Key Assumptions Check for Intelligence Research

The Key Assumptions Check is a simple way to begin an intelligence analysis or research project. Despite its simplicity, it is also extremely powerful, because it allows us to question the underlying assumptions that we make influencing our decisions and thought processes.

Because of confirmation bias, we often exclude information from our worldview or from a decision that does not support a decision, while including information that does support her preconceptions.

The steps to performing a Key Assumptions Check are as follows:

  1. Come up with a “face valid” analysis. This is a final answer that you will work backwards to get to your assumptions
  2. List all the stated and unstated assumptions that must be true for this analysis to be valid. This may take some brainstorming; having other people to help you with this can be useful
  3. Consider alternatives. Ask what would need to be possible for your assumptions to be invalid. Does any of this make sense?
  4. Remove any assumptions that are not 100% necessarily for your analysis to be true.

This process will allow you to examine your spoken and unspoken assumptions. If you find that many of your assumptions are not relevant to your face-valid analysis, or the assumptions are in fact not supported by existing data, then you would be wise to change your analysis.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Key Assumptions Check for Intelligence Research," retrieved on October 20, 2018 from

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What is Social Listening?

Social listening is an area of customer (or client)-relationship management that, as the name implies, involves listening to social networks. This is important both for for-profit companies who want to know if their customers are having poor experiences on social media and non-profits who want to make sure that they are serving their customers the best they can.

There are a few elements involved in creating a Social Listening Plan.

  • Discover which social media your clients are using
  • Identify the positives and negatives they’re expressing about your organization
  • Design a process for reaching out to them
  • Implement the process and collect feedback
  • Repeat the process on a regular basis

We’ll go into each of these elements below.

Discover which Social Media Your Clients are Using

It’s important to know where your clients are, and this will depend on your demographics. Many non-profits service clients who are economically disadvantages and so they don’t use or own computers at all, but as more and more individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds move online, it will become more important for non-profits to know where their clients are.

Learning some basic Google searching skills will help you find your clients.

  • Typing your organization’s name in brackets will search for exact matches of your agency name
  • Using the hyphen or minus sign “-“ will remove elements from the search
  • Using the asterisk “*” will find wildcards, so if your organization is known as “Center” but is commonly misspelled “Centre”, you can search for “Cent**” and both matches will be found.

If you circulate any kind of survey or evaluation, you can ask your clients what kind of social media they use. This can be part of a broader social media strategy, to help your organization engage with clients online. The more involved your organization is with those clients the more likely it is that they will reach out directly to you. The best social listening is the social listening you don’t have to do – because your clients do it for you.

Identify Areas of Praise and Concern

No organization has perfectly satisfied clients. It shouldn’t be too difficult from reading the communication your clients are posting what their major concerns are. It’s important at this stage to resist the urge to respond defensively; barring something inconceivable (a person claims that a crime was committed against them by one of your staff in a program your agency doesn’t offer, for instance) these complaints should be treated as valid.

If your organization has a large online footprint it can be helpful to summarize this information so that you can begin making a plan to rectify the identified issues. This can be an ad hoc process, or integrated into your organization’s strategic planning process.

Begin Reaching Out

Depending on the exact natures identified by your clients, the concerns may be obvious. For instance, if a lot of the negative feedback surrounds how difficult it is to access services, that’s very straight-forward. If complaints describe poor service by staff or other more subjective complaints, then you might have more work cut out for you.

Before you begin reaching out, you need to design a process for this. Will you appoint one employee for the task, or have each program coordinator or individual employee handle complaints in their area? The advantage of using someone who works in that area is that they have more experience and are more aware of the nuances of providing service in that area, but they are also vulnerable to getting defensive.

Small organizations may be stretched thin and want to add a little bit of this work to each employee, while larger organizations may have an Outreach Coordinator or similar who adds social media outreach to their existing duties.

Depending on the platform, the exact way you reach out will differ. Twitter and Facebook both have opportunities to be seen as your organization (Facebook’s “Pages” and company-branded Twitter accounts), while other social networks may make it more difficult.

Think carefully about how you will respond. Make changes in advance if possible, to begin rectifying the situations identified. If you can tell people that changes are underway, they are much more likely to respond positively.

