Imagine that your bosses have just assigned you to be the team leader for a large scale analytic project:
“There isn’t any extra money,” they say, “for travel and stuff.”
That doesn’t matter so much, though, as long as you have bright people, right?
“Well,” they say, “they’re very bright and you have lots of them…but they’re...young.”
No problem. That's an advantage. Young means energy and few preconceived notions. Maybe we can use some special databases or other info to fill in some of the gaps?
“No, sorry, no extra money. Didn’t we already say that? You can only use open sources and your people aren’t yours full time either; they have other jobs that they need to do. And by the way…”
Yes, you say.
“This project is incredibly important.”
Right. So what can you give me?
“We can give you a wiki.”
A wiki? What's that?
"Well, a wiki is like a room..."
In this latest foray into what I like to call "experimental scholarship" I intend to discuss the lessons learned from using a web-based collaborative tool, commonly referred to as a “wiki”, to create custom intelligence products for decisionmakers in national security, law enforcement and business. The data in this series of blog postings will be the same data I am using in my paper and presentation on lessons learned concerning wiki-based analysis at the upcoming International Studies Association Convention in San Francisco.
While I consider the conclusions in this series of posts tentative, almost exploratory, in nature, they are based on a considerable body of evidence. Over the last year, students in my classes at Mercyhurst College or students working for me on funded research projects through Mercyhurst’s Center For Intelligence Research, Analysis, and Training (CIRAT) have used wikis to produce 15 large scale estimative products for real world decisionmakers (or intelligence professionals who support real-world decisionmakers).
Covering topics such as “The Impact Of Chronic And Infectious Diseases On US National Interests” or “The Role Of Non-State Actors In Sub Saharan Africa”, collectively, these 15 projects have generated over 6000 pages of finished analysis and have involved 97 analysts (many who worked on multiple projects). These students spent, conservatively, 21,000 analyst-hours in total on these projects. In addition to insights gathered from observing and supervising the projects themselves, 63 of the analysts who worked on the projects also took surveys designed to get feedback regarding their reactions to producing wiki-based analytic projects.
The analysts who participated in these projects were mostly seniors and graduate students who have experienced working with conventional methods for developing analytic products either through their applied coursework in Mercyhurst’s Intelligence Studies programs or through jobs and internships within the business, law enforcement or national security intelligence communities. Despite their experience with traditional methods of producing intelligence analysis (or perhaps because of it), these analysts came to overwhelmingly prefer, for a variety of reasons I will discuss throughout this article, to use wikis to produce intelligence.
Quantity does not equal quality, however, which is why I also asked the decisionmakers who commissioned the analysis to take surveys designed to capture their reactions to and the relative strengths and weaknesses of wiki-formatted analysis. These decisionmakers, as I collectively refer to them, are all senior leaders in their respective fields or real-world intelligence analysts supporting senior leaders. In only one case, where the decisionmaker was an alumnus, was there more than a passing relationship to the college. They ran the gamut from elected representatives to very experienced intelligence professionals to Chief Executive Officers. While I will discuss the results of their surveys later in this article, all indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of the products they received and all indicated that they would be willing to receive products in a wiki format again (with the majority expressing an outright preference for the wiki format).
Tomorrow -- What Is A Wiki And Why Is It So Different