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How to Make Your Garden Grow

Spring is upon us, and for many of us the warmer weather means working in our yards and gardens. Gardeners are often praised for their green thumbs, but in reality there is no secret to a healthy lawn or blooming plants – all it takes is proper planning to make your garden grow. The same can be said for analysis: just as the best gardens start with a design or a plan, if you invest some time to design your project or outline your paper before getting started, your analysis will thrive!

One of the biggest mistakes analysts make is to plunge in and begin writing or researching as soon as they are given a task or a question to answer. When Globalytica developed its Analysts’ Roadmap listing the primary tasks all analysts should perform when generating an analytic paper, the process was divided into five steps. The first-and most important step-is to Stop and Reflect before plunging in.

When beginning a website search, for example, we often tell students to write down their key search terms before typing them into the computer. This may sound like a waste of valuable time, but writing down the terms on a piece of paper forces you to reflect on which keywords would be the most effective for your specific search criteria. As a result, you do not lose minutes or hours reviewing bad “hits” or revising search parameters multiple times.

Similarly, considerable time can be saved if you ask yourself simple questions before beginning a project such as “Has anyone written on this topic before?” or “Who can I talk to who would know how best to begin my research?” or “Where would I expect to find the best information?” At Globalytica we have captured some of the best questions to ask at the start of a project in the Getting Started Checklist (below). We consider the checklist so important that we published it in two of our books: Critical Thinking for Strategic Intelligence and Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Stopping to reflect can also be a group activity. We recommend that analytic units create a short list of key questions they should address before beginning work on any paper. They should review the list as a group. Typical questions include: What is a realistic deadline? What is the client expecting? Are we answering the right question? Do we need to reach out to other experts? What have we told the client about this issue before?

Attempting to jump into the analysis without these simple but effective tools is like planting without preparing your soil. By using the Getting Started Checklist, your analysis is much more likely to produce fruit. Happy planting!

Globalytica’s Getting Started Checklist

The Getting Started Checklist is a simple tool to help analysts start a new project. Analysts should answer the following questions before they start to draft.

  1. What has prompted the need for the analysis? For example, was it a news or intelligence report, a new development, a new report, a perception of change, or a customer request?
  2. What is the key intelligence question that needs to be addressed?
  3. Why is this issue important, and how can analysis make a meaningful contribution?
  4. Has your organization or any other organization ever answered this (or a similar) question before, and if so, what was said? To whom was that analysis delivered, and what has changed since then?
  5. Who are the principal clients? Are their needs well understood? If not, try to gain a better understanding of their needs and the style of reporting they like.
  6. Are there other stakeholders who would have an interest n the answer to this question? Who might see the issue from a different perspective and prefer that a different question be answered? Consider meeting with others who see the question from a different perspective.
  7. From your first impressions, what are all the possible answers to this question? For example, what alternative explanations or outcomes should be considered before making an analytic judgment on the issue?
  8. Depending on responses to the previous questions, consider rewording the key intelligence question. Consider adding subordinate or supplemental questions.
  9. Generate a list of potential sources or streams of reporting to be explored. 10. Reach out and tap the experience and expertise of analysts in other offices or organizations – both within and outside the government – who are knowledgeable on this topic. For example, call a meeting or conduct a virtual meeting to brainstorm relevant evidence and to develop a list of alternative hypotheses, driving forces, key indicators, or important players.
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