News ItemsDeciphering Mission Dynamics

Deciphering Mission Dynamics

A Peek into the Human Hive: Uncovering the unseen to improve future performance

Beehives are a wonder of activity. Yet beneath all that buzzing there is complexity and order unseen by the human eye. Similarly, military organizations can accomplish amazing feats, but often overlooked below the surface lies a combination of complex processes and specialized roles. So how can trainers or commanders who need to have their finger on the pulse of performance detect issues that can compromise a mission? What if there was a way to peer inside the organization’s processes like an x-ray?

Now there is with ACCRUE—the Automated Collaboration Collection & Relationship Understanding Environment™. ACCRUE is a measurement and visualization platform designed to help military organizations become more efficient, adaptive, and resilient. What makes ACCRUE unique is that it analyzes the activity of human and electronic interaction networks, giving trainers and commanders insights into organizational performance down to the individual and team level.

A Peek into the Human Hive

Much as physicians rely on MRIs to peer inside the body, ACCRUE taps into the huge amount of communication, interaction, and information-sharing activities flowing throughout organizations. Trainers typically assess performance by observing and talking with participants during exercise. But in large-scale brigade exercises that can involve hundreds of personnel extending over days or weeks, they’re limited to what they can see and hear. Nor can they observe the invisible digital flows of information that enable so much of mission command.

ACCRUE overcomes this by collecting and assessing chat, email, and other electronic communications. It also monitors the face-to-face interactions of participants, drawing socio-metric data from badges worn by trainees. Algorithms analyze this combined information to form a complete picture of organizational and team dynamics. Its Command Operations Dashboard™ visually displays the resulting maps of network activity and performance.

Commands Operation Dashboard interface
The Command Operations Dashboard™ visually displays the resulting maps of network activity and performance.

The Trainer’s Eyes and Ears

For trainers challenged to monitor all the human and electronic activity during an exercise, ACCRUE augments their expertise with unbiased and complete real-time data. They can immediately discover and pinpoint behaviors hindering or obstructing collaboration or joint decision-making rather than awaiting lengthy after-action surveys.

In Action

For example, a new brigade member may be completing their tasks but not integrating well with other staff. Using ACCRUE’s network graphs a trainer can show the individual their limited interaction, and where they need to better communicate timely info to improve team situational awareness.

Commanders can also use the insights to refine their leadership skills, and by extension improve organizational cohesiveness and performance. For example, a brigade commander central to the network is highly engaged with staff, but perhaps too much so. They may be unknowingly sidelining their executive officer, undermining their role as second in command. Anecdotal feedback deemed subjective could be easily dismissed, whereas the hard data of a network graph that shows the ‘flocking and blocking’ can illuminate behaviors detrimental to the command structure.

Testing Org Dynamics

ACCRUE’s measures can also be used to test different organizational structures. A Commander may be interested in knowing whether the relative physical location of cells in a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) impact performance. By performing A/B tests of different physical layouts and proximity, with ACCRUE they can review the interaction network and the degree to which team communications and performance were affected.

Benefiting the Operational Environment

While ACCRUE shines in the training domain, with new patented work, Aptima is extending the capability to benefit the operational environment as well. In today’s hyper-speed world, organizations are looking to drive innovation by way of more collaboration. But invariably, deep expertise in large organizations is often tucked away, hidden and stove-piped from others who could jointly benefit.

Building on ACCRUE’s organizational diagnostics, Aptima’s patented SCALE technology leverages big data to foster collaboration. Using natural language processing, it evaluates the work products, reports, and emails throughout an enterprise behind the scenes. It also analyzes the communications networks and processes. Beyond diagnostics, SCALE will provide the next level of prognostics, offering feedback and suggesting collaborative opportunities to individuals and teams for greater organizational efficiency.

ACCRUE was demonstrated at the 2016 and 2017 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), which showcases simulation, education, modeling and training technology for the exchange of information among industry, the military, and the educational communities.

Watch the Command Operations Dashboard Video


This work was supported by DARPA, ARI, ARL, and OSD. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of Aptima, Inc. and the author, and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, by any of the Government supporting organizations. We would like to expressly thank the OCTs for allowing the research team to develop requirements and test the tool within the context of their mission. We also thank the many units and Soldiers who allowed us to collect their communications data. We also appreciate the continued support of the Mission Command Center of Excellence, and the Mission Command Battle Lab in validating the use of this research for training purposes.