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A Contextual Primer on the Socio-technical aspects of ICT in War and Peace Support . Ben du Toit Defence Analyst Defence Institute Armscor Business. Presented at the IFIP Workshop at the CSIR on 24 July 2008. CENTRAL ARGUMENT OF PAPER SUBMITTED: CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT IN ICT .
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Socio-technical aspects of ICT
War and Peace Support
Ben du Toit
Presented at the IFIP Workshop at the CSIR on 24 July 2008
CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT IN ICT
A text without a context is a pretext!
(Photo credit: Die Burger
FCD Cape Town 61111/A)
Contents of paper submitted:
Dualistic nature of military decision-making
Content versus context: the real digital divide is cultural
IT acceptance and cultural differences
Why a socio-technical systems approach to complex
Implications/applications of ICT in conflict resolution
Enter social informatics
Conclusions from the literature
Presentation broadly corresponds – however open-ended research
Primer = “…an introductory text, that covers the
basic elements of a subject”
Certain generalizations followed in argument….
Data = raw data, from sensors
Information = data in context
Knowledge = actionable information
Used interchangeably as
those mentifacts giving
Culture is the “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes members
of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede. 2001).
Soldier as “Machine Commander”
Content-rich dataflow and processing
Soldier as “Social Scientist”
Platform versus platform
Aiming for “shooting solution”
acting for preferably non-kinetic effects
Non-military coalition partners
Power of information is contextual.
Derives from usefulness (or uselessness) for
User must trust ICT as supporting him/her.
Context/culture/making-sense dictate acceptance
( K A Taipale, 2006)
automatically imply an egalitarian culture or interoperability
CONTEXTUAL/CULTURAL FILTERING UP TO COMMANDER
Command and control
for kinetic effects
Contextual filter for collaborative sense-making
Protection of ICT
Sharing of ICT
Contextual filter for collaborative
Sensors & Weapon
UN, AU, Coalition partners, NGOs, PVOs, Media, Civilians, Host nation, etc
Parallel effects-based operations
Adapted from Fred Stein - DODCCRP
PEACE SUPPORT OPERATIONS DESIRED EFFECTS
It can be argued that a uniform ICT protocol, as instructed
by the UN, may alleviate cultural differences in ICT usage.
Common ICT use however, does not imply cultural
understanding per se. Cf.“The big two”.
It is a myth to think that technology is neutral regarding
the system of values that it represents.
Society shapes ICT development rather than merely adapting to
autonomous technology. The COTS dilemma.
Only when ICT that is developed externally is accepted
by a community of interest as a value-adding artifact, can
the maximum benefit be obtained from it. Ethnocomputing?
IN US C2 ENVIRONMENT
“How can we develop an understanding of the effect of
culture on co-operation, coalition operations and interoperability
of personnel (the human agents) and the IT infrastructure that
How can we model this within a command and control system?
How can we develop a guide for the (American military)
to incorporate cross-cultural perspectives within ICT
(As quoted by Jill Slay in ICCRTS 2002 – A cultural Framework for the Interoperability of C2 systems)
the real digital divide is cultural
Edward Hall’s typology–high-content, low–context cultures or vice versa.
High content information more mechanistic in nature, can lead to
contextual errors. ( USS Vincennes incident where high volume of
content rich data, viewed within wrong “scenario-fulfillment context”
led to shooting down of Iranian civilian airliner.)
Most modern Western countries – preference for textual, high content
but low context information transfer. Spreadsheets and processes.
Many developing nations, some Arabic cultures, indigenous people
in Africa and many Asian countries prefer more direct modes of
communication, with premium on non-verbal cues and engagement
of feelings in a communication relationship.
Even screen-displays can send unintentional non-verbal cues.
Sources: Hall (1976 and Ess(2006)
Four value dimensions
High - power distance quotient accept hierarchy and distance.
Low - quotient considers that all people are equal, the ultimate democracy.
Would rebel against unrestrained authority.
High - create formal rules and guide behaviours, seek structure. Want more
supporting data/information for decisions.
Low -avoidance accept more risk and change.
Individualism versus collectivism:
Individualistic - Believe one is personally responsible for own
well-being. Meritocratic. Express individual viewpoint independently.
Collectivism - Family communal, clan and tribal underpinnings.
Masculinity – Femininity dimension:
Masculinity -Competitive, aggressive, men dominant position over women.
They are the decision-makers.
Femininity - Roles of men and women equal.
CANADIAN INVOLVEMENT INAFGHANISTAN
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE USE OF ICT IN JOINT C2,
IN INFORMATION OPERATIONS AND IN ACCEPTANCE OF ICT USAGE?
Source: Spencer, 2007 – Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, Canadian Defence Academy
“Social Informatics” ( late Bob Kling, circa 2000):
“Social Informatics refers to the interdisciplinary study of the
design, uses and consequences of ICTs that takes into account
their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts”
“ICT4Peace initiative “( 2004 and ongoing)
Follow participatory design principles; i.e. the socio-technical design.
Efforts must be based on user needs, with active involvement of workplace
practitioners in design, especially where local staff will be users.
Emphasize the user’s environment , where they are, who they are with
and what they are doing, as important.
“The process of using cues from other people to help you find information
and potentially to more fully understand what it is that you have found”
TO COMPLEX DECISION-MAKING
Because two days after submitting a paper on a topic
that you think you are making inroads into and a contribution
to the community of interest, you discover the following……
Internationally a strong movement that propagates an increased
awareness of the contextual implications of new ICTs can be discerned.
Common denominator is that the user’s culture ( professional, organizational
or national level) will determine how ICT must be developed and applied,
for maximum effect.
This has ramifications for C2, information exchange and interoperability.
Question for the “systems architects”:
“Is there a social scientist on your IPT?”
African conflict patterns are predominantly human-centric.
They are characterized as “open systems” with numerous interactions
between the political, social, economic and environmental sub-systems.
The joint, inter-agency and multi-national concept of operations in itself
is an attempt to address issues such as decision-making holistically.
Developers of C2 systems in and for the African theatres of operation,
must a priori take cognizance of the importance of contextual issues.
Benchmarking research on social informatics may provide a guiding
A community of interest, vested in the envisaged Defence Evaluation and
Research Institute (DERI) may help to ensure a multi-and interdisciplinary
approach in the development of ICT architecture.
or even better….
A list of sourced documents and references is contained in the paper or can be obtained from the presenter
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this presentation are those of the compiler and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Armscor, the Department of Defence or any of their Services or Divisions.