By John Westberg


It can be daunting to design a human intelligence (HUMINT) project, especially if it is your first time using this methodology. This post will provide you some basic guidelines to follow that will ensure a successful project. HUMINT can be an excellent tool to discover insights that are only available via ethical conversations with human sources, and these considerations will help you tailor the perfect scope. Below are a series of steps that we recommend you follow as you scope your project.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Defining HUMINT versus Primary Research
  • Setting project goals and key stakeholders
  • Creating your KITs / KIQs
  • Align on Methodology and Ethics
  • Deliverables


Defining HUMINT versus Primary Research

Primary research is using first-hand, human-based sources for information. In marketing, often times these sources are potential customers, and the interviews are scripted and non-blinded. HUMINT is a type of primary research that goes a level deeper. HUMINT sources generally do not even know that they are being used as a source for information because HUMINT collectors used advanced conversation techniques like elicitation to ethically get information from sources. HUMINT is very valuable at getting hard-to-find information, especially from sources at your competitors. These techniques have been mastered by many of the three letter agencies that focus on all types of intelligence, like signal intelligence (SIGINT) or open source intelligence (OSINT).

Setting Project Goals and Key Stakeholders

You have identified a need for insights that require human sources. In a succinct paragraph or two, you should summarize what the best outcome would be for this research – beyond just learning what your competitors are doing. How are you going to use this information – to inform product development? Or to inform sales teams how to sell against a competitor?

It is important to know how the intelligence findings will be used, and also who will be using it. Having too many key stakeholders can dilute the findings, so include those in the project design that will have the ability to act on the answers. Even great intelligence provides no value if no action is taken.

Creating Your KITs / KIQs

Everyone loves industry lingo, and intelligence practitioners love talking about KITs and KIQs – Key Intelligence Topics and Key Intelligence Questions. These two terms are interchangeable and do the same thing: they are the specific things you are hoping to uncover via HUMINT. Specific is a key term here – when scoping, it helps to ask for everything in as much detail as possible early on in the project. 

Take this KIQ: “what are the competitors’ software features and functionality?” As you can tell, that is a broad question. Instead, break that apart into its subcomponents, for example:

  • What modules are available with the software? What are included and what can be added on?
  • How does XYZ widget work, and can you provide screenshots of it?
  • What data integrations are available? 
  • What type of reporting is available? 
  • How customizable are the dashboards?

The more detail you provide, the smoother the project will go, and the less likely there will be surprises at the end. Often times, HUMINT collectors only get “one bite at the apple” – so once they speak to a source, they cannot go back for follow-up. Understanding what you want in detail up front is crucial. Your HUMINT collector (hopefully Aurora WDC) will help you understand what can and cannot be done, and we would rather tell you “no, that can’t be done” than fail to collect that information because it was not asked. This is part of the scoping process – the KITs/KIQs will change in conversation with your collector.

One other consideration will be how easy will it be to access this information ethically. Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself, “who would know this information at our company?” Often times, you will be interested in answers to questions that you cannot answer for yourselves – if this is the case, it might also be true for your competitors. 

Align on Methodology and Ethics

Concurrent to creating your list of KITs/KIQs, it is crucial to understand how you will collect this information ethically. You should think about what types of sources are going to have this information, which competitors you would like to look at, and what types of ethical boundaries must you follow. For example, some companies do not allow HUMINT conducted on current competitor employees, and instead require speaking with only customers or recent former employees. This will limit the amount and recency of the information that can be collected. You should have this discussion with your HUMINT collector and make sure everyone understands the methodology and ethical requirements for this project.


You now have your project goals, your KITs/KIQs, your target sources and your methodology. The last consideration is what you would like to see as key deliverables from your HUMINT collector. As collectors and intelligence analysts, we are flexible but need to understand up front what you want to see. Here are a few questions that might help you decide what types of deliverables you need:

  • Would you like the findings to be analyzed, summarized and packaged in an executive ready format? Or would you like to see to see only raw transcripts? You will note that raw transcripts may not be available based on where sources and collectors are located.
  • Would you like to see detailed answers by KIT/KIQ? Or do you want it summarized by competitor? 
  • Do you require PowerPoint? Would you like your own template or your collectors?
  • Would you like an interim briefing and a final briefing? 
  • Would you like recommendations included in the assessment? 
  • Would you like the collector to do a deep dive of your offering for a side-by-side comparison?


Designing a successful HUMINT project is easy once you have had a few reps. At Aurora WDC, we have successfully scoped and launched thousands of these projects over the past 25 years.If you would like help scoping a project, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We love to talk about intelligence and are happy to help!