The  Intelligent Operator Course

In 2009 Graham Mathieson and Frans Barnard, designed and implemented experiential learning based training for aid workers. This was done through the development and delivery of security training courses for individual aid workers and security responsible managers. The objective – to improve the capacity and resilience of staff working in high-risk areas through the development of: knowledge and skills; critical thinking; and communication skills. Hard won experience has time and again demonstrated that security cannot be a standalone entity and so in this latest iteration of training the focus is expanded into non-traditional areas such as HR, Administration, Logistics,  Operations and of course the psychology of individual and group behaviour. These combined with critical thinking, teamwork and problem-solving are designed to support the development of the Intelligent Operator .

Over 600 staff have been trained on courses using this methodology.

The complex and confusing nature of Hostile Environments have led organisations to identify training as a fundamental means to protect staff. A basic response to this need is to focus on the ‘hard skills’ of drills and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as checkpoint clearance and journey management. Whilst these ‘hard skills’, in line with the UN SSAFE core elements and GPR 8, are fully addressed and applied in the training, “skills & drills” poorly reflect the real humanitarian world of nuance and ambiguity.

Whilst acknowledging there is a time and place for drills, an HRMC training experience, backed by extensive research and first hand applied knowledge, focuses on  ‘soft skills’ or ‘human capital’. These are the skills which allow participants to understand how to engage in effective problem solving. It is these skills that equip them to make self-determined and fully informed decisions in the midst of chaos and danger.

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Stage 1: Experiential activities

The aim, to build essential technical and interpersonal skills necessary for secure operations in hostile environments.

After introductions, participants will discuss the role of personal and organisational risk management in order to better understand its purpose. They will then be introduced to problem solving, critical thinking and decision making. This will be done through a series of increasingly complex activities. These activities will require the use of security equipment and include the latest thinking on team structure and performance along with complex planning and task execution.

Key elements of individual and group behaviour will be discussed through the biopsychosocial lens giving participants the knowledge and tools to question and challenge behaviour. Towards the end of the day participants will be introduced to the impact, biology and psychology of fear, before engaging in a highly complex problem that has consequences built in for failure. The idea being to simulate the unpredictability of field missions and the criticality of effective problem identification, solution and decision making. At each stage participants will be required to provide feedback on their behaviour and on that of their colleagues with a view to understanding how a team functions and their role / responsibility as individuals in that functioning.

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Stage 2: Bridging Process versus Activity

A central feature of our training process is the ability to challenge “expert thinking”. The previous day of experiential activities are situated in the assertion that while Activities change from situation to situation – the core Process of problem solving and decision making remains constant.

The central thematic of problem solving and critical thinking continues however, the risks and consequences of operating in hostile environments are introduced. Consequently the narrative evolves from the individual general to the individual specific to the participant’s area of operations. Scenarios will be enacted that require participants to gather, process and then act on critical incidents including:

  • Access negotiation

  • Medical emergency

  • Road missions

  • Hostile encounters

Each scenario is designed based on our intimacy with complex hostile environments to focus on the situational differences to be found on an Inter country (Afghanistan versus Somalia) and an Intra country (Somaliland versus South Central) basis. This means that the influence of geography (pastoralists/nomadics/urban centres), clan and sub-clan will be incorporated. Fundamentals of understanding how these dynamic play a role in issues such as staff hiring, discipline, firing and clan balance relate directly to the security of individual staff and the organisation. Scenarios last 10 - 30 minutes followed by reporting of the incident, debriefing and discussion. Based on our assertion that the most effective adult learning comes from effective debriefing of experiences, this last element may last a considerable time depending on the engagement and capacity of the participants. Core to Stage 2 is the collation and processing of information leading to decision and action in full recognition of consequence.

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Stage 3: Putting it all together

Training is only as effective as the ability of participants to transfer their learning experience into the reality of their lived reality.

The training culminates with a simulated field mission where participants are required to negotiate a series of scenarios. These scenarios will be designed to examine and support the role of the individual, teamwork, effective communication, problem solving, technical skills and negotiation within a context that reinforces understanding of those aspects of religion, clan and post conflict dynamics such as business expansion, diaspora returns and criminal sub cultures, that continue to fully inform all aspects of life in high risk areas.

Scenarios will be short and immersive but designed with the ability to respond experientially to the decisions of individuals and the group. Given the highly flexible and potentially surprising decisions that can be made, the close and integrated involvement of our facilitators becomes not just desirable but essential. Our facilitators have not only the country specific information required to maintain authenticity but also the ability to react and respond in a manner that optimises the learning experiences.

Selection of scenarios will be made in consultation with the client prior to training to ensure realism. They are likely to include, negotiation, child protection, humanitarian principles or corporate responsibilities, checkpoints, diffusing anger and potentially kidnap or detention.