Stumbling into Design: Action Experiments in Professional Military Education at Canadian Forces College

Author: Paul Mitchell

Abstract: Operations for small militaries are largely about aid to civil power within their home states and what has been termed “contribution warfare” in Canada. The War College is meant to teach the leaders of armed forces (and increasingly, public servants from security related departments) the knowledge necessary to “lead the institution”.  In terms of strategy and operations, it is all about linking policy to military operations through the “ends/ways/means” construct of modern strategic theory.  In small militaries, however, operational design is generally the purview of the leading coalition partner (typically the US, though sometimes NATO), and the policies adopted by the state may often have relatively little to do with achieving specific military objectives.  Despite this fundamental epistemic challenge, well-educated military leaders have never been more important in the charged media environment in which contemporary operations are conducted.  So how should senior officers be taught at the highest levels?  This article examines the experience of working through this specific pedagogical challenge through the lens of “Design thinking”.  It explores the origin and development of the Canadian Forces College’s “Modern Comprehensive Operations and Campaign Design” course taught to colonels and senior public servants on the National Security Programme.

* Note: this paper is part of the Special Issue of Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, titled ‘Reflexive Military Practitioners: Design Thinking and Beyond’. The full issue can be accessed at:

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