Collaborative Geospatial Visualizations to Improve Sociocultural Understanding

Kierstead, M., and Koelle, D.

Presented at the 4th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) San Francisco, CA (July 2012)

To engage in successful information operations, commanders must have a comprehensive understanding of both the battlespace and the sociocultural context in which they operate. They are required to comprehend a variety of Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information (PMESII) factors on both a local scale within their Area of Operation (AO) and in a broader, regional context. Because real-world sociocultural systems do not adhere to the strict boundaries imposed by operational delineation of AOs, lack of coordination between leaders in adjacent AOs is one of the biggest challenges in information operations. The end result is “balkanization” of populations when there is not shared cross-cultural understanding between commanders.

Any solution to these problems must support collaboration across AOs and provide the ability to explore the complex relationships between PMESII data. To aid information operations commanders in these types of cultural reasoning and coordination, we have begun developing a collaborative, geospatial interface that allows leaders to improve their collective sociocultural understanding. A map is a universal medium that allows people to share their mental models of the real world. Maps are also well-suited to PMESII data because this data refers to populations that are themselves geospatially situated. When applying real-time visual filters, commanders will be able to both author and access annotations linked to specific geographic features, encoding and sharing their collective knowledge. Automatically suggested elements based on similar PMESII characteristics (e.g. demographic data, linked road networks) will also promote shared situation awareness between commanders and may additionally lead to new insights based on novel connections between PMESII factors. With the help of our interface, information operations commanders will be able to coordinate across AOs and cultures, while addressing diverse PMESII metrics. This interface is also applicable to cultural reasoning in other domains, such as international development, environmental security, and policy-making.

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