Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Free Certificate Courses In Conflict Analysis And Interfaith Conflict Resolution (

On the heels of the scathing Flynn report, it seems to me that at least one option for broadening analysts' perspectives would be to broaden the range of their training and education opportunities.

With this in mind, the two online certificate courses at the US Institute Of Peace (USIP) in Conflict Analysis and Interfaith Conflict Resolution look particularly promising.

In the first place, the courses are sponsored by USIP, "a publicly funded national institution chartered to 'serve the American people and the federal government through the widest possible range of education and training, basic and applied research opportunities, and peace information services on the means to promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence.'" That's a mouthful but what it means to me is that these courses have been designed by some the best peace experts in the world. The Institute, for those unfamiliar with its history, was formally established by President Ronald Reagan and has been in continuous operation since 1984.

In the second place, the courses themselves are online (making them easy to access), well designed, offer a certificate upon successful completion of the final exam and are free. I particularly like the detailed explanations of various "terms of art" within the peacekeeping community, the models the courses use for thinking about conflict and interfaith communication and the extensive cases studies that relate the theory to practice. The courses are clearly introductory in nature but I think they would expose even seasoned analysts to a different way of looking at the issues of conflict analysis and interfaith communication.

One Mercyhurst alum who took one of the courses said it only took a couple of hours to complete but this guy was one of our brightest and already had some experience in the area. I would allocate a couple of hours a day for about a week to get through the material. It will probably take less time but that would be my planning number (particularly with younger or less experienced analysts).

In the third place, it was recommended to me by an analyst who works for the Marines (Thanks, Zac!). I think it was Ralph Peters who said that the secret to understanding the Marines is that as long as you look like a Marine, walk like a Marine and talk like a Marine, you can think anything you want. As much as it pains this old grunt to admit it, the leathernecks do have an uncanny ability to spot interesting opportunities.

All in all, some good reasons to take a look at the offerings and see if they might work for you or your program. If you do get a chance to take the course, do not hesitate to post your comments or observations here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BAH Opens The Persia House, Provides Detailed Analysis On Events In Iran And Persian Gulf (

Booz Allen Hamiliton has just announced the opening of its online analytic resource, the Persia House.

The Persia House focuses on events in Iran, specifically, and the Persian Gulf in general. It covers a wide variety of topics including economics, security, domestic and international politics and nuclear proliferation among others. It even covers culture and humor in order to provide the widest possible context for its analytic offerings.

Much of the content of the site seems to center around Persia House's proprietary translations of recent articles. What differentiates these offerings from other translation services is the Persia House's often lengthy analysis of the articles and the context in which they were written. I particularly appreciated the analyst notes regarding the religious and political leanings of the various sources that the Persia House analysts use. Beyond the current news, the Persia House also provides more extensive analysis on a variety of topics. I do wish that it had a few more relevant graphics (maps, videos, etc.) but I suspect that those features will come with time.

In short, I am no Iranian expert but it looks like pretty good stuff.

BAH intends to make the service a subscription service at the end of the month but for now it is free to anyone interested. I know that they are also very interested in feedback so do not hesitate to leave a comment here or on their website.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heuer: How To Fix Intelligence Analysis With Structured Methods (

Richards Heuer (of Psychology Of Intelligence Analysis fame...) spoke last month at the National Academy of Sciences regarding his thoughts on how to improve intelligence analysis through the increased use of structured methods.

In the aftermath of the attempted bombing of Flight 253 on Christmas Day, it is worth reading Dick's words on how to improve the analytic side of the intelligence equation. I don't agree with everything he says (and say so in italicized parenthetical comments below) but he has been thinking clearly about these kinds of things for far longer than most of us. If you are concerned at all with reforming the way we do analysis, then this is a much better place to start than with all the noise being generated by the talking heads on TV.

I have embedded the whole document below this post or you can go to the National Academies site and listen to Dick's speech yourself. For those of you with too much to do and too little time, I have tried to pull out some of the highlights from Dick's paper below. I am not going to do it justice though, so, if you have the time, please read the entire document.

