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10 November 2006

Stone Soup

Given our schedules, and our constraints, we often find ourselves taking up an issue but not pursuing it further – leaving it to those smarter, more available, or simply more engaged than we to finish the argument. We are content to advance the debate.

So it is with some chagrin we realize that our October post touching on the growing public discussion around Intellipedia sparked a response from one of the original participants that frankly went unnoticed in the press of other traffic.

This error on our part deserves remedy, especially given the thoughtful nature of the reply by the gentleman. In particular, we were struck by a specific formulation he used to describe the nature of the collaborative and outreach process which brought him and his fellows into the fold for those conversations.

"The end result was a facilitated conversation between the CIA and the outside world, a conversation that the CIA could not have easily had under normal circumstances due to real constraints (unlike the artificial constraints that many organizations impose on themselves). There was also an important secondary effect that resulted from the workshop process: StoneSoup?. This particular network inside the CIA became aware of itself. The champions within the organization were evident right from the start, and the conversation was as much between the analysts themselves as it was with us.

Second, bringing in outsiders can have a catalyzing effect on transforming an organization's culture, provided their role is framed correctly. We weren't there to fix anything. That would have been naive, because there was no way we could have fixed anything. We were there to tell stories and participate in discussion.

The path to shifting a dysfunctional culture within a homogeneous organization is to expand the network, to make the problem bigger. The CIA is not the only organization working on these issues, so by including other organizations in the conversation, you enrich your network and raise the collective intelligence of your group."

In this light, we can easily agree that the effort has more than enriched us. One of our enduring challenges as a profession lies in the difficulty of connecting between the insulated vaults scattered among the various and sundry component agencies and odd elements of our community. There are few venues, and fewer enduring spaces, where comment and interaction is appropriate or even possible. By opening these issues to the wider academic debate, particularly in the manner in which these bloggers have done, is indeed a valuable service.

We also think that the stock preserved from their broth may be used fruitfully on other days when otherwise we might be facing a thin gruel indeed with none of these chefs around, and no one else with the required stones in sight.