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UW Information School eNews Bulletin

Spring 2007

Spring 2007  |  Return to eNews Bulletin Home

Faculty Spotlight: Kevin DeSouza
iSchool assistant professor will head new UW think tank on national security issues

In his second full year at the Information School, Asst. Professor Kevin Desouza already has an impressive resume, including the founding of a new research institute and the publication of his seventh book.

Assistant professor Kevin Desouza is adept at juggling many projects. Besides being on the iSchool faculty since 2005, he is also an adjunct assistant professor in electrical engineering at the UW, a founding faculty member of the Institute for Innovation Management (I3M) and an affiliate faculty member of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy (both housed at the UW), the author of four blogs, two websites, seven books (including Agile Information Systems, Butterworth Heinemann, 2006) and more than 100 articles in practitioner and academic journals. His work has also been featured in publications such as the Washington Internet Daily, Computerworld, KM Review, Information Outlook, and Human Resource Management International Digest. He has advised major corporations and government organizations on strategic management issues, and he is frequently an invited speaker on business and technology for industry and academic audiences worldwide.

As if that weren’t enough, in Spring 2007 Desouza began an new project, as director of the Institute for National Security Education and Research (INSER), a multidisciplinary institute at the UW that will focus on increasing education and awareness in the field of national security. Funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence via the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, INSER makes the UW one of 10 universities in the agency’s Centers for Academic Excellence (CAE) program.

Desouza won’t let his INSER responsibilities tie up too much of his time, of course. Besides his courses and other academic duties, his next book, Managing Knowledge Security: Strategies for Protecting Your Company’s Intellectual Assets (London, United Kingdom: Kogan Page, Forthcoming) is scheduled to be released in June. See secureknow.blogspot.com for more information.

Where do you find the time to do all this?

Honestly, time is not something I get too concerned with. As many of my colleagues will tell you, I hate to be bored! A definite cure to boredom is to get engaged in multiple projects.

Of course, I choose projects with care. I have a strict screening process, trying to get a clear sense upfront of outcomes, the impact of the outcomes, the nature of the working relationships. A sense of these will tell me the true value of the effort, and then I can make an informed decision. I also do not waste my time with the unnecessary niceties of work (e.g., meetings lasting longer than 30 minutes and discussions in which there are no action items and no forward progress being made).

I also try to integrate “work” and “play.” For example, I often go out and have a few pints with my students, discussing everything from the management of organizations, to how to open your own business, and the latest TV shows or football games. Similarly, when I travel and give talks, I try to take a few days extra to enjoy the local sceneries. I conduct research with an exciting and eclectic group of friends who span the globe and come from a wide assortment of professional backgrounds. Engaging with these individuals is fun, and I do not categorize this as work. If you have fun, then work will follow.

The final item is that you need to be scalable. One of the things I do when I take on junior researchers (e.g., graduate assistants) or even colleagues is that I tell them, “It is your job to take over my job.” I take the time to teach my colleagues how I run my projects. The good news is that once you are able to develop capabilities in your colleagues, you can do a lot more. If I did not have my colleagues to help me extend my reach, I would be limited in the things that I could do, due to time constraints. I have followed this model in all projects, and it has served me well. Not only do you develop individuals and help them maximize their talents, but you also develop a good network of individuals who all work together well.

At the end of the day, time flies when you have fun. As I told Mike Eisenberg, who was the Dean of the iSchool when I joined, “The minute I stop having fun, it is time to move on to the next effort.”

What’s INSER all about? Institute for National Security Education and Research sounds like something that Special Agent Jack Bauer will be fighting next season on 24!

INSER is an inter-disciplinary and university-wide institute that already has efforts underway in the College of Arts and Sciences (Political Science, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Asian Languages and Literature, Physics, Jackson School of International Studies), Engineering (Electrical Engineering), College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. These include bringing speakers to campus to debate issues of national security and government intelligence programs, developing inter-disciplinary research projects, developing and refining courses, hosting intelligence colloquia, and sending students abroad for cultural immersion and language programs.

INSER has the following goals:

(1) Creating new models for interdisciplinary teaching and learning on national security and intelligence issues,

(2) Developing a strategy to engage the UW’s schools and colleges in a strategic planning effort to ensure that INSER has maximum reach across the university community,

(3) Generating cutting-edge research on national security and intelligence issues by engaging cross-disciplinary faculty in a cogent and concerted manner,

(4) Integrating distance learning as a common practice to create and expand educational opportunities, especially as prospective students employed in the national security and intelligence fields may be living and working around the globe for extended periods of their careers,

(5) Researching how student cultural immersion experiences abroad may influence the way students conduct research on, analyze, and interpret events in these countries, and

(6) Generating community-level discussions about national security and intelligence issues that allow diverse groups – students, parents, teachers, government officials, and corporate managers – to explore together national security issues and the role of intelligence in our democratic society.

How do your responsibilities with INSER dovetail with your other endeavors and academic interests?

My research involves the study of information, knowledge, and technology artifacts in complex environments. It is motivated by the research question, “How can we optimally (effectively and efficiently) deploy information, knowledge, and technology artifacts, effectively and efficiently, in complex environments?” I define complex environments as environments where the issues of coordination of work, control of resources, goal and incentive alignment, and management of organizations are severely difficult due to elements of distributedness (multiple dimensions of distributed work), co-opetition (cooperating and competing with the same organization at the same time), network effects, time-pressures, sensitivity of operations, incompleteness of cognitive mental models, and emergent dynamics. Examples of complex environments are government intelligence operations, terrorism threat-and-response programs, mission-critical centers, crisis environments, distributed innovation projects, knowledge management across borders and organizations, strategic co-opetition networks, etc. In these environments, it is absolutely essential to optimally manage information, knowledge, and technology artifacts so as to be successful in operations and take advantages of opportunities.

My recent research has been on information modeling and management in complex environments, especially in the intelligence community. For example, how do you know if a source is reliable? In the old days, i.e. the Cold War, governments had time to vet sources as the adversaries were known. Today, decisions must be made under severe time pressures, and often in incomplete settings, so new models are needed for evaluating sources.

You’re an accomplished professional who is also a teacher. What’s the best part about teaching?

Helping students generate actionable knowledge. I force my students to create new knowledge not just apply existing knowledge. For example, Ting-Yen Wang, an undergraduate student, co-authored a paper with me on information management challenges associated with impending insurgent attacks in Iraq. This paper came out of a term-paper assignment. This paper was published in Technology Forecasting and Social Change, 74 (2007) 211-229. I am currently working with several MSIM students to develop case-studies on critical management dilemmas. Many of these case studies will eventually be used for teaching future students about the realities of management problems. Finally, I am now going to be helping several graduate students take their ideas to market; i.e., open new companies.

So, to summarize, the best part about teaching is not teaching. I view my role, both inside and outside the classroom, as the igniter. Drawing on my own personal experiences, I have found the best teachers to be the ones who did not think of themselves as teachers or educators. Rather, they served the role of a “coach” – someone who could recognize, encourage, and develop the innate talents held within an individual. The individual should walk away from a classroom with the realization that (1) they have talents that are worth developing, (2) their coach helped to identify and sharpen those talents, and (3) their lifelong quest must be to be aware of their talents, continue to develop them, and use them for the betterment of our society. I do not believe that my main role is to convey wisdom or specific knowledge. The information-rich environments of modern life afford our students ample resources to learn, train, and equip themselves. My role is to complement these resources by sharing experiences, know-how, and strategies with my students.


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