IMSL are involved in number of projects where the output of our intelligence analysis is delivered as a knowledge base or a wiki to a customer. We aren’t the only ones doing this, although the number of organisations that use a wiki as a collaborative tool for developing and delivering intelligence analysis is remarkably small. Within IMSL I am known to be a bit of an evangelist for this approach, for which I apologise (but only a bit!).
Here are just a few of the reasons why I find wikis so attractive for delivering intelligence analysis:
- A consumer can dive in to the level of depth they need and follow their nose. The alternative is (often) reading 40 page pdf before you can establish if the content is of any use to you. No-one has time to read 40 page pdfs anymore and any analyst is kidding themselves if they think the consumer has time for that. Whole pages of supporting material can be contained within a wiki without distracting from the central theme
- A good wiki enables and provides a vehicle for the intelligence cycle. A consumer of intelligence can easily and without hassle use the wiki to ask for more analysis, or query an assessment or raise new requests for intelligence. A wiki enables other analysts to provide peer review and managers to assess staff’s competency too.
- A wiki is “live” and can easily be altered as new data comes in and changes an assessment. How many pdfs have you ever seen “recalled” ? They are set in stone the day they are published. So a wiki is much more dynamic. And again you dont need to read the whole document to find the bit that has changed.
- Wikis aid collaborative working between a group of analysts and increase productivity.
- Wikis can present the current state of knowledge, even if the analysis is immature. They can answer the question “I’m going on an op in 30 minutes, give me what you have got NOW, even if it is not complete.” On-the-fly, real-time analysis is possible to deliver.
- It is auditable. Who assessed what and when? Feet can be held to the fire and that’s a good thing.
- Source transparency is enabled very easily. Other analysts or consumers can check your sources easily at the click of a button and comment if there is any query on sources. Or they can add value by adding additional material or references, so spinning the value up further. You can’t do that on a pdf.
- Possibly very importantly, consumers like it. Without exception our customers prefer wikis once they try it.
The following are factors against using wikis:
- Some people find that using a wiki is a bit clunky and not as easy as editing a word document. True… but….
- It is perhaps not so easy to extract a presentation in some ways. A word or pdf gives a linear narrative usually, and presentations usually have to be linear. But I feel the lack of a strict linear construct makes a wiki more useful, allowing the consumer to follow their own nose to some degree, if they wish to. A wiki does need to attempt a some linear construct while allowing side branches for the consumer to choose.
- It needs active management. No point in encouraging an intelligence cycle on a wiki if the analysts doesn’t maintain engagement and have the time resources and inclination to do so. This is a key issue for most commercial intelligence providers who are scared of the uncontrolled resources that wikis might suck in.
- The apparent lack of formal structure can make them “feel temporary”, and they can give an impression of relying too much on internet sources. It is so easy simply to link a wikipedia page, that some analysts do it too much.
- In some circumstances it is harder to share with others. A pdf can be emailed on, but a wiki, depending on its hosting arrangements can’t (but that can be a strength too) .
- Some consumers (in 2015!) still prefer printing their analysis onto paper and reading it the old fashioned way. Dinosaurs did live for millions of years after all…but the customer is always right.