Friday, November 7, 2014

The Paradox of Intuitive Analysis and the Implications for Professionalism

Authors: Kirsty Martin, Mark Kebbell, Louise Porter, and Michael Townsley


Martin et al. examined the available research pertaining to how analysis is done by intelligence analysts, with the intention of apply their findings specifically to criminal intelligence analysts.  The main question, identified by the authors, is should intelligence be treated like an art (where intuition and experiences play a key role), a science (where the scientific method is the driving force) or a combination of the two?  Their research identifies three different models: traditional decision making (TDM), naturalistic decision making (NDM), and cognitive continuum theory (CCT).

Martin et al. in their research identify the analyst as the decision maker, and not the client, which is what most research usually identifies as the decision makers.  The focus is to identify how analysts should make decisions as they examine a piece of evidence, either in an intuitive fashion (art) or a rule based method (science).

TDM Models
TDM sets formal rules for analysts to move through while making decisions on pieces of evidence.  These models are based on the three key principles of rationality, maximization and transitivity. Analysts will follow logical, rule based processes when making decisions and will attempt to maximize their accuracy to seek for the best decision available.

Examples of TDM models include decision tree analysis, sleipnir, analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH) and Bayesian analysis.These methods allow the analysts to clearly show the process taken while coming to an estimate than can be judged and altered if needed.  Their research found that while TDM models often result in a good estimate, if a mistake is made in the application, these models have been found to be less accurate than intuitive strategies.

NDM Models
NDM models are based on identifying the analysts experiences with key pieces of evidence to come to a conclusion.  Recognition-primed decision making (PRDM) is the most known model where the analysts immerses himself in the situation, in which the analyst then identifies certain indicators which they can match to previous experiences.  The literature has shown the NDM 10 main characteristics,

1) Ill-defined goals and ill -structured tasks
2) Uncertainty, ambiguity and missing data
3) Shifting and competing goals
4) Dynamic and changing conditions
5) Action -feedback loops
6) Time constraints
7) High stakes
8) Multiple Layers
9) Organizational goals and norms
10) Experienced decision makers

CCT Models
CCT models identify that both intuitive and cognitive models are often used when analyzing a problem, just to varying degrees depending on the task.  The two operate along a line at different ends, the position of the analyst on this line will change in accordance with the task.  For example, time restraints may prevent an analysts from exploring all the available courses of action, here the analysts will use his/her intuition to identify the top COA's to examine.  From there, they can use an analytic method, ACH, to breakdown that COA.

The purpose of this study was to identify the different schools of thinking towards intelligence as a science vs an art in applying it to criminal intelligence.  For all three models, the authors stated no researchers have examined these models specifically for criminal analysts.  In terms of developing a foundation for future researchers to conduct experiments on this topic, the authors did a good job.

As this was more of a literature review, it offers no clear and decisive evidence as to which method works best for criminal analysts.  The authors do agree with CCT models as the likely best approach to intelligence analysis.  I agree with this conclusion as this approach allows the analysts to take the good aspects of each approach and use them to mitigate the weaknesses.  Empirical research must be carried out though to confirm this hypothesis.


Martin, K., Kebbell, M., Porter, L., Townsley, M. (2011).  The paradox of intuitive analysis and the implications for professionalism.  Journal of the AIPIO.  Vol. 19, Num. 1.



  1. Harrison,
    Do you believe analysts in the IC use intuition when making important decisions? and do you think intuition is just a form of cognitive bias?

    1. Yes intuition does play a role in the IC. We as humans use intuition every day to make decisions. It is not possible to just turn that part of our brain off and on. While Intuition is a cognitive bias, it does not always hurt how we think. As listed in my article, there are times when intuition can help an analysts, such as when there is a strict deadline on an assessment.