chapter  9
4 Pages

The importance of scholarship to practice

The core argument of this book is that scholarship provides practitioners with the raw material to use in learning from past experience as a way to ensure that performance in the future is better than it is today. But what happens if scholarship is not used for this purpose? What happens if the lessons of the past are forgotten? In 2009 I was asked to speak at a US National Academy of Sciences workshop on improving intelligence analysis. This was for a committee whose work was sponsored by the Analytic Integrity and Standards staff of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The commissioners, important figures in the field, sat at tables in the front row with perhaps as many as 100 other people sitting in chairs behind them. For an intelligence studies scholar this was a relatively high-profile venue; an opportunity to actively engage with the intelligence community on an important issue in an important venue. So I started off by saying that, speaking as a scholar, in the aggregate my conversations with intelligence practitioners were like having an extended conversation with amnesiacs who also suffer from short-term memory problems. They do not know their own history. Frequently they do not even know why they exist. They do not know what they have done before. They do not know what has been tried, or what has been talked about. They exist in the here and now, and their plans for the future are frequently forgotten almost as soon as they are developed. At this point, muffled laughter arose from the back of the room while frowns emerged at the front. Some in attendance may have thought this was criticism of practitioners, but the reality is very different. The most important part of doing intelligence analysis is getting the job done, and getting the job done does not involve documenting what one is doing while getting the job done, or building the kind of infrastructure necessary to learn from what one has documented. Intelligence analysts have to be in the middle of the action because that is what doing analysis involves; providing knowledge that is relevant, useful, or actionable. Practitioners in other professions have a knowledge infrastructure that studies what they do and how they could do it better to assist them in improving their practice. For example, the rest of government has the field of public administration.