CANSOFCOM Strategy Validation & Testing


After over two decades focusing on countering violent extremist organizations, and coming from a legacy as a crisis response organization, CANSOFCOM must adapt in order to meet the demands of the new strategic competition environment. How must CANSOFCOM change, and what must it retain, for it to be relevant, successful, and valuable to the Government of Canada in 2030 and beyond?


Although significant analysis and work had been done already, CANSOFCOM wanted to employ two independent, facilitated design enquires to challenge previously made assumptions and initial deductions. Using design teams composed of personnel of very diverse backgrounds, and facilitated by experienced design experts, the enquiry used various design methods and techniques to generate novel insights into the challenge. The entire design challenge was completed over four sessions, each lasting half a day.


The independent design enquiry validated most of CANSOFCOM’s initial findings and deductions. Further, it highlighted several areas and capabilities for further emphasis, and presented these priority areas from a new perspective. Additionally, it provided a valuable demonstration of the power of employing a design approach as it generated comparable levels of insight and deductions as was achieved in almost a year in a far shorter amount of time. This project assisted in shaping the final narrative for CANSOFCOM’s Future Operating Concept.


The increasing urgency surrounding issues of Strategic Competition is challenging CANSOFCOM’s current missions, capabilities, and structures and is demanding a re-orientation to ensure that CANSOFCOM remains relevant to Canada’s strategic objectives. The past twenty-plus years focused on crisis-response and discretionary missions countering Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) resulted in SOF being recruited, generated, equipped, trained, and employed in a very specific way for a very specific purpose. During this period, SOF benefited from easily identified and clearly articulated tactical objectives that brought clarity to all aspects of their organizational existence.

However, this dominating focus on Counter VEO missions has led to SOF developing very particular organizational cultures and methodologies that may not be optimally aligned for the demands of this new era of strategic competition. CANSOFCOM struggles to identify what changes must be made to its capabilities, structure, and culture so that it may contribute to higher-level, national goals while sustaining its ability to be a world-class Crisis Response organization.


AOD began by providing guidance and advice to the CANSOFCOM sponsor to assist in the selection of participants for the design inquiry. Building two teams composed of members of CANSOFCOM with diverse backgrounds and experiences, they were then led through four half-day sessions by expert design facilitators who were well experienced working with SOF.

While exposing the teams to various philosophies and approaches to design, the facilitators continually asked probing and insightful questions to assist in problem framing. The design teams were then mentored and coached through the use of several systemic and human-centered design methods and tools such as empathy mapping, stakeholder mapping, the use of metaphors, the semiotic square, and several others, in order to more fully understand the problem and to develop novel and creative approaches to address it.

Bringing both teams together, the two design experts were able to facilitate the synthesis of concepts presented over the four sessions in order to draw out core insights, ideas and themes to assist CANSOFCOM moving forward.


Aside from demonstrating the value and utility of design to a broad array of SOF practitioners, this design inquiry provided fresh perspective and understanding on the issue of CANSOFCOM’s need for adaptation. It worked to illuminate the underlying challenges confronting CANSOFCOM with greater clarity and helped to validate and confirm previously proposed assumptions and approaches to address them.

In addition to this increased understanding and development of novel approaches, the sessions provided a tremendous amount of support to the crafting of effective narratives to convey the “big ideas” to both internal and external audiences.

Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard
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Philippe Beaulieu-B is the co-founder and co-president of the Archipelago of Design (AOD). He returned as professor leading the Design, Innovation and Strategy-Making curriculum for mid and senior level officers at Canadian Forces College (CFC) in Toronto after completing a Marie S. Curie Fellowship at the Centre for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen from 2019 to 2021.

At the Archipelago, Philippe is the steward of the present and future of AOD. Philippe translates the orientations of the guild council (Board of Governors) into a cohesive strategy and actions, co-leads a dedicated team of 9 employees, manages a global community and co-leads the AOD Research & Development division. The latter includes leading AOD Game Studios developing transformative games aimed at unlocking the innovative potential of defence & security professionals across NATO members and partners.

Philippe holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of St-Andrews in the United Kingdom.