Participant observations are valuable in the discovery phase of design thinking to gain an understanding of people within the context of the design challenge. Observing people and how they interact with the environment reveals clues about what they think and feel, which also helps one learn about what is important to them and what they need and desire. To understand and share the feelings of another is a centerpiece of a human- centered design process as the stories people tell and things that they say and do are strong indicators of their deeply held beliefs and values.219
For this capstone project, my background has served me well and provided me with multiple engagements with various people in different roles, forces, and command levels in the PR system. I also have gained personal experiences in many roles and in engagements with a large number of actors and stakeholders in the PR system through education and training, exercises and operations, and in the role of the RNoAF OPR for PR for a number of years.
First, I started as a long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) member in the Norwegian Army Special Forces. The training and education provided me with individual-level SERE training that primarily focused on being self-sustaining and, if isolated, the ability to ensure my own recovery with minimal assistance, if any. This training left me with an appreciation for the value of the SERE skills.
Second, I had the opportunity to experience the complete opposite side of the spectrum as a member of Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) that trained for hostage rescue missions as a dedicated PR recovery force. During the years at the FSK, I also received the opportunity to participate in a Combat Survival Instructor Course in the UK in 1994. The course provided lectures by a series of UK special forces members who had endured capture and captivity by Saddam Hussein’s forces in Desert Storm 1991. The stories they told, combined with the level of realistic training, left their mark; I had no desire to experience this for “real” in the future, but hoped to be well prepared for the worst.
Third, I became a pilot and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom flying an F-16. The experience of flying over a terrain that could vary from steep, snow-covered mountains to the dry, flat desert in one sortie highlighted the perspectives and challenges of SERE equipment and attempting to fit it into the very limited space of an F-16, while at the same time packing to deal with a range of environmental realities. Flying an F-16 supporting ground forces also offered me a good idea of how to support a PR situation as a capable force.
Fourth, after years of operational flying combined with my SOF and combat survival instructor background, I was assigned to the RNoAF SERE School and supported the development of the SERE level-C training and education within the RNoAF according to NATO standards. Eventually I was placed in charge of PR and, as the OPR for PR in the Air Force, gained valuable perspective in addressing PR and SERE in a broader sense, not as single training events but as a whole that included all training and continuation training for all aircrew as long as they were operational. This gave me an understanding of the challenges of keeping aircrew up to date on PR and SERE skills, as well as working with various deployments of Norwegian forces to provide appropriate SERE equipment for different airframes and environments.
Fifth, being in charge of PR and SERE education and training gave me many opportunities to get a feel for the different attitudes towards the training. People’s attitudes toward education and training vary. Since the training is arduous and especially challenging for aircrews in an unfamiliar environment, people are often anxious about how they will perform before the courses. Some emerge confident in their SERE abilities and quite satisfied with their achievements. Others avoid the training if they can as long as they can, but change their attitudes after the training. They come to view it as a valuable lesson about themselves and good preparation for worst-case scenarios. At some point in the future, they could be the ones rescued.
Sixth, the costs and resources needed for training produce tensions in the PR system. Balancing the demands between cost-conscious stakeholders who want cost reductions and PR personnel who want to maintain standards produces friction in the PR
system. There is a constant question about what standards should be and as costs rise, what training is needed to meet them.
To sum up, I have had the opportunity to be a participant in many roles and functions of the PR system in addition to being an observer of others. These experiences have shaped my understanding of people’s needs and desires related to PR and SERE. I am, of course, influenced and biased by my own experiences as they shape my thinking and perceptions. As such, I need to be careful during the design process that I stay true to the process and not jump to conclusions based on my own biases and preferences. In an action-oriented community, the urge is to skip the listen and understand aspects of design and jump into problem-solving based on one’s expertise. My challenge is to keep an open mind when I am designing for others.