Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Summary Of Findings: Gap Analysis (3 Out Of 5 Stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the 12 articles read in advance of (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst College on 29 APR 2009 regarding Gap Analysis specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Description:
Traditionally, "gap analysis" is a method used to conduct an internal operational analysis, whereas the gap analysis identifies the "gap" between a current state and a desired endstate within a company or agency. From an intelligence analysis perspective, "gap analysis" can be used as a tool to identify the likely pathway or pathways a target may take to arrive at a given endstate from a known position. Thus, "gap analysis" does not necessarily provide an estimate, but rather provides the analyst with a list of possible actions a target may likely take. Gap analysis as an analytic technique bears a striking resemblance to several other methods, such as Indicators & Warnings and Decision Trees.

Strengths:
1) Identify the target
2) Characterize the current status of the target as well as the target's goals
3) Identify what you want to know about the target
4) List the pieces of information that you have
5) Use a systematic approach to infer what the target is likely to do in order for the target to reach its goals

Weaknesses:
* No structured method to conduct the analysis
* May not leave you with a clear estimate
* Open to bias and other cognitive downfalls (satisficing, mirror imaging, etc.)
* Overlaps with the process of other methods and modifiers (i.e. decision treees, I&W, Brainstorming, SWOT, etc.)
* Susceptible to deception
* Danger of pitfalls

How-To:
1) Identify the target
2) Characterize the current status of the target as well as the target's goals
3) Identify what you want to know about the target
4) List the pieces of information that you have
5) Use a systematic approach to infer what the target is likely to do in order for the target to reach its goals

Experience:
For the first application, the group tried to determine what thesis topic Mary, a fictional first year graduate, would write about. Professor Wheaton acted in place of Mary, and we role played in questions and answer format. The group determined the gaps needing filled would be what intelligence track she was most interested in (national security, law enforcement, or competitive), what area or topic in her previous classes interested her the most, the choice of her primary reader, and the reader's academic interests. Upon filling these gaps, the group ascertained a plausible topic for Mary's thesis.

For the second application, the group discussed Russia's long held ambitions for a warm water port, preferably on the Mediterranean. The first part of the discussion centered on hostilities between Georgia and Russia, and actions Russia could take against Georgia to maintain their sphere of influence in the Black Sea. Additionally, the group discussed what actions may be necessary in their diplomatic relations with other nations bordering the sea. After discussing how Russia could potentially gain a Black Sea port by bringing Georgia into their sphere of influence, the group discussed how Russia could proceed toward gaining access to Mediterranean ports. The group determined that Turkey would be central in future Russian objectives for ports in the Mediterranean. The group put together lists of things the Russians could do that they are not doing now that would indicate their goals of extending their influence in Georgia and Turkey.

These applications illustrated the following:
* Helped in thinking through the steps that lead to a decision
* Allowed for open discussion and debate, helping the critical thinking process
* At some points it felt like stabbing in the dark, but the estimates later became more clear as the group discussed the options
* Eliminated peripheral influences not directly related to the topic, such as administrative processes.

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