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Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks Laboratory Tactical Social Interaction® (TSI) by I2s

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Development of Tactical Social Interaction (TSI) training from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Strategic Social Interaction Modules (SSIM) program

Empowering the Strategic Corporal: Training Young Warfighters to be Socially Adept with Strangers in Any Culture
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) (Vila, PI; James, L., Co-PI)


The interactions of young enlisted warfighters with strangers often form the operational center of gravity in counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, nation-building, and humanitarian missions. Consequences from the decisions they make in fast paced, low information encounters with strangers can reverberate across tactical, strategic, and political boundaries. Despite the critical nature of their decisions in the field, however, our “strategic corporals” frequently are teenagers whose frontal lobes have yet to develop fully.
The DARPA-funded research reported here took an important step toward empowering these young warfighters to do something that is vital to the success of our nation’s strategic interests, but which few of them are well equipped to do: interact successfully during ambiguous operational encounters in very foreign lands with people who are very different from themselves.

Although most warfighters receive pre-deployment training that touches on language and cultural skills, or teaches them to better attend to the human terrain as they hunt for foes and watch for threats, that training tends to be focused on the characteristics of the place to which they are being deployed. This isn’t efficient when today’s warfighter may be assigned to Iraq on one tour and Afghanistan on the next, then suddenly be rerouted to Uganda or Indonesia. In a world where young enlisted warfighters may be sent anywhere, there is a critical need to help them learn the fundamental skills needed to adapt rapidly in any culture.

Our highly experienced interdisciplinary research and training development team attacked this critical gap using a novel process that included:

1. Logic model and metric development that used novel research techniques we pioneered to rapidly identify generic causal models for understanding the fundamental dynamics of stranger encounters, and to develop interval-level metrics for measuring both the relative difficulty of those encounters and individual performance in them.

2. Training test instrument development that used rigorous experimentation to create novel instruments and techniques that enable trainers—and our research team—to readily assess trainee baseline capabilities, strengths and weaknesses in ways that are objective, scientifically valid, and reliable; measure the relative impact of each training technique and module as well as overall training program success; and also use non-intrusive ambulatory neurophysiological measurement devices to track and differentiate between trainee engagement, frustration, and cognitive workload whenever possible during training in order to assess the individual training dosage received.

3. Tactical social interaction (TSI) curriculum development that identified novel training techniques that connect with young enlisted warfighters and give them the foundation for figuring out how to interact effectively in a novel environment. The elements of the TSI curriculum also were designed to be modular, scalable, and blendable. Modularity makes it possible to teach the curriculum as a whole or piece by piece. Scalability makes it easy to adapt the curriculum and related tools to presentation in settings ranging from the schoolhouse to the company, platoon or even fire-team level. Blendability—an attribute recommended by the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command—makes it possible to integrate TSI training modules seamlessly into existing training programs to minimize costs and encourage warfighters to see tactical social interaction as a core part of their fieldcraft.

4. Pilot testing of the TSI curriculum using military and police students who learned from the curriculum, critiqued it, and helped refine both the curriculum and test instruments.

5. Assessment of the TSI curriculum using the training test instruments developed to assess students behavioral, cognitive, and affective pre- and post-training improvements.

6. Ongoing coordination and liaison with performers from other technical area performers in DARPA’s Strategic Social Interaction Modules (SSIM) program to absorb as much of their knowledge into our work as possible, then transition the results of each phase of our research to technology developers, social scientists, and evaluators.
In short, this research nailed down logic models and metrics that give trainers, evaluators, and future technology developers a unified framework from which they can proceed and helps assure that the work of one complements each of the others. The interval-level performance metrics we created give research teams, trainers, technology developers, and evaluators a common yardstick that makes it possible to use powerful mathematical and statistical techniques, and also is valuable for software and hardware development. These new capabilities will enable advances in the science, systems, and devices used to train young warfighters and build social skills that are invaluable in counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, nation-building, and humanitarian operations.

Military success requires understanding threat capabilities, intentions, and activities, as well as local human, social, cultural, and behavioral factors. Many assume that the skills necessary to do this require social graces and nuanced insights that are beyond the experience or ability of young warfighters. However, our research challenges that assumption. Every social creature from ants to dogs, dolphins, and people is naturally equipped with the potential to learn social skills and nuances—and a drive to do so. As a species, humans tend to excel at reading one another, establishing connections, and finding ways to communicate. Even though performing these mundane tasks can be problematic in a foreign culture, learning to solve these problems in an organized and intuitively reasonable manner is half the battle.

Our research has demonstrated that creative training approaches which focus on conveying the fundamental dynamics of encounters with strangers can be taught in ways that engage warfighters and help them learn to be better at observing what matters, solving problems, and connecting with people who seem different from themselves. Our work has the potential to radically change established training practices and increase the effectiveness of warfighters on the ground in counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, nation building, and humanitarian missions.


The Spokesman-Review:
TSI delivered in Colorado