CHDS Innovator a Leader in Drone Industry, Theory

It all started about a decade ago, flying uncrewed aerial vehicles or drones while conducting aerial photography in far-flung exotic locales such as Iceland for Idaho State professor Angi English, a Center for Homeland Defense and Security alum and subject matter expert. Now, English is one of the leading voices in drone usage and technology, primarily focused on the use of High Reliability Organization (HRO) theory and sense-making in complex adaptive systems, and also in promoting the slow but continuing emergence of women in the industry.  

English (Master’s Program cohort 1303/1304, Executive Leaders Program cohort 1201, HSx cohort 1701) has authored a number of articles related to security, social psychology of decision-making, and uncrewed systems.

She has gained so much attention for her expertise that she was one of the nominees for the 2021 Women and Drones Global Women to Watch.

Last year, English wrote an article entitled “Applying High-Reliability Principles to Uncrewed Aerial Systems,” published in the Vertical Space e-Magazine in the Spring 2023 issue of Women and Drones. She explained that she wrote the article in Vertical Space e-Magazine as a “knowledge transfer from general aviation to drone ecosystems because they both operate in the national airspace and the HRO principles have been exceedingly reliable throughout time. As uncrewed aerial vehicles [UAVs] continue to populate the national airspace, understanding these principles will, in my opinion, greatly increase airspace safety.”

She also wrote a follow-up article for Vertical Space entitled “Sensemaking in Public Safety’s VUCA Ecosystems: Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS),” which discussed the complex adaptive ecosystems for UAS operations and how to “make sense” of the ecosystem complexity by applying the Cynefin complexity knowledge management framework by David Snowden and Mary Boone. She customized a chart of what to look for, danger signals, and responses. The key, she said, is to understand the complexity of the ecosystem you are in and then address it in complementary ways, matching complexity to complexity, not complexity to simplicity. These fundamental mismatches cause unintended consequences. 

In addition, an infographic framework she created to “sense-make” wicked problems of all sorts was included in a collective thought leader book entitled Uncertainty: Making Sense of the World for Better, Bolder Outcomes, for which she wrote an article in Chapter 5 and was the editor of “Be Like Water: Sensemaking for Wicked Problems.” 

CHDS alum Angi English, seen here flying an uncrewed aerial vehicle or drone, is a widely recognized authority on drone usage theory. (Photo by Louann Fields)

English described the infographic as a “mind map to explore wicked problems,” which “finally fleshes out the bones of a framework that I had in the back of my mind since 2015 in the Master’s Program.” 

“It takes a global look at five domains: geo-political, geo-physical, geo-psychosocial, geo-economic, and geo-technological, as a way to look systemically and synergistically at interconnected issues related to wicked problems. The English Mind Map Framework works as a tool for sensemaking and systems thinking needed for identifying the simple rules and agents of wicked problems. Instability in any of the domains evolves, sometimes subtly, to emerge as a wicked problem.” 

English has also written a couple of pieces in Medium on sensemaking in uncrewed systems, including the use of drones in public safety ecosystems.  

Tracing her interest in drones back to 2016, English said it started from both a “personal interest in photography and an interest in how drones could be used in homeland security and emergency management.” 

She explained that “from a personal photography perspective, I like to take high dynamic range landscape photographs and I used drones to do the same but from an aerial perspective. It was great getting the camera from my face/eye to flying overhead for unique images.” 

English added that the experience of being in the HSx Advanced Thinking think tank at CHDS in 2017 “opened new avenues of thinking related on how to use drones for homeland security and emergency management and other connected infrastructures such as transportation, healthcare delivery, crop monitoring, inspection of critical infrastructure and many other uses.” 

“The sky’s the limit,” she said, for drone usage. 

In fact, English started an NPS CHDS Drone Alumni Facebook group back in 2016 to discuss and share ideas and best/good practices with alumni or current students regarding the incorporation of drones into the national airspace for homeland security and emergency management purposes. Currently, she said, the group has 92 members. 

Meanwhile, English has also devoted herself to promoting more opportunities for women in the field of drones. She noted that drones are the fastest growing segment of aviation in the U.S., and as of January 2022, there were more than 871,000 drones registered with the FAA, and more than 307,000 certified remote pilots. But she also noted that there were only 24,293 female certified drone pilots in the U.S. at that time, meaning women make up about 7.9% of all certified remote pilots. 

English said there are “just not enough women pilots in crewed and uncrewed aircraft,” and pointing to a lack of STEM training opportunities for girls, she said changing the drone culture is “one of the hardest things.” 

“Lots of women are doing amazing things in drones, but they occupy a relatively small sliver of the industry,” English said. 

She did note that the FAA adopted an advisory committee recommendation to replace words and phrases such as “cockpit,” “unmanned aviation,” and “man-made” with gender-neutral terms such as “flight deck,” “uncrewed aviation,” and “machine-made” as part of an effort to create a more welcoming environment for women.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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