Exploring the Use of Social Tools to Improve Interagency Collaboration

This week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a new report with support from the IBM Center for The Business of Government.  The report, “New Tools for Collaboration: The Experience of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” is authored by Gregory Treverton, who conducted the study as an independent research effort prior to his returning to government service as Director of the National Intelligence Council. Treverton draws upon but reshapes the results of a RAND project done for the Center for the Study of Intelligence.

This report is intended for an audience beyond the U.S. Intelligence Community—senior managers in government, their advisors and students of government performance who are interested in the progress of collaboration in a difficult environment. The purpose of this project was to learn lessons by looking at the use of internal collaborative tools across the Intelligence Community (IC), especially across the four biggest agencies:

•     CIA (Central Intelligence Agency);

•     DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency);

•     NSA (National Security Agency) and

•     NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency).

The initial rubric for Treverton’s research was tools, but the real focus is collaboration — for while the tools can enable, what ultimately matters are policies and practices interacting with organizational culture.  The ultimate question is how and how much could, and should, collaborative tools foster integration across a set of agencies that work together, such as the IC. Collaborative tools can and do serve analytical purposes, as well as many other collaborative functions—from improving logistics or human resources, to better connecting collection and analysis, to assisting administration and development, to facilitating, as one interlocutor put it, operational “go” decisions. Yet it is in the analytic realm that collaboration is both most visible and most rubs against traditional work processes that are not widely collaborative.

Drawing on existing literature, available data, and subsequent surveys and working sessions, Treverton first defines terms and discusses concepts, first exploring collaboration and coordination.  The report then defines collaborative tools and social media, and assesses the experience of the private sector. The author uses those distinctions to sort out the blizzard of collaborative tools that have been created in and across the various intelligence agencies, and then outlines the state of collaboration, again both within agencies and across them. Treverton concludes with findings and recommendations — a continuum of possible actions in making more strategic what is and will continue to be more a bottom-up process of creating and adopting collaborative tools and practices.

The Center thanks CSIS for its collaboration in publishing this report.  We hope that its contents will help government leaders and stakeholders understand strategies for leveraging social tools as a means of enhancing interagency coordination and collaboration.

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