The Group Matters

A Review of Processes and Outcomes in Intelligence Analysis

Published in: Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, v. 15, no. 2, 2011, p. 128-146

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2011

by Susan G. Straus, Andrew M. Parker, James B. Bruce

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The work of intelligence analysts is fundamentally cognitive in nature. Intelligence analysis consists largely of identifying problems, generating and evaluating hypotheses, identifying and assessing open source and classified information, recognizing patterns in large sets of data, aggregating information, and providing results in the form of judgments, forecasts, and insights to policymakers. These activities are often conducted by individuals; however, intelligence agencies and experts have called increasingly for the use of teams in intelligence analysis. This article reviews the research literature on group-level phenomena (that is, process losses) that are most relevant to the work of intelligence analysts, including productivity losses in brainstorming, the common knowledge effect, group polarization, confirmation bias, overconfidence, and pressures toward uniformity. We describe how features of intelligence analysis teams' tasks, context, and structure affect these processes, present methods to minimize these process losses and increase process gains, and discuss directions for future research. Although our focus is on intelligence analysis teams, these processes and interventions are relevant to a range of analytical teams that share common characteristics.

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