What Do Commanders Really Want to Know?

Montgomery McFate, Britt Damon and Robert Holliday

in The Oxford Handbook of Military Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780195399325
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

What Do Commanders Really Want to Know?

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  • Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Organizational Psychology



This chapter communicates research findings regarding what types of sociocultural information have operational relevance for military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan. The findings in this chapter are the result of more than three years of experience with the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), an experimental program to provide sociocultural knowledge to military units in two theaters of war. We review selected sociocultural knowledge requirements as articulated within a variety of U.S. military publications, including conceptual frameworks, handbooks, and military doctrine. We then describe the HTS research process to determine military sociocultural knowledge requirements, discuss command-directed and team-initiated research, and the concept of operational relevance. What commanders want and need to know is remarkably consistent between theaters and over time: the prime categories of knowledge are social structure; the political system (both formal and informal); the economic system (both formal and informal); and interests and grievances (particularly pertaining to security, intra- and extra-group conflict, and the administration of justice).

Keywords: U.S. Army; Human Terrain System; social science

Article.  12655 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Organizational Psychology

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