Part 10 -- The New Intelligence Process
Part 11 -- The New Intelligence Process: The First Picture
(Note: I started this series of posts many months ago with the intent of completing it in short order. Life, as it so often does, got in the way... If you are new to the series or you have forgotten what the excitement was all about, I recommend beginning at the beginning. For the rest of you, thank you for your patience!)
At the highest level, intelligence clearly supports the decisionmaking process. Understanding this is a first step to understanding what drives intelligence requirements and what defines good intelligence products. This is the message of the first picture.
But what about the details? Broad context is fine as far as it goes, but how should the modern intelligence professional think about the process of getting intelligence done? The second picture is designed to answer these questions.
|The Second Picture|
The single most important thing to notice about this image is that it imagines intelligence as a parallel rather than as a sequential process. In this image of the process, there are four broad themes, or sub-processes, moving across time from a nebulous start to a fuzzy finish, with each theme rising to a high point in terms of emphasis at different points in the process. Also intended by this image is the idea that each theme constantly reflects back and forth among the other three, influencing them as they each influence each other at every point in time.
Let me anticipate an initial objection to this picture -- that the intelligence process has a "start" and a "finish". The intelligence function, to be sure, is an ongoing one and this was one of the implied lessons of the first picture. Having made that point there, here I think it is important to focus on how intelligence products are actually generated. In this respect, clearly, there is a point at which a question (an intelligence requirement) is asked. It may be indistinct, poorly formed or otherwise unclear, but the focus of an intelligence effort does not exist in any meaningful way until there is a question that is, in some way, relevant to the decisionmaking process the intelligence unit supports.
Likewise, there is a finish. It may take place in an elevator or in a formal brief, in a quick email or in a 50 page professionally printed and bound document, but answering those questions, i.e. the dissemination of the intelligence product, in whatever form, signifies the end of the process. Yes, this process then begins immediately anew with new questions, and yes, there are always multiple questions being asked and answered simultaneously but neither observation invalidates the general model.
Modeling should go on throughout the entire intelligence process, however. As new information comes in or analysis gets produced, the model may well grow, shrink or morph as the concepts and the relationships between those concepts become more clear. At some point (typically early) in the intelligence process, however, the emphasis shifts away from modeling and towards collecting, analyzing and producing. While mental modeling doesn’t become unimportant, it does begin to lose importance as less time is devoted to modeling and more to the other three functions.
Collection, like modeling, never stops. Intelligence professionals will continue to collect information relevant to the particular requirement right up to the day the final product is published. In fact, collection on a particularly difficult problem (i.e. almost all of them) will often continue after publication. Decisionmakers and analysts alike want to know if they were correct in their key assumptions, how accurate the final product was and all understand a need to continue to track particularly important requirements over time.
The next sub-process to take precedence is analysis. As with both modeling and collection, analysis begins almost immediately. Tentative answers leap to mind and, in simple cases or where time is a severe constraint, these initial responses may have to do. Analysis doesn’t really move to the forefront, however, until the requirement is understood and enough collection has taken place for the analyst to sense that adequate information exists to begin to go beyond tentative analyses and take a crack at answering the overall question or questions.
Analysis is where the raw material of intelligence, information, gets turned into products that address the decisionmaker’s requirements. It is also the task most fraught with difficulties. From the type of information used (typically unstructured) to the methods used to analyze this information to the form of the final product, analysts face enormous practical and psychological difficulties. While the goal is clear – reduce the decisionmaker’s level of uncertainty – the best ways to get there are often unclear or rely on untested or poorly tested methods.
The final sub-process is production (which, for our purposes here, also includes dissemination). As with all the other functions, it, too, begins on day one. It is clearly, however, the least important function at the outset of the intelligence process. Still, intelligence professionals do give some thought (and experienced professionals have learned to give more than a little thought) up front to the form and nature of the final product at the beginning of the process.
Production is an incredibly important but often under-appreciated function within the intelligence process. If intelligence products are not accessible, i.e. packaged with the decisionmaker in mind, then they are unlikely to be read or used. Under such circumstances, all of the hard work done by intelligence professionals up to this point is wasted. On the other hand, there is a fine line between making a document or other type of intelligence report accessible and selling a particular position or way of thinking about a problem. Intelligence professionals have to steer clear of those production methods and “tricks” that can come across as advertising or advocacy. Production values should not compromise the goal of objectivity.
Likewise, some intelligence professionals associate high production values with pandering to the decisionmaker. These professionals see adding multimedia, graphics, color and other design features to an intelligence product to be unnecessary “chrome” or “bling”. These professionals, many from earlier generations, think that intelligence products “should stand on their own” and that the ease with which such “tricks” are used in modern production is not an excuse to deviate from time-honored traditions in production.
The guiding principle here, of course, is not what the intelligence professional thinks but what the decisionmaker the intelligence professional is supporting thinks. Some decisionmakers will, of course, prefer their intelligence products in a simple text-based format. Others, including many business professionals, will want less text and more supporting data, including charts and graphs. Some (and the demand for this may well increase in the future) will want their reports in a video format for use on their personal multimedia device.