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11 December 2007

Understanding the village

The following piece from Marginal Revolution catches our attention as yet another example of the growing utility of interdisciplinary approaches to those aspects of the intelligence that have not been traditionally served by the national and technical collection apparatus.

The tool is strikingly simple – a piece of software designed to ease data collection and processing burdens for studying epidemics in developing nations. The package will run on common mobile phone platforms, typically ubiquitous in such environments – or otherwise exceptionally cheap to obtain and circulate. Strategic communication branding, anyone?

The potential applications however go far beyond epidemiology – or even other aspects of medical intelligence. We can immediately see a use for such a tool in a number of information operations, civil affairs, and cultural intelligence settings – not to mention any of the political intelligence activities that require survey information. Less obvious mechanisms for overt human derived reporting also suggest themselves, given a degree of preparation and planning.

There are distinct limitations to what might be accomplished using this approach, but with those limitations in mind it is quite possible to develop new and innovative collection programs leveraging this capability against the kinds of questions it may suitably answer. This is precisely the kind of experimentation – and extensible designs – that ought to be coming out of the intelligence studies academia, in support of forward deployed intelligence professionals.

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