An application developed by a team based at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies and its Center for Computational and Data Science (CCDS) has been selected as a 2019 TechConnect Defense Innovation Awardee.

TRACE, the Trackable Reasoning and Analysis for Collaboration and Evaluation project, is one of 95 technologies selected to present at the Defense TechConnect’s Innovation Summit and Showcase being held October 8-9 at National Harbor, Maryland. The annual conference recognizes the top 15 percent of submitted challenge technologies as ranked by the conference’s selection committee. Rankings are based on the potential positive impact the technology will have for warfighters and national security, according to conference organizers.

TRACE is a web-based application that provides an end-to-end workflow to support open source and all-source analysts. It was designed to help reduce cognitive biases and other common errors in reasoning and judgment. The app provides a flexible user experience that supports complex reasoning in a wide variety of settings. It also aids efficient report writing, helps decision-makers better understand analytic judgments, and promotes effective collaboration and knowledge-sharing within and across teams. In research testing, TRACE has been shown to significantly improve analysts’ reasoning and report writing and is easier to use relative to other applications.

Professor Jennifer Stromer-Galley, director of CCDS and lead researcher for the TRACE app, notes that intelligence analysis can be challenging work given the complexity and volume of information that intelligence workers must analyze. There are challenges with conducting thorough analyses, collaborating effectively, delivering accurate judgments, and composing analyses that provide a clear explanation of the reasoning within time pressures and the uncertainty of source materials, she notes. Some current techniques are difficult to use and only address certain elements of the analytical process, while existing software applications focus primarily on only the gathering and evaluating of information, she notes.  

“Our national security requires high quality intelligence analysis, and TRACE is meant to provide additional support for analysts in that mission,” says Stromer-Galley. “TRACE takes what we know from cognitive and social science and applies it to software to help reduce common cognitive biases, like confirmation bias. It also provides additional supports that streamline the analysis process, so that analysts don’t have to expend mental energy unnecessarily, enabling more efficient and accurate decision-making,” she adds.

Of the 95 awardees selected for this conference, only seven are affiliated or led by universities. In addition to the School of Information Studies, selected awardees included offerings from Dusquene University, George Washington University, Georgia Tech’s Research Corp., McMaster University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Texas Tech University, and the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The TRACE research team is led by Stromer-Galley and includes iSchool faculty and staff members Brian McKernan, Lael Schooler, Nancy McCracken, and Yatish Hegde. Other members of the team are Kate Kenski from the University of Arizona, James Folkestad and Ben Clegg from Colorado State University, Debi Plochocki from SRC, Inc., and several students and staff from across those institutions, plus subject matter experts from the defense industry.

The research that led to the TRACE app was supported by a multi-million dollar funding award from the CREATE (Crowdsourcing, Evidence, Reasoning, Argumentation, Thinking and Evaluation) Program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an arm of the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, which heads the nation’s intelligence efforts.