  • "If there is one thing you take away from my presentation to day, please let it be that structured analytic techniques are enablers of collaboration. They are the process by which effective collaboration occurs. Structured techniques and collaboration fit together like hand in glove, and they need to be promoted and developed together." (This is very consistent with what we see with our students here at Mercyhurst. Dick reports some anecdotal evidence to support his claim and it is exactly the same kinds of things we see with our young analysts).
  • "Unfortunately, the DNI leadership has not recognized this. For example, the DNI’s National Intelligence Strategy, Enterprise Objective 4 on improving integration and sharing, makes no mention of improving analytic methods."
  • "CIA, not the DNI, is the agency that has been pushing structured analysis. One important innovation at CIA is the development in various analytic offices of what are called tradecraft cells. These are small groups of analysts whose job it is to help other analysts decide which techniques are most appropriate, help guide the use of such techniques by inexperienced analysts, and often serve as facilitators of group processes. These tradecraft cells are a very helpful innovation that should spread to the other agencies." (Interesting. We called these "analytic coaches" and tried to get funding for them in our contract work for the government in 2005 -- and failed).
  • "I understand you are all concerned about evaluating whether these structured techniques actually work. So am I. I’d love to see our methods tested, especially the structured analytic techniques Randy and I have written about. The only testing the Intelligence Community has done is through the experience of using them, and I think we all agree that’s not adequate." (I suppose this is the comment that bothers me at the deepest level. It implies, to me, at least, that the IC doesn't know if any of its analytic methods work. What other 75 billion dollar a year enterprise can say that? What other 75 billion dollar a year enterprise wants to say that?)
  • "Some of you have emphasized the need to test the accuracy of these techniques. That would certainly be the ideal, but ideals are not always achievable." (Here I have to disagree with Dick. Philip Tetlock and Bruce Bueno De Mesquita have both made progress in this area and there is every reason to think that, with proper funding, such an effort would ultimately be successful. Tetlock recommended as much in a recent article. The key is to get started. The amount of money necessary to conduct this research is trivial compared to the amount spent on intel overall. Likewise, the payoff is enormous. As an investment it is a no-brainer, but until you try, you will not know)
  • "Unfortunately, there are major difficulties in testing structured techniques for accuracy, (for an outline of some of these, see my series of posts on evaluating intelligence) and the chances of such an approach having a significant favorable impact on how analysis is done are not very good. I see four reasons for this."
  • "1. Testing for accuracy is difficult because it assumes that the accuracy of intelligence judgments can be measured."
  • "2. There is a subset of analytic problems such as elections, when a definitive answer will be known in 6 or 12 months. Even in these cases there is a problem in measuring accuracy, because intelligence judgments are almost always probabilistic."
  • "3. A third reason why a major effort to evaluate the accuracy of structured analytic techniques may not be feasible stems from our experience that these techniques are most effective when used as part of a group process."

  • "4. If you are trying to change analysts’ behavior, which has to be the goal of such research, you are starting with at least one strike against you, as much of your target audience already has a firm opinion, based on their personal experience that they believe is more trustworthy than your research." (Here I have to disagree with Dick again. I think the goal of this research has to be to improve forecasting accuracy. If you can show analysts a method that has been demonstrated to improve forecasting accuracy -- to improve the analyst's "batting average" -- in real world conditions, I don't think you will have any problem changing their behavior.)
  • "As with the other examples, however, the Intel Community has no organizational unit that is funded and qualified to do that sort of testing."
  • "It (a referenced Wall St. Journal article) suggested that instead of estimating the likelihood that their plans will work, financial analysts should estimate the probability they might fail. That’s a good idea that could also be applied to intelligence analysis." (I am not sure why we can't do both. We currently teach at Mercyhurst that a "complete" estimate consists of both a statement of probability (i.e. the likelihood that X will or will not happen) and a statement of analytic confidence (i.e. how likely is that you, the analyst, are wrong in your estimate.)
  • "The kind of research I just talked about can and should be done in-house with the assistance of those who are directly responsible for implementing the findings." (I think that Dick is correct, that, at some point, it has to be done in-house. I do think, however, that the preliminary testing could be effectively done by colleges, universities and other research institutions. This has three big benefits. First, it means that many methods could be tested quickly and that only the most promising would move forward. Second, it would likely be less expensive to do the first stage testing in the open community than in the IC. Third, it allows the IC to extend its partnering and engagement activities with colleges, universities and research institutions.)
  • "Our forthcoming book has two major recommendations for DNI actions that we believe are needed to achieve the analytic transformation we would all like to see."
  • "1. The DNI needs to require that the National Intelligence Council set an example about the importance of analytic tradecraft. NIC projects are exactly the kind of projects for which structured techniques should always be used, and this is not happening now."
  • "2. The second recommendation is that the DNI should create what might be called a center for analytic tradecraft."

Complete text below:

The Evolution of Structured Analytic Techniques -- Richards Heuer -- 8 DEC 2009
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]