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Our intelligence method (or how we differ to think tanks)

Open Briefing utilises tools and methodologies borrowed from the intelligence community
Open Briefing utilises tools and methodologies borrowed from the intelligence community

Open Briefing utilises tools and methodologies from the intelligence community and applies robust and rigorous analytical processes in our work.

This work is driven by an adapted intelligence cycle: a process of direction, planning, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination. In this closed circuit, intelligence requirements are generated by a civil society client and, at the end of the cycle, they provide feedback and issue new or revised requirements if appropriate. This process enables us to turn data (raw facts and figures) and information (context, meaning and structure) into intelligence (analysis, insight and relevance).

Direction: Our intelligence manager has careful discussions with the client to develop a specific intelligence request or series of requests that address their needs. Each request usually takes the form of a question that provides clear direction from the client.

Planning: The intelligence manager assembles a team of analysts, researchers and support staff with the appropriate skill set to answer those questions. The appointed team leader develops a collection plan in conjunction with the intelligence manager, which sets out the sources to be drawn upon, the methods to be used, the resources required and the project deadlines.

Collection: The team collects data from a variety of carefully vetted OSINT (open source intelligence) and HUMINT (human intelligence) sources. Such sources might include satellite imagery, country-specific search engines, deep web search engines, social media, database mining, national news agencies, professional associations, civil society networks and our own contacts on the ground.

Processing: The collected data is processed so as to make to usable by the analytical team. This will include an assessment of its relevance and credibility and other processes such as translation, tabulation or mapping.

Analysis: The analytical team establishes the significance and implications of the processed intelligence. They create new knowledge using a variety of techniques borrowed from the intelligence community in order to respond to the client’s intelligence request(s). Such methods include analysis of competing hypotheses, cone of plausibility, linchpin analysis and alternative futures analysis.

Dissemination: Our final analysis is sent to the client in the agreed format, usually a written report. We then follow this up with a conference call, during which the client will provide feedback and issue new or revised requirements if appropriate. Our work is further disseminated through our website, blog, podcast, e-bulletin, social networks and mobile app.

Our intelligence briefs draw upon the What? So what? Now what? protocol to link intelligence and policy and provide a comprehensive, strategic analysis of an event or issue:

What? The who, what, where, when, why and how of the event or issue (the 5W1H maxim).

So what? The micro- and macro-environmental ramifications of this event or issue (taking into consideration the PESTLE factors: political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, legal and environmental).

Now what? Consequences of the event or issue and recommended responses (considering the 4Ps framework of national interest: power, peace, prosperity and principles).

Within these briefs, likelihood/probability is communicated through the following specific words of estimative probability:

Almost certainly almost certain (>90%)
Highly likely / very probable (75-85%)
Likely / probable (55-70%)
Possibly / possible (25-50%)
Unlikely / improbable (15-20%)
Highly unlikely / remote (<10%)

To avoid confusion, these terms appear in italics whenever used in this context. No other terms are used to indicate probability and weasel words (might, could, maybe, perhaps, etc.) are avoided anywhere in the text.

Items from other sources are assessed using our RC(C) Evaluation System, a simple alphanumeric notation system for coding the reliability of a source, R, the credibility of the information, C, and the confidence in that assessment, (C).

We are currently developing two key resources for publication during 2014. With the help of former intelligence officers, we are drafting the Open Briefing intelligence analysis handbook as a guide to analytical techniques and words of estimative probability. With a professional editor, we are drafting the Open Briefing style guide, covering grammar, spelling and abbreviation rules, as well as the basic writing principles analysts should know. These are intended primarily for our own team but will be made available as useful resources for researchers, journalists and others interested in or using intelligence analysis.