Collaboration for analysts: in our dreams!

In the last few years, the US intelligence community, under the leadership of Mike McConnell, made headway in advancing intelligence analysis collaboration across the alphabet soup agencies. This is so much more advanced than what we here in SA would see for at least the next five years, so I wanted to share with you what can be done in terms of broadening perspectives and collaborative sense-making. Maybe, just maybe a visionary leader might see the benefit of this relative easy method to link analysts together, thereby improving the quality of analysis. Nancy Dixon, doyen of organisational learning and knowledge management did a study on A-space and Intellipedia impact in the US Defence Intelligence Agency. She says in her blog:
"The primary benefit that A-Space brings to analytic work is a venue for seamlessly incorporating cognitive diversity to address complex analytic issues. Research
indicates that cognitive diversity, (e.g. different perspectives, interpretations, heuristics, and predictive models) when applied to complex problems, consistently results in more and better solutions.
• A-Space is an environment in which analysts collaboratively create new meaning out of the diverse ideas and perspectives they collectively bring to an issue. Through this collaboration, analysts have the potential to break through long held assumptions to provide new ways of thinking about complex problems. And conversation, with analysts who have diverse perspectives, is the most effective means to engage in the testing and revision of hypotheses. The peer-to-peer environment of A-Space provides a conversational format to engage in joint sensemaking, which may be the most significant function of A-Space in terms of being a human intellectual force multiplier.
• Networking is highly valued by analysts because it provides access to new ideas and diverse perspectives. The most productive network relationships for gaining unique or novel ideas are not the close relationships among an analyst’s teammates (what sociologists call strong ties) because team/division members tend to have redundant knowledge. Rather the best source of new perspectives and ideas are colleagues in other directorates or agencies who have access to information from totally different sources or provide unique perspectives or interpretation of the existing data. A-Space, however, reduces the time-cost of maintaining weak ties by providing analysts a way to establish and maintain relationships through frequent on-line interaction in an informal, peer-to-peer culture of mutual trust. A-Space also greatly increases the number of distant network members an analyst can interact with, again without increasing the time cost.
• A-Space is reinforcing the value of asking questions of colleagues, providing analysts the means to uncover flaws in their own data and reasoning
• A-Space is providing analysts a set of new practices to: 1) build cross agency networks, 2) gain situational awareness, and 3) hold discussions of interpretation, that operate in parallel with the normal production process.
• The non-hierarchal nature of A-Space, results in analysts feeling that it is okay to offer their thinking even if it is not completely formed or thought through, increasing the speed of product development by eliminating faulty hypotheses early on and quickly settling on those that are viable.
Read the full
A-space report and the Intellipedia report.