Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Non-State Actors In Sub-Saharan Africa: Likely Current And Future Roles (Original Analysis)

A group of Mercyhurst Intelligence Studies students completed a strategic intelligence project concerning the present and likely future roles of non-state actors in Africa for Bill Reynolds, the CEO of LeastSquares Software, a company specializing in modeling and simulations, last fall. Bill has kindly allowed me to make the study public and has even given it a nice plug on the LeastSquares pubs page.

The study itself was built using a wiki, as was last year's study on the impact of chronic and infectious diseases we did for the NIC, but is much different in scope and execution. The non-state actors wiki is a product of my Strategic Intelligence class. I teach strategic intel to the undergrads in the fall (this was an undergrad project). One of the purposes of the class is to link groups of students with real-world decisionmakers (or intel professionals who understand the needs of real-world decisionmakers) and provide those decisionmakers with intelligence products that are strategic in scope. These decisionmakers contribute their time and expertise to help make our students better analysts and I really appreciate guys like Bill Reynolds and all our decisionmakers taking time out of their days to work with us.

Our intent is to make this not only a "capstone" class for our second year grad students and seniors but also to make it a bridging class where analysts clearly cross-over from being "students" to being "professionals"; from doing "homework" to a world where real people are depending on them. To be honest, this process begins much earlier but the Strategic class gives me an opportunity to beat them over the head with the reality of it all.

The students not only do this project in 10 weeks, they do it while taking, usually, a full load of classes. Typically, they work in small groups (the group that put together this product had only five analysts in it). The students start pretty close to scratch with respect to subject matter expertise and they don't have the time or resources to travel to gain additional information. We work exclusively with open sources. The focus is also on applying the structured methods (or variations of them) that the students have learned in classes over the years.

This product has quite a bit to look at depending on your interests. Once you have had a chance to check out the home page, I would use the navigation bar to take a look at the Terms of Reference in order to get a better idea what Bill asked the students to do for him. If you are interested in the bottomline, up front answers to the questions he asked regarding non-state actors you should go to the Key Findings. If you are interested in a particular country, you can find a list of all of the countries they studied on the Countries page.

If you are interested in how the students arrived at their estimates, you should click on the Process and Methodology link in the navigation pane. The analysts on this project actually used three different methods, including one they invented (See the image below for a graphic representation of the method), to "triangulate" their analytic findings. Bill, a very strong methods person himself, had a keen interest in the thinking behind the process which is why there is also a link to the analyst's journals in the navigation pane.

Wikis can be deceiving in their depth. It always looks like it is just one page. This wiki, though, has 186 wiki pages (each, when printed out, would give multiple pages of text) with some 488 embedded files, maps and images. Quantity does not equal quality, of course, but the reactions, so far, from a variety of reviewers have been very positive, giving me confidence that it is worth taking the time to examine.

Given the wealth of information here, it is also easy to overlook the value that the wiki-based collaborative interface added to the analytic process. I have supervised over a dozen wiki-based analytic projects in the last year and have come to really like wikis as tools not only for collaboration but also for the collection, analysis and actual production of intelligence. One of the real benefits of the way we use wikis in these projects is that we can go from intel requirement to intel product all in a single collaborative space.

(Note: I will be presenting a paper at the ISA conference later this month on my findings with regard to using wikis for estimative products (and as distinct from fundamentally descriptive products such as Wikipedia). I will be serializing some of my findings here beginning next week).

Whether you are a professor interested in using wikis in your own classroom or a professional interested in non-state actors, intelligence analysis methods, sub-Saharan Africa or using a wiki to help manage an analytic project, you should be able to find something of interest in this product.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it the sources an state actors is very nice

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