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INNOVATORS 2005: Mercyhurst College

Innovation: Improving Research Collaboration
Innovators: Mercyhurst College/Onfolio

The Department of Intelligence Studies at the Mercyhurst College Institute of Intelligence Studies (PA) provides professional education to intelligence analysts for the law enforcement, business, and national security communities. As more and more of the information used by these communities is located on the Internet, and in a world where the need for speed and accuracy in the dissemination of critical information is increasing daily, the ability to more effectively collect, organize, and share Web-based information is vital. Faculty members and computing staff in the Department of Intelligence Studies were facing those same challenges; they were seeking the ability to speed up and standardize Web research, to ensure that their students are prepared for the real world.

Technology Choice/Project Design
They found Onfolio (, a PC app for reading RSS newsfeeds; collecting and organizing online content; and publishing to e-mail, Weblogs (blogs), and Web sites. “At the time,” says Jim Breckenridge, Intelligence Studies department chair, “there was nothing that could do what this tool could, and the capabilities were desperately needed by our students who use the Internet extensively to produce their estimative analytic products.”

Key Players
The initiative was driven by the department faculty members who were searching for an effective Web research tool; subsequently, the department and the institute made the decision to provide all of their faculty members and students with the software, as a way to speed up the process of capturing information from the Web, organizing it on their computers, and sharing that information. Now, after the initial deployment of the software, each new incoming class member receives a copy for his or her PC.

From the early stages of the implementation of the new tool, the Intelligence Studies department and institute immediately began seeing significant improvements in the speed and quality of research performed by faculty members and students. The college at large may also standardize on the Web research tool, to improve research collaboration across the entire campus.
Last summer, the software was introduced to a team of analysts who were conducting a large open source research project. Breckenridge hoped that they would find some improvement with the new tool on board, but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the research roadblocks fell away. “I had tested it myself, but this was the first time I had put it in the hands of young analysts. After they worked with the product for two hours, I came back in the room to a universally positive response. I then told the director of the program that we had the answer to our problems.”
Next Steps
DIS and MCIIS have recently upgraded to the 2.0 version of Onfolio, and Mercyhurst is considering standardizing it across the campus.
Breckenridge points to the critical intelligence research needs of his department, and the difference made by seeking out and investing in the type of tool that may soon become essential for life in this 21st century of terrorism and homeland security initiatives. But for any Web-based research, or the need to integrate non-Web-based info into research and collaborate in small teams, he says, this kind of solution choice can make the difference between research-as-usual or truly innovative information gathering.