It’s hard to imagine by their titles, but Intellipedia Doyen Don Burke and Intellipedia and Enterprise 2.0 Evangelist Sean Dennehy are two relatively unassuming CIA officers. Even as they stood in tuxedos accepting a Service to America Medal for their unrelenting dedication to promoting and expanding information-sharing in the Intelligence Community (IC), they could not take sole credit for Intellipedia’s success.
“While there are two of us standing here accepting this honor, we are actually the embodiment of thousands of intelligence and national security professionals – all public servants who have built, enabled, and contributed to Intellipedia, often swimming upstream against the culture of the status quo,” said Burke to hundreds of senior leaders from across the federal government who packed the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., for the awards ceremony. “Contributing to Intellipedia did, and it often still does, take a bold act of courage, and we are indebted to every single person who had the courage to make edits. This award is for them.”
Intellipedia: Technology Making America Safe
At a gala on September 23, Burke and Dennehy received the Homeland Security Medal. Burke and Dennehy were the only team winners out of the nine medals presented, and the first officers to be nominated by the Intelligence Community for the eighth annual award.
Sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, the annual Service to America Medals award program pays tribute to federal workers who have made significant contributions to the nation through dedication and innovation.
“Thanks to Intellipedia, our government now has a way to connect the dots fast and across agencies to make sure the chances are low that there is never another 9/11,” said Director for National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair who presented the award to Burke and Dennehy. “It’s a shining example of the government using technology to become more efficient and make the American people safer.”
The Evolution of Intellipedia
The idea to introduce a classified Wikipedia-based platform into the Intelligence Community began in 2004, when Calvin Andrus wrote his Galileo Award winning paper, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” which explored the wide-ranging intelligence benefit of a collaborative tool with user-generated content. From there, a true grassroots effort took off.
In November 2005, the DNI’s Intelink office established Intellipedia and by the end of the pilot program, there were over 1,000 articles and over 300 users who heard about the tool solely by word-of-mouth. On April 17, 2006, Intellipedia officially went live, and on November 10 of that year, Burke became the first user to reach 10,000 edits. By the end of 2008, Intellipedia received its two millionth edit, and over 30 million pages were viewed by IC employees that year alone. On its third anniversary in April of this year, Intellipedia celebrated with a record-setting 15,000 edits in a single day.
Today, Intellipedia has 100,000 government users, nearly 1 million pages, and receives over 10,000 edits daily. DNI’s Intelink team has extended the service to the Secret and Unclassified domains so state and local law enforcement officials could benefit from relevant, up-to-date intelligence.
The site’s real-time user-generated content has proved pivotal in the unfolding of several major events over the past couple of years. For example, when 10 Islamic militants overran two hotels in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, analysts from across the IC, stationed around the world, immediately convened on a newly created Intellipedia page on the attacks, which they updated continuously as new information came to light. Over the course of the three-day standoff, the page logged over 7,000 views and was integral to the understanding and analysis of the attack.
Nominated for Collaborative Value
Last year, recognizing the immeasurable intelligence benefit that this kind of collaborative tool provides, the DNI’s Chief Human Capital Officer Ron Sanders, a long-time Intellipedia advocate, nominated Burke and Dennehy for the Homeland Security Medal.
“We feel an amazing amount of pride at having the privilege to tell the Intellipedia story publicly both for the specific effort and as a symbol of all the great work that goes on in shadows that cannot be told publicly,” wrote Burke in his Intelink blog on May 7, when he and Dennehy found out they were selected as finalists for the award. “This award selection was made possible because of the countless contributions of individuals, whether you’ve posted a blog, edited Intellipedia, tagged a page, argued and persuaded others that they should be willing to give these tools a go, found connections because of these tools and told that story, or contributed in any number of ways. Intellipedia is seen across all of government as a shining light of possibility for a better way of working.”