First Look: The Analyst's Canvas

I was recently asked how I define media intelligence, which is a bit tricky because my definition starts with objectives rather than a list of capabilities. It's another industry term with the flexibility to reflect the priorities of the person saying it, so the answer is something like "what do you need it to be?" I also like to consider the client's job and next steps in the process: "what do you need to do with it?" This is "it depends" in a more actionable form. I don't lack a definition; it just operates at a higher level of abstraction than most.

In more than a decade of exploring methods of extracting meaningful information from diverse data sources to support diverse objectives, I've developed a framework for thinking about specific applications. I'm sharing it for the first time here, and I'd like you to try it and tell me what you think.

The analysts canvas captioned

The Analyst's Canvas represents an idealized view of an activity, which you might label as research, analytics, or intelligence. My theory is that this abstracted perspective will support any kind of analytical work. The underlying philosopy is to focus on objectives and mission, prompting a consideration of alternatives and reducing the tendency to limit specialist methods to their organizational silos.

The three boxes in a row represent inputs, the analytical process, and outputs. In a software product, they represent data, algorithms and features. In a research project, they are data, analysis and deliverables. In an intelligence environment, they're sources, methods and deliverables. The upper sections ground the activity in the context of the client's or user's work and the mission that work supports. The lower sections clarify what the activity will produce and prompt a consideration of alternative methods.

What's the point?
I think that the Analyst's Canvas can be used to create value in a few ways:

  1. Organize and communicate requirements for new capabilities, using the mission and objectives sections to maintain focus.

  2. Communicate the value of a proposed or existing product or service, creating different canvases for each use case.

  3. Explore potential new markets for existing assets, such as data sources, analytical methods and presentation vehicles (it doesn't take much looking to find examples of each).
There may be other uses; this is what I have so far. For each application, expect a roadmap of how to apply the canvas, but that's not written yet.

My request: Try it.
I've run thought experiments on how the canvas might work in different contexts, and now I'm looking for the outside view. As I'm writing a fuller explanation of how it works and why, would you be willing to plug in your own scenarios as a test? I'd like to know what example you tried, what problems you ran into, and your opinion on its usefulness as a tool for both decision-making and communication.

Start with a blank version of the canvas (you'll find the Explorer Guide and other supporting material there, too). It's licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution / ShareAlike license, so if you like it, you're free to continue using it.

Eventually, I want to document some wildly different applications of the canvas to demonstrate its flexibility. Step one is trying it out in different environments.

Next: Testing the Analyst's Canvas


About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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