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Federal government awards Syracuse professor $11.5 million grant for research into decision making

By Eric Reinhardt


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A Syracuse University professor will use a federal grant of more than $11 million to lead a team conducting research on improving reasoning and decision making.

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor in Syracuse’s School of Information Studies (iSchool), will lead a team of researchers from Syracuse; Cicero–based SRC Inc.; the University of Arizona; Colorado State University, Syracuse said in a news release.

SRC Inc., the former Syracuse Research Corporation, is a nonprofit research and development company.



The research team will develop TRACE, which is short for trackable reasoning and analysis for collaboration and evaluation.

TRACE is a web-based application aimed at improving reasoning through the use of techniques — such as debate and analogical reasoning — along with crowdsourcing to enhance analysts’ problem-solving abilities and “foster creative thinking in order to provide support and guidance where human reasoning falls short,” per the release.

Crowdsourcing is a specific sourcing model in which individuals or organizations use contributions from internet users to obtain needed services or ideas. It’s a combination of the words “crowd” and “outsourcing.”

“Our goal is to create a reasoning and reporting application that is not only effective, but also appealing to users by making the process intriguing and fun while not interfering with their natural reasoning and writing abilities,” Stromer-Galley said in the news release. “What makes this project unique is that we are rigorously testing every aspect of our application using experimental research methods. When this project is done we will have a proven, effective tool for people to use.”

A large team of researchers, practitioners and graduate students with “unique” abilities and areas of expertise “benefits” the project, Syracuse said.

The abilities and areas of expertise range from human-computer interaction; deliberation; crowdsourcing; game and experimental design; interface and software design; cognitive and decision sciences; along with computational techniques.

The 50-month project is supported by a $11.5 million contract from the CREATE program.

CREATE is short for crowd sourcing evidence, reasoning, argumentation, thinking, and evaluation, a program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).

IAPRA is an arm of the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, which heads the nation’s intelligence services.


Project work

The TRACE team aims to investigate the role of several techniques for enhancing reasoning while also promoting better communication and discussion among teams.

“Communication is key to effective and gratifying decision-making,” Kate Kenski, associate professor of communication and government and public policy at the University of Arizona, said in the Syracuse news release. “This research gives us an unparalleled opportunity to design an online discussion system that harnesses the best group-communication strategies, resulting in successful, thoughtful online interactions.”

Using crowdsourcing to improve reasoning and reduce cognitive bias is “an innovative idea” that will enable the system to “overcome common shortcomings” in intelligence work.

It improves the division of labor and reduces both the systematic and random errors individuals may generate while promoting communication and interaction among teams, according to the release.

The TRACE application will apply game-based principles of human-computer interaction to “create an engaging and intuitive solution that promotes efficiency, accuracy and clarity” in analysis, Syracuse said.

The system, which SRC will create, will also use background software processes, such as machine learning, simple decision trees, and advanced natural-language processing.

Those processes will help detect reasoning errors and provide support to a “variety” of tasks.

The application will also adopt responsive and just-in-time mechanisms — called nudges — to guide users through reasoning and reporting, as well as provide recommendations.

In each of the project’s three phases, the TRACE team will conduct a series of experiments with different techniques to identify the best approach to improve human reasoning using digital tools.

Those include testing and comparing the effects of different analytic techniques and how different levels of interaction affect reasoning and reporting in order to improve user-interface and application design.

The potential benefits of a platform such as TRACE “may go beyond” the intelligence community and can provide guidance to those interested in improving group communication and teamwork.


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