Living Intelligence

I first met Chris Rasmussen when I was invited to Washington to research the Enterprise 2.0 efforts underway in the sixteen agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community (IC). I came away from this work doubly impressed: by the scope and sophistication of E2.0 at the IC (which I wrote about in my book and this post) and by the talent, tenacity, and passion of its evangelists.

No one exemplified these qualities better than Chris, who was at that time with the NGA. He had (and still has) a geek’s passion for cool digital tools, and an organizational innovator’s frustration with the status quo —  with the IC’s shortcomings in collaboration, knowledge sharing, and expertise location. He was a vocal proponent of Intellipedia and the Community’s other 2.0 initiatives, and came to spend a lot of his time as a kind of internal Johnny Appleseed, spreading the word and delivering the tools throughout the NGA and its peers.

He also kept thinking about how to use technology to better accomplish the work of the IC, and in particular how to address two nagging problems: the huge amount of redundant work (can you imagine how many reports are being prepared right now about the protests in Egypt?) and the fact that for all their popularity and strengths, the Community’s 2.0 tools are still not seen as the ‘finished product’ — they’re not official word of any agency on any topic at any point in time. Intellipedia, in other words, might be a useful non-official input to the work of the CIA, FBI, NSA, ONI, etc., but it’s never their official output. In Rasmussen’s view, Enterprise 2.o at the IC consisted largely of building a digital water cooler where informal conversations could happen throughout the community. This was valuable and robust, but more was possible.

Chris and his colleagues have come up with a fascinating proposal for dealing with these problems, one that makes use of familiar 2.0 technologies and very light organizational tweaks. They call it “Living Intelligence,” and explain it beautifully in this video, which is about 9 minutes long. I won’t try to explain it in any detail here, except to say that it gives each agency an effective and lightweight way to certify that a given piece of analysis represents its official view. No agency, however, can ‘lock down’ content in the Living Intelligence system; topics remain open so that any and all can contribute to them. Certification can be given and taken away as events and opinions warrant, and the entire system is opt-in; no agency will be forced to adopt it. Living Intelligence is an attempt to combine crowdsourcing with an official stamp of approval. It’s a great example of Government 2.0.

I encourage everyone to watch the video (embedded at the end of this post). It deals with a topic of great interest — helping the IC do its work better —  and it’s relevant for other organizations as well, particularly large ones. We all know that big enterprises have serious problems with duplication of effort; many of the ideas and techniques underlying Living Intelligence can help. So please do check them out.

The Living Intelligence team has made it through the first round of a crowdsourced contest at NGA aimed to “fundamentally change the user’s experience,” and I’m rooting for them to go a lot farther. I’ll keep you posted on the progress, and hope that I’ll have the chance to publicly congratulate Chris and the rest of the team here.