Thursday, January 6, 2011

Creating better circles

Or, as the British Ministry of Defense calls them, Multi-Source Intelligence Working Environment.

The problem is, they aren’t working very well, and there’s hard money on offer if you can figure out a way to make things better.

I came across this opportunity while looking for a way to get a clinical study funded.  The Ministry of Defense gets lots of data, information from satellites and intercepts, intelligence from informants and spies.  The problem is how to make sense of it all, connecting the dots.

Grant money is being offered for methods to understand how teams collaboratively interact and reason over information, make decisions and derive intelligence.

There is a need for innovative, multi-disciplinary research on team sense-making concepts and cognitive processes, together with applications and services which offer support to those processes. We seek novel concepts and solutions that make the most of emerging technology and/or optimise combinations of existing technologies. In particular, we would welcome multi-disciplinary proposals from outside the computer science domain (including but not limited to psychology, sociology, business intelligence, mathematics and statistics) where there is an opportunity for solutions, methodologies or theories from other areas to be used for intelligence collaboration for the first time.

I think this is a fascinating opportunity: if you can think of a way for people to work together more effectively, then you can get up to £50,000 to spend 100 days demonstrating the feasibility of your idea.  The details can be found here, and proposals are due by January 25.

Genius doesn’t work alone, so part of the solution may be in how groups are composed.  Chris Anderson recently wrote that innovative groups (crowds, tribes) trend-spotters, evangelists, networkers, and skeptics in addition to creative innovators.  There must be a links, ways for each member’s work to be visible to the others, and there must be motivating rewards (perhaps only recognition within the group).

I remember a team-building exercise where we were to select items from a plane crash that would be useful in the arctic.  They scored our choices against what an arctic expert would choose.  Then they asked us to make a new list, deciding as a group.  How would the consensual answer compare to the average of individual scores?

The group did worse than the best of it’s individuals, and slightly worse than the individual average.  It bothered me that the best ideas were not the ones that got heard and adopted, or that the group couldn’t pick the best ideas from each of its members.

Every day, in many ways, we fail to make the most of people’s knowledge and insights when we try to solve a problem as a group.  If you’ve got a good idea for tools, methods, or organizations that can improve the situation, the MoD wants to hear from you.

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