Conducttr Blog

“Human terrain” is a term used to refer to the social and cultural aspects of an environment. When we’re building a simulation, how do we create a rich storyworld replete with information about the society we’re joining?

Before I answer that question, we should first ask if we even need to bother. The answer is it depends on the training audience and the training objective. To what extent are society and culture important to this crisis exercise? This article assumes they’re very important but of course that’s not going to be true in many cases.

There are two questions to answer when deciding to simulating the human terrain:

  • What information should we include?
  • How do we represent that information?

Deciding What to Include

Trying to reproduce the whole world in a simulation is like trying to boil the ocean to make a cup of tea. We need to start with the training objectives and view the world through this narrow lens. The diagram below shows the relative volume of data we need to provide to the training audience.Regarding the types of information, I’ve written before about creating storyworlds and most story bibles will include details from law to lore (and tend to feel like ocean boiling tasks) but in producing a crisis simulation we need to zero in on what’s important. Here the PMESII/ASCOPE framework can come in handy.

The image below is lifted from an old MoD document (which you can find here) and I’ve used shading to indicate the relative information coverage for each area. Areas that are all white won’t be covered at all.

However, before diving into the PMESII/ASCOPE level of detail, the diagram below can be used as a good way summarize what’s important in this crisis simulation exercise and also a guide to what research might need to be done. The text in the quadrants are examples and these could change depending on the training goals.

Finally, for Part 1 of this multi-part topic, we should look at how history, plans, proposals, and expectations affect our representation of the human terrain because these give rise to different perspectives from different factions of the population. The image below identifies events past and present and how these might be perceived by the simulated society in our exercise.

Note that the present is in the center of the diagram with the past receding left and the future approaching on the right. In the future might be plan to build a bridge or erect a monument or launch a website. It could be any thing, location, person or event that acts as a cultural touchstone .

Popular culture could be very important for the exercise and may be crucially decisive in winning or losing any information battle – Chopper bikes, Dance Monkey, Fawlty Towers and Carry On films resonant with different factions of the population in different ways and can be harnessed to add authenticity and virility.

And so, rising from this analysis comes the question of how the information is to be conveyed to the training audience and who will convey it. It’s now that we identify the key stakeholders, factions and the channels of communication we’ll use. Channels will be covered in Part 2 but first we should identify our population and consider some classification such as affiliation to the training audience audience’s objective (friendly, hostile, neutral, unknown), A3E (adversary, actor, audience, enemy) or A4E (adversary, actor, audience, allies, enemy).

Note that each faction will have its own lexicon of phrases, hashtags and narratives (beliefs and the expression of those beliefs) and it could be worthwhile to identify these now so that the crisis exercise writers incorporate them and ensure consistency across the world.

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