The fundamental intent of the exercise is to engage students' creativity and to get them to think about other -- primarily visual -- ways to produce an intelligence report. Decisionmakers have always wanted their intelligence packaged in ways that were most accessible to them (consider Kennedy's PICL or Reagan's videos of foreign leaders). In the future, however, they are going to expect it.
- For more on this, see Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. For examples of how good design makes a real difference, check out some of the projects at the Art Center of LA.
Why should analysts have to think about this? Don't most intel agencies have personnel tasked to do this kind of stuff? Maybe, but how many analysts today are required to make their own PowerPoint slides? Back when PowerPoint was new, a specialist made the slides and we analysts fed them the information. Today, everyone makes slides -- and many of them are awful. Grappling with these issues seems appropriate for students trying to better understand how to communicate the results of their analysis to the decisionmakers they support.
To get the students started, I point them towards a number of resources. The first are some general sites about visual thinking or visualizing data such as:
The History Of Visual Communication
Thinking Visually (slideshow of concepts)
The Periodic Table Of Visualizations
Visual Complexity (Examples of how to display data visually)
Information Aesthetics (the last three links are to excellent blogs that focus on visualization)
I also point them towards a number of readily available but under-used tools (such as Windows Movie Maker which comes with every Microsoft Windows machine) as well as some of the more interesting and useful online tools I have run across or which have been used by other students:
Programmable Web (massive list of available tools)
Animoto (automated, sophisiticated slide show production)
Comiqs (See an example here)
Just Leap In (customizable, web-based virtual world)
Community Walk (Customizable mapping software based on Google Earth)
Dipity (amazing timeline generation product)
MapWing (Simple tool for virtual tours)
Issuu (Sleek online document viewer)
These are obviously just a few of the tools and sites available for this kind of project (Don't believe me? Just check out MakeUseOf's List of Tools...). Do not hesitate to add your favorites to the comments!