4 studies in collaboration — Case 1: Intellipedia

Intelligence analysts establish trust in an online community of their own making

To fully understand the inroads the intelligence community’s Intellipedia wiki has made at its two-year anniversary, look no further than its No. 1 contributor — a 69-year-old analyst.

That shows how collaboration tools are gaining traction with employees who want to work more efficiently, said Sean Dennehy, the CIA’s Intellipedia and Enterprise 2.0 evangelist.
Intellipedia is a success story that demonstrates how Web 2.0 tools — and the policy and management strategies that support them — can flourish in government, experts say.

The more than 80,000 members of the intelligence community who work on unclassified, secret and top-secret networks make on average more than 5,000 contributions to Intellipedia daily.

“Two-thirds of the people in the intelligence community are new since Sept. 11,” said Dale Meyerrose, chief information officer at the Office of the Director for National Intelligence. “They create social networks in their life, and they want to act the same in their professional lives. We must figure out where the best source of information is, how best to discover it and how to access it. We need a policy for how to expose information without creating separate databases. That is a hard thing to do.”

Support from above
Dennehy said Intellipedia has received strong support from senior managers in the intelligence community, and some of them have become bloggers. Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, is considering writing a blog, Dennehy said.

“We’ve stressed a bottom-up, grass-roots adoption,” Dennehy said. “We often hear users don’t need top cover but middle cover from some of their first- and second-level supervisors. It isn’t pushback, but they are not familiar with the tools and not sure how to take advantage of them.”

The 5 percent rule often applies in the Intellipedia community, Meyerrose said. That occurs when a collector finds or senses something and shares it with a group in a chat room or on a discussion page. Typically, only 5 percent of people in a group participate. In time, however, another 5 percent become active contributors, and participation expands.

An intelligence community working group developed the policies for Intellipedia, Dennehy said. Those policies, with few exceptions, mirror those of Wikipedia.

“I’ve been impressed about how users scour through various and often-conflicting regulations to figure out what is allowed,” Dennehy said. “Users are very careful to make sure the information on Intellipedia can be there.”

The Intellipedia guidelines are straightforward and only a few pages long. Users must log in using their full name and e-mail address before they can become contributors. However, anyone with a proper clearance can view information.

“People often think if anyone can edit the contributions they will, but that is not the case,” Dennehy said. “People focus on their day-to-day work. We don’t get a lot of contributions from completely out of left field. All contributions are transparent and tied to your name, and that offers a lot of trust.”

Knowing who contributed particular work helps others recognize who the experts are, and it also discourages misuse, Intellipedians say. If disagreements occur, volunteer administrators help mediate. Volunteers also check to see that pages and discussion groups are updated.

The site’s growing use has forced the intelligence community to reach out for more so-called gardeners, users who look at the overall structure of Intellipedia and create links to related pages.

“When we asked for help, I didn’t expect much of a response, but we had a lot of interest,” Dennehy said. “That shows that the value of Intellipedia is recognized across the community.& dqu ; 

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