Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can you always trust the human map?

On March 4, 2013 Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent “Alawite history reveals the complexities of Syria that West does not understand” (see

Fisk is a Beirut based journalist who argues that the West has all too often relied on purist maps that neatly divide the world into clean areas. I think he knows  what he is talking about, because I can recall that the maps in Bosnia were pretty crisp in the sense that Bosniaks (Moslems), Croats (Catholics) and Serbs (Orthodox) were all in their clearly delineated areas after the conflict subsided in Yugoslavia, while the same maps prior to the conflict did in fact show a Mosaic.

Fisk points out that Westerners will sometimes rely on purist maps because it might politically incorrect to do otherwise or alternatively because no one really knows what the population looks like in the first place. I would have to say that I certainly agree with Fisk’s last point. As it turns out most conflicts don’t take place in areas that are economically robust. This means that commercial entities are not really interested in what is going on with that particular segment because the segment doesn’t have the money to buy anything that the commercial sector wants to sell.

This translate into not only a dearth of information about the population, but even less reliable information about the media because no one cares who is watching what TV station or listening to which radio station because the ratings don’t translate into sales.

Influencers of all stripes know that a key first step in formulating a plan is understanding who you are going to communicate with and what is the best way to reach them.  For MISO, PSYOP and Public Diplomacy this means working at ground level probably with trusted citizens or others with a proven understanding of the AO to develop this sort of road map. 

While we all sing the praises of Open Sources and the information explosion of the Internet, this doesn’t mean that the right information will be available when you need it. Innovation and the ability to assimilate the lay of the land under austere conditions and time pressure remains a core skill of the influence profession.

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