What is Angler

Angler is a tool that helps intelligence/policy professionals Explore, understand, and overcome cognitive biases, and Collaboratively expand their joint cognitive vision Through use of divergent & convergent thinking techniques (such as brainstorming and clustering).

Humans tend to bias the analysis of situations based on their previous experiences and back-ground. Angler is a tool to help analysts explore, understand, and overcome such biases and to collaborate in expanding their joint cognitive vision. Angler utilizes divergent and convergent techniques, such as brainstorming and clustering or voting, to guide a diverse set of intelligence professionals in completing a complex knowledge task. The tool helps the group through the process of forming consensus, while preserving and quantifying differing ways of thinking. Angler provides a Web-based collaborative environment that al-lows users distributed by both time and geography to assemble in teams, with the help of a facilitator.

Cognitive Expansion

In the same way that a pair of binoculars enhances the range of things the eye can see, Angler aims to be a mental prosthetic device that enhances our problem solving and decision analysis processes. The cognitive horizon of a person or a group can be loosely defined as the transitive closure of possible deductions starting from an initial set of assumptions. This horizon can be narrowed by competing or contradicting hypotheses.

In order to overcome cognitive bias, we must recognize that we are in a situation where we are experiencing cognitive bias. The recognition problem is handled in one of two possible ways. The first possibility is to ignore it. SBP assumes that we live in a complex nontractable world, and that in most situations requiring formal decision making this assumption is correct. On the other hand, complexity theoreticians divide the world into ordered and unordered situations. They have guidelines to recognize in which part of the spectrum a problem belongs. The identification of the space to which the problem belongs will determine the type of tools used to solve it. Overcoming cognitive bias is a process that has to do with understanding one’s own assumptions and the problem’s decision landscape. The decision landscape is composed of the actors and forces that can influence the decision, the actions that the actors (not necessarily human) can take, and the certainty (or uncertainty) we have about the outcome of those actions. One could claim that a thorough investigation of those assumptions will yield an answer to the problem of cognitive bias, but the problem is often more complex. We live in an uncertain world, and a review of the assumptions cannot often be thorough enough to consider all possibilities.


One fundamental difference between a traditional conference room brainstorming process and an Angler brainstorming process is based on the concept of incremental disclosure. Angler reveals other participants’ thoughts incrementally as you contribute thoughts yourself. The idea behind this is twofold. First, participants must contribute on their own, without first seeing what directions the other participants are taking. In this way, participants are encouraged to think on their own. As a participant contributes to the workshop, more and more thoughts from the other participants are revealed. This encourages crosspollination of ideas, making the thought of a particular participant the inspiration and instigation for other participants’ ideas.

A thought consists of a catch phrase and a description. The catch phrase is a short name that evokes the idea, and the description is a more complete development of the contribution. Angler supports the notion of a private and a public space. The private space can be used as a scratch pad for ideas that the participant is not yet ready to commit to the workshop community.

When the participant contributes a thought in the manner described above, thoughts already in the workshop are revealed to that participant in the proportion of the contributions made. The figure 1 illustrates a brainstorming screen after one such contribution.

After the entry of thoughts is complete, the facilitator moves the workshop to the next phase (clustering). There might be several iterations if the facilitator believes that some areas were not covered, or there are too many similar thoughts (in which case they must be merged or purged).


The purpose of a clustering session is to coalesce all the thoughts into a predetermined number of coherent groups (clusters). Normally, there are no preset guidelines into what a cluster’s theme should be. Every participant will be able to perform his or her own clustering, and therefore the abstractions or grouping factors can differ from participant to participant. We will see in the consensus phase that it will be possible to contrast and quantify the differences between participants and with the group. At the beginning of a clustering session, all the thoughts are classified as orphans since they do not yet belong to any cluster.

Clusters are created by moving thoughts. There is an alternative way of collecting thoughts for a cluster: through a shopping cart metaphor. When we select a cluster for which we are “shopping” thoughts, any selected thought will be moved to the active cluster. This is a convenient way to move thoughts between clusters. The mode or combination you use will depend on your thinking style. Some people prefer to go through the entire list collecting items for one cluster; others prefer to classify them into separate clusters as they go down the thought inventory only once.

In the manual version of clustering, the clustering is performed concurrently by the group. This brings problems of dominant personalities, or people who are not as willing to participate in the process. Angler ensures that everybody goes through the entire set of generated ideas and reasons hard about which theme to build. This is invaluable as we continue forward with the workshop, since everybody will be very familiar with the workshop contents, and the different themes will play differently with each participant.

Consensus Building

The hierarchical clustering algorithm will yield a consensus clustering that all the participants will be able to see once they move to the consensusforming phase of the Angler workshop. It is important at this point that each participant contrasts his or her own view of the thought clustering with the consensus view. Figure 3 shows a screenshot of what one such participant would see. The participant’s own clusters on top are contrasted with the group’s clustering below. Colors show how the thoughts from one cluster are distributed in the group’s joint vision.

The facilitator is able to view and quantify the differences that exist between the joint clustering and that of each participant. If necessary the process can go through several iterations. This might be necessary, if for example, the average mutual similarity of the consensus clustering and each participant clustering is high.

At this point, participants also vote for the names that they believe are most appropriate for the consensus clusters