Cross-cultural skills development and multicultural relationship building is imperative to NATO military. With the help of an "Extended Hand", it is possible to achieve these necessary skills and relationships via the Internet.

Taking care of the human environment has always been an aspect of military operations. Over the last decade, however, the ways that NATO military interact with the people in theatre have significantly changed. In the past, the relevant engagement with the human environment was mostly decided and implemented at the top of the hierarchy, but today each soldier is in a position of having a significant, if not strategic, effect on the human environment. As a consequence, it is now necessary, more than ever, to provide junior leaders and soldiers with additional skills and an innovative mindset that were not required in the past.

The Need for a Helping Hand
As observed in recent operations, success is highly dependent upon the ability to understand, efficiently engage, and build trust with populations and actors in theatre. This is due to both the complexity of the environment and to the nature of operations. Local actors and populations' support and collaboration are indeed critical in missions such as counterinsurgency, stabilisation, reconstruction or security forces assistance.
Acquiring the needed cross-cultural communication skills which lead to building trusted relationships with people from other cultures requires coordinated and sustained efforts. Even if NATO has, for example, flown Afghan people to NATO countries in order to support troops' pre-deployment training, it is not the most cost effective solution to be offered to all military. Today, only basic skills are acquired before deployment. Skills acquisition and relationship building are thus delayed, and mostly happen through onsite interactions with local actors during a deployment. Unfortunately, these onsite interactions are still significantly constrained by time, distance and security considerations.


ACT Delivers a Solution
This is why Allied Command Transformation (ACT) has developed an alternative solution that allows NATO personnel to acquire cross-cultural communication skills, and build relationships with people from areas of interest through online video communication. Compared to onsite interaction, online conversations offer several advantages. First, they allow improved pre-deployment training. Second, they can reach out to people not otherwise accessible. Third, they are cheaper (in money and time) than to have to gather people in a physical location, and impose no risk to NATO personnel. Of course, if not properly structured, a conversation over the Internet may not be as efficient as an onsite engagement. This is why ACT offers a solution where highly trained facilitators guide the conversations and ensure that the audiences receive maximum benefit in the form of improved skills development and relationship building. This solution is called Extended Hand.

Embracing the Extended Hand
Extended Hand started development in 2012 when it was realized that the Penn State University World in Conversation Project could be applied to a military setting and, by doing so, would meet some NATO operational requirements.

An Improved and Unlimited Platform
Thanks to a fruitful collaboration between ACT Future Solutions Branch, the World in Conversation staff, and the US Army ROTC leadership at Penn State University, a first pilot module was run in November 2012. It consisted of conversations between US Army cadets and people from Iran and Palestine. After five years of online activities, World in Conversation was able to provide high level expert facilitators to guide the conversations. This pilot demonstrated both the feasibility and the benefit of such an innovative solution. Based on this initial success, Extended Hand was refined into a no-risk, cheap and easy-to-use platform that meets the demand of military education and pre-deployment training. The tool is now offered to all NATO nations.
Upon request, Extended Hand staff will discuss with candidate national institutions and tailor the platform to their specific needs. Ten NATO nations are currently participating.

For more information or to join Extended Hand click here