Research Roundup: Improving Intelligence Forecasts

Wharton West

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When business leaders fail to make accurate forecasts, profitability is at risk. When intelligence agencies miss the mark on their predictions, however, the results can be far worse. In a new analysis of behavior in the intelligence community, with implications for business managers, Wharton management professor Philip E. Tetlock and Wharton marketing professor Barbara A. Mellers present a framework to improve accountability and forecasting accuracy, particularly in a politically polarized climate.

In their article, “Intelligent Management of Intelligence Agencies: Beyond Accountability Ping-Pong,” published in the September 2011 edition of American Psychologist, the authors note that forecasts by intelligence organizations frequently are open to harsh criticism for either underreporting potential danger or overreacting to threats that never materialize. A clear recent example of underreporting would be the September 11, 2011, terrorist attacks on the United States, Tetlock says. At the other extreme, he points to reports — which later proved to be unfounded — that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction.

“The intelligence community is often whipsawed between these conflicting criticisms,” says Tetlock. “The question is: Is it possible in this kind of political environment to learn anything beyond avoiding the last mistake?” The authors propose three steps to end the “blame game” in intelligence predictions and improve accountability and intelligence forecasting.

Source: Research Roundup: Improving Intelligence Forecasts, Vertically Integrated Health Care, and ‘Worrisome’ Health Care Costs – Knowledge@Wharton

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