Implementing Change: Organizational Challenges

23150 small Intelligence analysis

An excerpt from "Implementing Change: Organizational Challenges" (pp. 309-310):

Improving organizational performance is never easy. As sociologist Jim March has noted, success requires that organizations balance exploration the search for new ways of doing things with exploitation, the ability to harness new practices and jettison older, less effective ones (March, 1991). These challenges confront all organizations, but two factors make them more acute for intelligence agencies. The first is bounded rationality (Simon, 1976). In the theoretical world, individuals have the luxury of perfect rationality, seeing all of the relevant options, assessing trade-offs with clarity, and making the best decisions. The real world is not as nice. There, rationality is inherently limited or bounded by uncertainty, imperfect information, and cognitive constraints that lead individuals to make decisions that appear to be “good enough”—but may turn out to be nowhere close (Simon, 1976). Intelligence officials have the toughest time of all, confronting bounded rationality problems in spades. Their job is to give policy-making customers decision advantage amidst swirling uncertainty, missing information, enemy deception and denial, and fast-changing events that are often unforeseeable, even to the participants themselves.

The second acute intelligence challenge is secrecy. As I discuss below, the more specialized any organization becomes, the harder it is for any one part of the organization to understand or improve what another part is doing, a phenomenon that sociologists call “structural secrecy” (Vaughan, 1996). In the classified universe, of course, this structural secrecy is compounded by actual secrecy, which protects vital information from adversaries, but also compartmentalizes information, ideas, organizations, and practices to a much greater extent.

Despite the intelligence community’s (IC’s) unique challenges, the fields of organization theory and political science offer useful insights and cautionary warnings about the organizational side of improving intelligence analysis. The chapters in Part II (Analytic Methods) of this volume mine an array of relevant literature for the best analytic tools to improve intelligence analysis. Here, we turn to a different task: Examining a broad sweep of relevant social science research with an eye to identifying which organizational factors impede or facilitate effective analysis. Worth underscoring, though, is the fact that social science does not offer ready-made instructions about how to make intelligence analytic improvements stick. However, it does offer some useful generalizations that can illuminate the trade-offs and challenges involved to guide more effective implementation.

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"Implementing Change: Organizational Challenges" by Amy Zegart Download pdf

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