Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Improving Intelligence Analysis: Two Methods Are Better Than One (USIP)

It one of what has to be the most lucid papers I have read in a long while, Jack Goldstone, writing for the US Institute Of Peace, clearly and concisely explains the value of using multiple independent analytic methods in forecasting instability. His paper, titled "Using Quantitative And Qualitative Models to Forecast Instability" (download full text here), is a real gem that will be of use to academics, students and professionals. Goldstone is a Professor at George Mason and also the Director of the Center For Global Policy (The Center appears to do some extremely interesting research but some of it is hidden, unfortunately, behind a paywall).

Highlights from the Summary include (Boldface, hyperlinks and italics are mine):

  • For most of the post–World War II period, policymakers and intelligence agencies have relied on experts to make qualitative judgments regarding the risk of instability or violent changes in their areas of study. Yet the inability of such experts to adequately predict major events has led to efforts to use social and analytical tools to create more “scientific” forecasts of political crises. (Note: Goldstone also cites the work of Phillip Tetlock favorably in this regard).
  • Because certain models have a demonstrated accuracy of over 80 percent in early identification of political crises, some have questioned whether such models should replace traditional qualitative analysis.
  • While these quantitative forecasting methods should move to the foreground and play a key role in developing early warning tools, this does not mean that traditional qualitative analysis is dispensable.
  • The best results for early warning are most likely obtained by the judicious combination of quantitative analysis based on forecasting models with qualitative analysis that rests on explicit causal relationships and precise forecasts of its own. (Note: Such an approach was explicitly used by my students in their project on the role of non-state actors in sub-Saharan Africa).
  • Policymakers and analysts should insist on a multiple-method approach, which has greater forecasting power than either the quantitative or qualitative method alone. In this way, political instability forecasting is likely to make its largest advance over earlier practices.

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