First off, a definition for people who don’t know what Intellipedia — or even a wiki — is. Wikis are Web sites designed for collaboration where groups can come together to collect and edit data. Of course, the best known wiki is the enormously successful Wikipedia, the free, online encyclopedia that taps into the wisdom of crowds. Intellipedia started out as a Wikipedia-like wiki for the intelligence community. And Intellipedia has evolved into a suite of Web. 20 tools for the intelligence community — the Intellipedia wiki, which uses the free, Wikimedia software; a photo sharing tool akin to Flickr; a social bookmarking tool akin to Delicious (my Delicious bookmarks)… and on and on…
In so many ways, this remarkable suite of tools has been at the cutting edge of the transformation of how government uses information. Not only is Intellipedia significantly ahead of most government agencies — therefore they are often requested for speaking posts — but I would argue that the intelligence community is well ahead of many private sector organizations.
And one cannot discount the challenges facing the intelligence community. One just has to go back and read the 9/11 Commission’s final report as a reminder, as McAfee recounts in his book: The 9/11 Commission’s “conclusions can be summarized using two phrases that became popular during the investigations: even though the system was blinking red before 9/11, no one could connect the dots.” (If you either have never read the 9/11 Commission’s report or it has been awhile, it is a remarkable piece of work — almost chilling… and a surprisingly readable narative of what happened. And owners of the Amazon Kindle, you can get it for only 99-cents.)
The goal was to create tools that enable dot connecting — that make data visable and more usable. The goal is share data — and, by extension, knowledge — across the traditional and very well established boundaries in the intelligence community.
There were undoubetedly the organizational and systemic changes, but what also started happening was — to put it simply — stuff. Among the stuff were these tools — and they developed both with some top-down help, but they also evolved organically.
As I mentioned, Intellipedia is way ahead of just about everybody else. So they are fascinating to watch develop because they are facing issues that most organizations will face in the coming years.
Last year, GCN’s Joab Jackson wrote a much discussed story provocatively headlined Intellipedia suffers midlife crisis. When the GCN story can out, I thought the headline was preposterous — after all, these tools have been around for a few years. My sense is the baby is barely walking. Yet the headline was more provocative then accurate — but it ended up spurring a very good discussion around standardization. And Intellipedia is at an interesting place at its evolution. The question at the heart of the argument is: Should these tools eventually be required use within organizations?
One of the tools is A-Space. The more formal definition of A-Space is “a common collaborative workspace for all analysts from the [intelligence community]. That is accessible from common workstations and provides unprecedented access to interagency databases, a capability to search classified and unclassified sources simultaneously, web-based messaging, and collaboration tools.” Think of it more as a Facebook for the intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCW… Information Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now with Microsoft.
It is a fascinating way of trying to share information.
The Defense Intelligence Agency recently commissioned a study assessing A-Space. The study, conducted by Nancy Dixon, a knowledge management expert, has recently been completed and the report is fascinating. Dixon blogs the conclusions and links to the full report [PDF]. I have also posted it below.
In short, A-Space shows real promise.
I’ll just provide bullet items of her conclusions, because you can read more detail about them for yourself in her report, but… I will quote the top one:
* A-Space Creates a Collaborative Culture that Serves as a Model for Collaboration
The most significant feature of A-Space is the open, collaborative, and appreciative culture that is developing. Through the on-line interaction, counterparts in agencies are coming to know each other as valued colleagues. The willingness to help others on A-Space is evident everywhere. The informality of the language and the friendly banter create the feel of a comfortable conversation among peers. There is a growing sense of trust that makes it acceptable to offer to one’s thinking even when it is not completely formed. As A-Space numbers grow, it has the potential to make the interagency collaboration that is so needed, a reality. It is this culture of trust along with the functionality of A-Space and the classification level, which supports the analytic benefits that are accruing through analysts’ interaction on A-Space, and could be a model of collaboration for any occupational skill in any venue.
* A-Space Classification Level Provides Access to Long Obscured Documents * A-Space Functionality Promotes Networking Across Organizational Boundaries * A-Space Enhances Users Situational Awareness * A-Space Allows Users to Augment their Ability to Interpret Information * Analysts use A-Space to Test Ideas and Theories Early in the Knowledge Creation Process
Also be sure to read the challenges… and the recommendations. It is a fascinating study.