2013/10/11 11:15 “Understanding cultural differences” | Linda Blaasvær | Relating Systems Thinking & Design 2013

Digest from #RSD2 of Linda Blaasvaer @linblaa talk with @playthink sketchnote on an application educating Norwegian military on culture at Relating Systems Thinking and Design 2 at AHO Oslo School of Design and Architecture


This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship by David Ing.

Recently graduated from AHO

Will present diploma thesis

Understanding the Norwegian military

Problem:  How can designers help improve the cultural education of Norwegian soldiers travelling abroad for the first time?

Had done system-oriented design courses

  • Presentation by UNIDIR
  • Inspired to do this

Had seen documentary Armadillo, 2010

  • Danish soldiers seeing how they encounter people being murdered and killed, they’re part of it, and young

Relevance: now pulling out of Afghanistan, but soldiers will be present in other places in the world

App:  cultural experience


  • Military as a large system
  • Culture
  • Interaction Design (not trained as interaction designer)


  • Books, interviews
  • Doctor without borders, how to deal with cultures

Gigamap of military education

  • On left, basic education, 1-2 years, learn about laws of war, military operations, language, social structures
  • At right, end up in international service

Report (Security in Practice 11, 2010, NUPI) says lack of cultural training in military

  • Will always find someone who says training is unsystematic and inadequate

Sketch:  different military schools have different ways of training

  • One school: 15 weeks, 5 hours
  • Another school:  40 hours with 5 study points


  • Little focus on cultural understanding in a military context
  • Theoretical
  • Quality assurance weak or non-existent
  • Deteriorating security situation will emphasize military skills

Benefits of training:

  • Given confidence in different situations so can perform military tasks

Specification for design:

  • Reduce fear, anxiety, stress
  • Provide confidence

Framing “culture” problematic

  • Made clustering and groupings
  • Combined with readings


  • General knowledge, as academic provides
  • Personal experience, s lesson learned

Why build a mobile application?

  • Primary user is 20 years old, shift work
  • Secondary users could be veterans or other workers in similar situations

Design process was a co-creation process

  • Had meeting with Aslam Ahsan, familiar with Afghan culture
  • Included social scientists
  • Included navigation and interaction designers
  • Prototyped with users


  • Gigamapping
  • Model:  For application to be relevant, Norwegian military needs to have editing capability, to decide on content
  • Would like to provide insights from other experts in culture, e.g. social scientists and journalists

Scenario, before departure:  download


[Abstract of talk from http://www.systemic-design.net/]

Introduction: “Understanding cultural differences” is a design project that is based in Systems oriented design, using Gigamapping as the main tool to achieve a holistic view. The design solution evolves within Service design and Interaction design, and is an application for mobile devices: “Cultural Experience”.The system under study is the Norwegian military.

I have tried to find out how the military prepare the young Norwegian soldiers for meeting a foreign culture when they are about to travel in International operations (INTOPS) for the first time. I question if they have enough training to understand the cultural differences they will meet before they leave for military service abroad, and if designers can provide relevant solutions. Designers are not often invited to contribute in such complex and political oriented themes, and I wanted to explore the role of the designer in such a landscape. I want to show that we, as designers, have tools to visualize systems and issues, and that we can discover potential solutions, other than with an academic approach. And that those solutions can be valuable, and that design is a field to be reckoned with when trying to solve complex problems.

Topic: “How can designers help provide Norwegian soldiers with the preparation they need for International service?”

Design practice in new areas: I was first introduced to this theme in a broader sense through the Systems oriented design course at AHO, led by Birger Sevaldson, spring 2011. We got a client from UNIDIR (research centre within the UN system), Dr. Derek B. Miller. UNIDIR research various methods to obtain peace and security in post conflict areas. During that semester I found this specific potential area to investigate in my Diploma assignment. This very project would not exist without a systems perspective on a larger system such as UN challenges. That system design project led me to this task, trying to create a design solution for Norwegian soldiers in International service.

Background: Soldiers traveling in International service for the first time do not only meet a war situation; they also face a foreign country and a foreign culture. The challenges inherent in manoeuvring in a foreign country, to meet and communicate, not only in a foreign language but also in the context of different norms and values requires a robust training of the soldiers. This is something the Norwegian military of course takes seriously. But discussions in Norwegian media gives reason to believe that soldiers traveling in International service is not always so well prepared to meet a foreign culture as we might hope.

I have been in contact with people in the military. The result was based on research, interviews with veterans of Afghanistan (also Macedonia, Lebanon), and second-hand information, such as resources from the Internet and various literatures.

Result: The solution became an application, “Cultural Experience”. It is designed for Norwegian soldiers in international service, so they can learn about foreign culture. The prototype is made with an example of service in Afghanistan. The target audience is soldiers travelling for the first time, and the main user is approximately 20 + years old. An application for a handheld device is a useful tool because, it is accessible and the user group is accustomed to the medium and use it daily. And in this case, the soldiers are working shifts and would benefit from a device they can use when it is suitable.

The application includes learning from veterans with experience from international service. They share their experience of encounters with another culture during service abroad. Inexperienced soldiers can reap the experience of others with the aim of reducing misunderstandings and avoid difficult situations. Veterans possess vast amounts of experience inexperienced soldiers can benefit from. But how can young, inexperienced soldiers have access to this knowledge? My response to this has been to design an application that provides “lessons learned”.

The application aims to be a solution that engages, and providing valuable experiences a venue to reach inexperienced soldiers.

Conclusion: Perhaps one can never be well enough prepared in such situations, and it is difficult to predict what awaits one. But I believe that inexperienced soldiers can benefit from what I have called “lessons learned”, in the application “Cultural Experience”.

Linda Blaasvaer

#app, #culture, #military, #norway, #rsd2