Evolving Analysis

USGIF’s Analytic Modernization Working Group unpacks the challenges of its trade


Therapy typically takes place on a comfortable couch in the quiet confines of a psychologist’s office. For a group of several dozen geospatial and imagery analysts, however, it took place in a crowded meeting room at GEOINT 2017, where USGIF’s newly-formed Analytic Modernization Working Group held a lively exchange about the challenges analysts face as the profession modernizes.

“Everything around us is changing. Maybe we feel happy or sad about that. Maybe we feel that we have some concerns. Maybe we want some problems solved,” said Dr. Patrick Biltgen, technical director for analytics at Vencore, who co-moderated the hour-long discussion with Jonathan McColgan, a program manager at OGSystems. “This is GEOINT therapy—just get it out there.”

Rather than hosting a traditional panel discussion, Biltgen and McColgan organized an intra-audience dialogue about the future of analytic tradecraft. OGSystems Visioneer and graphic artist Ben Tinker captured key themes of the discussion via graphic facilitation, creating a large illustration in real time.

The audience produced a number of questions for analysts to consider. A few of the most compelling are:

  • What will our workflows be? As the Intelligence Community moves further toward an “all-source” mindset, analysts are wondering if it’s time to break down barriers between IMINT, GEOINT, and other analytic disciplines.
  • How will we learn new skills? The rapid pace of technological change has many analysts wondering where to seek new training opportunities and how to apply what they learn if their organization is not yet ready to evolve.
  • How do we reward risk? In order to modernize their occupation successfully, analysts said they need support from managers and supervisors who incentivize and understand the value of risk-taking.
  • What’s our definition of ‘product’? Analysts have traditionally been assessed by the quantity of intelligence products they produce. Going forward, the group said, they want to be assessed by the quality of what they produce—which might require a new understanding of what a product is.

Like any good therapy session, attendees left with more questions than answers. As it continues to consider the issues raised, however, the Analytic Modernization Working Group can be expected to play an active role in defining the future of analysis.


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