Let me ask you a question –
Question: “How sure are you?”
a) “I’m pretty sure”
b) “There’s a high potential”
c) “I’m not uncertain”
d) None of the above.
In this weeks article, we discuss this article on ‘words of estimative probability’.
Now before your eyes glaze over and you scroll to the funny gifs, here’s why this article matters:
Intelligence professionals deal in uncertainty, so we need a common language and shared understanding.
Problem: In his article, Kent discusses the need for common words to provide estimative meaning in intelligence assessments.
Intelligence requires us to make predictions, to give estimates and provide assessments.
To do this, we need to be able to qualify what we mean. We need a common language and a shared understanding.
Intelligence is NOT an exact science
Remember: Assessments are predicated on your understanding of the situation, and the quality / volume of information available.
A ‘probability’ is based on a ‘best guess’ – more quality information allows for a greater degree of certainty when making an assessment.
So what are the odds?
I was taught to use the following words to provide an intelligence assessment – Each of these words used a ‘percentages of probability’
- Unlikely <15%,
- Possible >15%,
- Likely >50%,
- Probable >75%, and
- Certain >95%.
- Don’t Modify. Importantly, when using the terms above, we don’t add ‘modifiers’, such as; ‘very possible’ or ‘highly likely’, as these can change the meaning and confuse.
- Not all information is created equal. Just because there might be more reporting doesn’t automatically increase the probability. Quality beats quantity.
Everyone needs to speak the same language – what’s the point of me telling you something is ‘certain’ if you interpret it as ‘certainly possible’.
Intelligence professionals deal in uncertainty, so we need a common language and shared understanding. Intelligence still needs shared terms to building collective understandings.
I’ve had a few people offer different various terms or percentages – let me know what you think? Do you use these words? are the percentages consistent with your assessments? Does this method accurately quantify a qualitative assessment?