Adapting Social Science To Influence Operations Planners (…And Not The Other Way Around)

Thornton, W., Carlson, E., and Pfautz, J.

Proceedings of Human Social Culture Behavior (HSCB) Focus 2011, Chantilly, VA (February 2011)

Effective planning for influence operations requires that planners understand the information environment in which they operate. Comprehensive understanding includes identification of entities that comprise the environment—pertinent groups, arguments, media, and issues in play—as well as awareness of the social dynamics that influence the inter-relationships between these entities. However, understanding social dynamics poses a non-trivial challenge in real-world situations. The formal study of sociology and human behavior has produced theories that can provide insights into these social dynamics, but influence operations planners may lack experience in formal social and behavioral sciences. In our efforts under the Office for Naval Research (ONR) HSCB program, we have prototyped a toolkit that makes computational social science models accessible to all influence operations planners, without requiring formal education in, or explicit knowledge of, their inner workings. To accomplish this, we have developed causal models based on social science theories that capture the essential concepts of these theories, but that are sufficiently simplified that operational personnel with limited experience in modeling can apply them. In this paper, we discuss our adaptation of these theories, the planning needs they fulfill, and the tradeoffs required to make complex models suitable for operational use.

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