Socio-Cultural Perspectives: A New Intelligence Paradigm

By LeeEllen Friedland , Gary Shaeff , Jessica Turnley

In September 2006, The MITRE Corporation hosted a one-day conference titled "Socio-Cultural Perspectives: A New Intelligence Paradigm."

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In September 2006, The MITRE Corporation hosted a one-day conference titled "Socio-Cultural Perspectives: A New Intelligence Paradigm." The goal of the conference was to explore various ways in which socio-cultural perspectives could be used in intelligence analysis. The conference also was designed to raise awareness among participants, and their host organizations, of current activities in this area, and to establish the groundwork for ongoing interaction within and across organizations and agencies. The conference demonstrated that cultural intelligence is important for a wide range of national security endeavors and that this fact is increasingly recognized in many government quarters. Questions arose regarding tools, including the development and use of computational models; methods, including issues relating to data collection, analysis, and dissemination; and the development of cross-community and interdisciplinary ties that would allow the intelligence community as a whole to move forward. There also was discussion of the contested nature of the term "culture" among academics and some communities of practice, as well as how an analyst might use socio-cultural knowledge to further intelligence analysis. In addition, methodological rigor, development of best practices, engagement of a wide variety of disciplines, and interaction with open source communities all arose as essential issues to pursue in the future. Participants emphasized that the cultural problem is a systems problem. It is important to understand ourselves and the ways in which we interact with others in different contexts, as these interactions color the ways others perceive our actions and their interaction with us. There also were many conversations about how socio-cultural data are gathered, analyzed, and computationally manipulated. Participants discussed disciplinary and theoretical concerns, and how different approaches could impact the clarity of conversations among analysts. While there was consensus that cultural intelligence must inform national security activity, there remained many unanswered questions about method, approach, data, and institutionalization of the capability. Many of the findings from this conference can be used to build a follow-on exercise that would more specifically focus on identification of problem areas in methodology, tool development and use, and communication. The results of such efforts would, in turn, provide a basis for a research program, as well as policy and best practice guidelines, that would fuel significant advancement of the state-of-the-art in cultural intelligence data gathering, analysis, and use.