GEOG 885
Advanced Analytic Methods for the GEOINT Professional

SGAM Step 2: Grounding in the Problem & Team Building

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Grounding in the Problem

Obviously, an analyst must have a base of knowledge to work with before starting analysis.

Analysis begins when the analyst consciously inserts him/herself into the process to select, sort, and organize geospatial information. The significance of geospatial information is always a joint function of the nature of the information and the context in which it is interpreted. When dealing with a new and unfamiliar subject, the uncritical and relatively non-selective accumulation and review of geospatial information is an appropriate first step. But this is a process of absorbing geospatial information, not analyzing it. Another view of the grounding process is as a problem reduction effort. In this view, a problem is decomposed into a structured set of subproblems. Each subproblem is subject to further decomposition until the subproblems produced are investigatable with given techniques.


Pirolli and Card (Pirolli, P. & Card, S.K. 2006, The sensemaking process and leverage points for analyst technology identified through cognitive task analysis, Palo Alto Research Center, Inc., Palo Alto, CA.) term this "information foraging." The process of information foraging is a tradeoff among three kinds of processes. Analysts tend to begin with a broad set of documents, for instance, one that was retrieved by a high-recall/ low-precision query, and then proceed to narrow that set down into successively smaller, higher-precision sets of data before reading and analyzing the documents. Generally, there are three processes that tradeoff against one another under deadline or data overload constraints:

  1. Exploring or monitoring more of the space, and by this means, increasing the amount of new geospatial information brought into the analysis process. In geospatial terms, this corresponds to increasing geospatial data and information relating to the question being interpreted. There are generally three major categories of results from this search (Kludas, 2007):
    • Skimmed results - many diverse and relevant items
    • Chorus of results - many similar and relevant items
    • Dark Horse results - an unusually accurate single source
  2. Enriching (or narrowing) the set of items that has been collected for analysis. This a process in which smaller, higher-precision sets of documents are created. This is, to a great extent, a problem reduction effort where the problem is decomposed into a structured set of subproblems. Each subproblem is subject to further decomposition until the subproblems produced are investigatable with given techniques.
  3. Exploiting the items in the set, by which we mean more thorough reading of documents, using geospatial visualization tools (such as GIS) to extract information, generate inferences, notice patterns, etc.

Team Building

It has often been said that Geospatial Intelligence is a team sport. What does this mean?

The Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) vision for 2015 is one in which intelligence analysis increasingly becomes a collaborative enterprise with the focus of collaboration, shifting “away from coordination of draft products toward regular discussion of data and hypotheses early in the research phase.” This is a major change from the traditional concept of geospatial analysis as largely an individual activity. It is driven in part by the growing complexity and need for multidisciplinary input when developing analytic products, the need to share information across organizational boundaries, and the need to identify and explore the validity of alternative hypotheses. It is enabled, if not expected, by the advances in social networking practices. It is important to note that team-based analysis brings a new set of challenges comparable to the cognitive limitations and pitfalls faced by the individual analyst.

Our geospatial analysis team should be a well-mixed team made up of individuals meeting the following characteristics.

  • Qualities of the team include:
    • a group of individuals working in sync, with competence and motivation to accomplish a common objective.
    • a high performing team that is dynamic, sometimes conflicted, and has energy that propels it forward in the service of achieving its purposes.
    • each individual on a team is responsible for the approach, achieving the assigned goals and the internal processes that helps or hinders progress.
    • the contrast with a "group." A "group" is like a bunch of people on a bus all heading in the same direction driven by the bus driver. People don't talk with each other on the bus. They get on and off as they please. The only commonality is the vehicle.
  • Actions of the geospatial intelligence team:
    • demonstrate accountability.
    • demonstrate self-responsibility.
    • may involve conflict.
    • focus on problem-solving.
    • have clear objectives.
    • have a formal leader.
    • have informal leaders.
    • find time to celebrate.
    • are temporary.
    • have individual roles that are critical to and subordinate to team goals. "I" is each of the parts that forms the "we" that pull together to make it about the bigger "us."
  • Images that fit teams include:
    • Cirque de Soleil.
    • an aircraft carrier.
    • a surgical team.