[OSI] Knowledge Management

* Dr. Mike Wertheimer, Chief Technology Officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
* G. Clayton Grigg, Chief Knowledge Officer, FBI
* Jeffrey R. Cooper, Chief Innovation Officer, SAIC
* Ed Waltz, Chief Scientist, BAE Systems
* Moderator: Thomas Sanderson, Deputy Director of the Transnational Threats Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies


The session asks how we make use of the expertise of the web, especially blogs, wikis, and collaborative environments.

Early in Wertheimer’s tenure at DNI, he’d get the same story from lots of people. There would be some hard problem, and so they would facilitate getting a diverse group into a room. No one solved the problem, and when you asked why not, they said they didn’t have enough data. Why?

They were mostly introverted, and most people had a pretty strongly-held opinions. They rushed to consensus, that consensus being that there was no good solution. That said, he would ask, is it possible that the answer is in someone’s desk drawer? Yes, they say, they think that is possible. Would they have taken a different path if they had known it was in someone’s drawer? Surprising answer: no. They like the way they do it. And what is that strategy? Task more collection. “The strategy for finding a needle in the haystack is to put more hay on the pile.”

Intellipedia is an effort to expose ideas before they are fully baked. The effort has had some success, but is facing new challenges. The first wave of Intellipedians are zealots, and have a clear idea of how the wiki should be used and shouldn’t. The second wave of people are trying new things, but running into similar problems when their efforts run headlong into policy issues. What do you do when contractors set up pages? [That’s actually a problem with Wikipedia as well.] How should pages for debating whether global warming is “real” be handled? What can you put on your home page? That you like to surf? That you are a Christian? What about a case where someone defaced another person’s home page with a racial slur as a joke? How do you stop this happening, while not encumbering the network with rules.

How do you “manage the gray area” of a system that is designed to be without rules in a community that has a long culture of rules. They are trying to let a thousand flowers bloom, but it’s difficult because of the compliance and security issues. How do you keep it a good place to be and useful to the process, and not sink the mission.

Waltz talked about the exchange of knowledge artifacts at various levels: a chat over the phone, exchange of data, and finally, at the highest and most important level, the exchange of mental models; that is, some understanding of tacit models of reasoning.

Grigg gave a pretty broad overview of knowledge management, looking at managing human resources; issues with knowledge architecture in the organization, and how do you migrate previous knowledge; how do organizations memorialize lessons learned, how do you capture the knowledge of the experienced folks; how to ensure that records are captured and placed into operation “just-in-time.” Finally, he moved on to the issue of collaborative platform, peer-to-peer sharing.

Cooper made an argument in support of analysis as a human and social endeavor, and there is a need to not just give lip service to that, but create systems that support the cognitive work of analysts. Building such systems is not easy. He says that the reasons that analysts’ tools have failed because they failed to understand how analysts actually work. He says the panel should not be about “knowledge management” but rather “knowledge creation.” Not moving and storing information, but helping individuals or groups create (or co-create) new knowledge.

He argues that systems are missing the social element, the temporal element (timeline), and the spatial, physical nature of information artifacts. Knowledge management has only changed in terms of volume. Understanding the social networks that already exist to understand the information problem. Most of this remains tacit, and needs to be understood through the social filter. We need to help people to represent the thinking, not just the answer. “Analysis” covers a lot of material: from the immediate and narrow to very broad, general problems. We cannot expect the same tools to handle this diverse set of tasks. We need to understand how this is done socially now, and draw this into design of support tools.

Sanderson talked about a “trusted information network” program (using Groove), a globally distributed forum for discussing jihadists. A question would be put up, and then it would be discussed by this group. The most important incentive was that it had impact, both in terms of real action and their own work. It was important that by entering discussion they would gain knowledge as well. Need to have moderation to maintain a flow. Need a group willing to challenge one another–who are competitive.

Q & A

If a moderator is necessary, what about Intellipedia and similar non-moderated sites work? Even Wikipedia needs gardeners to keep things together and working. (The panelists kept torturing this metaphor so long, it started to feel absurdly a bit like Being There.)

It’s not just KM: are there gaps in policy at a higher level? Yes, for a lot of reasons. One of them may be that the DNI doesn’t have a big enough stick to lead to change in the community. It’s also a cultural issue: according to a survey those with the highest job satisfaction see the least need to collaborate across agencies.

Cooper argues that we have very little peripheral intelligence: most of it is tasked and focussed. I was actually surprised by this, and I’m curious as to how much is actually spent on keeping watch for unexpected threats.

How do you work practices like blogging and wikis into evaluation of performance, and such? Wertheimer says it’s actually dangerous to contribute. Not everyone needs to be an Intellipedian. It’s fine if the people who want to write write, and others just read. It’s an entrepreneurial time, and entrepreneurs fail. That said, Intellipedia has led to big wins, breakthroughs. They haven’t figured out how to minimize the risk, “but the ones who take the risk are the ones who are exciting to be around.” Cooper notes that the problem of evaluating freely published work is one that academia has been trying to work on for at least a century when evaluating the work of faculty.

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