Entries in Intellipedia (2)

Monday
Jul262010

How WikiLeaks threatens transparency

The defenders of the WikiLeaks disclosure champion the benefits of transparency: providing the public with the unfiltered information that informs the government's decisions in Afghanistan. Yet the leak threatens another type of transparency, one that has critical impact on the ground: information sharing between departments of government. This information security disaster provides ammo to those officials who doubt the value of information sharing and use the name of security to defend closed policies.

While the Pentagon is still investigating the source of the leaks, media outlets are speculating that they originated on interagency information sharing portals. Wired writes that PFC Bradley Manning, who is already charged with leaking classified documents to a blogger and is under investigation for the Afghanistan leakage, obtained 150,000 State Department cables through a program known as Net-Centric Diplomacy. CBS News is now suggesting that this latest batch of documents may have come from Intellipedia.

It may seem hard to believe, but the type of open sharing of information between government agencies on platforms like Intellipedia is a relatively new phenomenon. The public may gripe that too many documents are classified Secret, but even within government, issues around "need to know" and fear by some officials that sharing information outside their department will lead them to lose control of it has lead to closed information policies. Intellipedia is a small example of the movement to break down knowledge barriers and share information between government agencies (and beyond) in order to effect better outcomes in the field.

The public wants to know more about the decision making behind Afghanistan and WikiLeaks provides a rare direct from the field account (I've griped before that the field reporting from Afghanistan is dominated by contractors rather than Soldiers and Marines due to DoD policies). Some people may argue that WikiLeaks has provided value in this way, but we should consider the collateral damage.

The public also wants their government leaders and those in the field to have the best information available, whether that comes from State, Defense, Commerce, or elsewhere. In this case, a Department of Defense employee may have leaked Department of State classified cables that he was able to access online thanks to open policies. Information security officers across government are probably thinking twice about new initatives to share information both with each other and with non-traditional partners like trusted NGOs and foreign partners. A really bad outcome from today's WikiLeaks news would be a step backwards in inter- and intra-governmental transparency. Our success in Afghanistan depends on open information sharing.

Sunday
Aug302009

Intellipedia takes collective intelligence to the intelligence community

Part four of the Tap the Collective profiles...

Intellipedia
The open and collaborative information analysis platform that debuted to a wall of skepticism in 2006 may now, in 2009, be demonstrating a legitimate alternative way to think about analysis in the intelligence community. Intellipedia now boats an average of more than 15,000 edits per day with 900,000 pages and 100,000 user accounts, a remarkable level of adoption in only a few years in an environment known for being resistance to big change.

Yet Don Burke, Intellipedia Doyen, finds that Intellipedia is still largely used by early adopters rather than institutionalized across the community. It seems, though, that its proponents are strategizing well to make this social software eventually a central part of analysts activities rather than an afterthought.

One important factor is that all posts are attributed through official accounts, meaning that quality control is high since people cannot hide behind anonymity, and also perhaps more importantly, analysts can actually build a reputation on the site. This additional incentive is important to adoption and active participation -- as we have seen with prediction markets and the leaderboard system. If young analysts can become known for publishing high quality content perhaps this effort could gain the attention of senior officials, much like Inkling Markets has rewarded successful traders with the opportunity to meet company executives. The wiki format seems to create a flatter mechanism for generating high quality content regardless of the level or organization of the contributor, unlike for example, National Intelligence Estimates which follow a strict formal process from originator through commenters. Chris Rasmussen, knowledge manager at NGA and one of the original proponents of Intellipedia believes that they can go one step further and make social software contributions part an employee's performance and compensation plan.


Another important decision in the roll out of the site is that the developers chose to use nearly the exact same interface and functionality of Wikipedia. A problem seem all too often in government is a customized technology solution introduced to allegedly make life easier for analysts that is so unintuitive as to make it not worth the hassle. I have technology-savvy friends in the Department of Defense who groan when a new application is announced simply because their expectations are so low. The result is that they go out of their way to avoid using it. Wikipedia's developers and proponents were very wise to stick to an interface that works and that the community's analysts are already using at home and would be comfortable interacting with immediately.


We look forward to hearing Don Burke, Intellipedia doyen, share his first hand account of implementing this collaborative information analysis platform on Wednesday at Tap the Collective. Mr. Burke is a finalist for the 2009 Service to America Medals, sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, for his work in this area.