Invite those with more difficult problems to get in touch with the organization directly. Make it known that you want to make sure that their negative experience isn’t repeated.

Implement the Process and Collect Feedback

Once you let your clients on social media know that you are beginning this process of improvement, you’ll want to collect feedback from them. Invite them to complete an anonymous survey to find out about their experiences. Integrate this into your existing evaluation procedures if you have them, and consider using tools like SurveyMonkey to automate the process of data collection.

Be aware that positive change may not be reflected in feedback immediately. Dissatisfied clients may not have the energy to respond, and they’ll need to be coaxed. Knowing that you’re not going to judge or fight them, and merely accept what they have to say as valid from their point of view, will go a long way to helping feel comfortable in responding.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

It’s important that your social listening not be a “one off” process. Social media is changing every day, and more and more contributions will pour in from your clients. If you take your ear off the ground, you’ll miss these important communication and reputation management opportunities.

Consider using tools like HootSuite to manage your overall social media presence as well, to ensure that clients can make it as easy as possible to tell you exactly how great a job you’re doing, and ways that you can continue improving.

It takes work to perform adequate social listening, but with efforts you can improve your organization’s reputation in the community and improve your services.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "What is Social Listening?," retrieved on October 20, 2018 from

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Sociometry is the study of social relationships, invented by the psychiatrist and sociologist Jacob Moreno. Similar to link analysis, sociometry involves using a tool called the sociogram, a graphical representation of social links.

Sociograms can be used to graph the communication between people over a long period of time (days, weeks or months), like a link diagram, or over as short a time as a single event. For instance, national security officials surveilling a meeting of hostile government officials may use a sociogram to determine associations between individuals based on who talks to who during a conference.


Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Sociometry," retrieved on October 20, 2018 from

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Link Analysis

Creating a Link Analysis

Link analysis is a simple technique used in intelligence analysis to demonstrate the connections or relationships between people. It is commonly used in social science research, criminal investigations and national security.

The first step to link analysis is to collect the data, and decide on a coding scheme. An example coding scheme modified from one in Criminal Intelligence for Analysts is provided below:

Link Association Chart

Once you’ve collected the data, the next step is to build an association chart. This chart plots the interactions in a more preliminary format as a prerequisite to the link analysis chart. An example is below:



Drawing a preliminary chart yields the following:

Link Analysis Chart

Other techniques can be used to create more advanced link charts, as such:

Link Table


Additional Reading

For more additional reading, see the following resources:

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Link Analysis," retrieved on October 20, 2018 from

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Delphi Technique


There are a number of techniques for making predictions or analysis. It is particularly useful in governments, public policy, and other areas where facts may be disputed but generally based on a set of common foundational knowledge. Examples of this type include economics (where the same economic principles may be expressed differently by country), and psychology (where, for instance, suicide risk assessments may coe to different results but be based on the same risk factors.)

The Delphi technique is a simple but very powerful technique to leverage the power of experts to make decisions, particularly in areas where prediction or forecasting are important. It was named for the Delphi Oracle that figured in Greek mythology, a priestess famous for her prophecies.

How the Delphi Technique Works

The Delphi technique involves selecting a panel of experts to answer the question at hand. This is usually one with some debate; for instance, suicide risk assessment methods have been tested by presenting cases to experts who make their decisions in a method similar to the Delphi Technique.

Once you have a decision that needs to be made, a panel of experts, and a question to be answered, each expert receives the question and information requires independently. After answering, their judgements are displayed to all of the panelists.

In some variations, the experts are shown who among them made each contribution, but in others this information is kept anonymously. Then, the experts complete a second round; having seen the decisions (and usually, the rationalizations) that led to each of the expert’s decisions, they are free to revise their original forecast.

This process repeats until there is either complete agreement in the process (a rarity, indeed), or the experts are no longer willing to revise their predictions. This technique can also be used with non-experts, but is primarily designed to harness their specialized knowledge.

Examples of the Delphi Technique

One practical example of how the Delphi technique was applied was in validating the Suicide Intervention Response Inventory, a tool to evaluate the responses of helpline volunteers. The questions involved were given to a series of experts and their responses were used to formulate the “expert” answers. A person’s score then, is the degree of variance from their responses and the expert panel’s average response.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Delphi Technique," retrieved on October 20, 2018 from

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