses to color can be significant as the color red represents celebration in Chinese, purity in Indian and danger in Western cultures. This kind of knowledge is certainly relevant in SSTR operations. Dr. Guttieri cautioned against the public perception of manipulation using socio-cultural models citing Project Camelot.

It was nice to see the articulation of the healthy tension between the social and computational scientists in the audience. In closing, I advocated packaging of social science for tactical operations where warfighters are serving as or advising governors, town managers, mayors - jobs that they were not trained for.

The second day, I gave a brown bag seminar at the NPS Cebrowski Institute on our Semantic Wiki for Complex Operations project. This project aims to address the gaps in current solutions supporting COIN/SSTR operations:

  • Document-centric repositories makes seeking answers time and effort intensive
  • Disparate knowledge “silos” makes situational awareness hard for complex contingency operations requiring interagency cooperation

Semantic wikis enable community-powered structured knowledge production using semantic forms, faceted browsing of structured content, powering answer engines and linking different data sets. There was significant interest in using our semantic wiki for teaching as such an approach can significantly increase the amount of learned knowledge NPS students take to the field of practice, and provide an effective reach back capability from the field.

I visited TRAC-Monterey, which has a number of interesting projects. In particular, I found the Cultural Geography project interesting as an agent application. This project started as Urban Cultural Geography for Stability Operations. The Cultural Geography model employs issue based segmentation of the social network of leaders, followers using communication theory and weapons of influence concepts to predict the future based on population identity groups. The mind of the agent is a belief network that develops actions based on the beliefs, values, interests of the associated identity group. COIN IPB and Center of Gravity (COG) is the target result.

I also paid a visit to Defense Resources Management Institute (DRMI) at NPS. Here I found the Multi Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) course of particular interest as it relates to the SSTR Campaign Planner tool we are developing in our PSIR project. DRMI teaches the MCDM course as a 2-day, 2-week, 4-week and quarter formats to a wide audience from DoD, DHS, Emergency Response Teams. MCDM is widely used as a decision-aid tool for ranking decision alternatives. DRMI course emphasizes visualization of the decision space instead of ranking alternatives by scores. Such an approach enables the user to detect conflicting criteria, cluster alternatives, eliminate undesirable alternatives, and select the optimal alternative.