Forensic intelligence is a distinct dimension of forensic science. Forensic intelligence processes have mostly been developed to address either a specific type of trace or a specific problem. Even though these empirical developments have led to successes, they are trace-specific in nature and contribute to the generation of silos which hamper the establishment of a more general and transversal model. Forensic intelligence has shown some important perspectives but more general developments are required to address persistent challenges. This will ensure the progress of the discipline as well as its widespread implementation in the future. This paper demonstrates that the description of forensic intelligence processes, their architectures, and the methods for building them can, at a certain level, be abstracted from the type of traces considered. A comparative analysis is made between two forensic intelligence approaches developed independently in Australia and in Europe regarding the monitoring of apparently very different kind of problems: illicit drugs and false identity documents. An inductive effort is pursued to identify similarities and to outline a general model. Besides breaking barriers between apparently separate fields of study in forensic science and intelligence, this transversal model would assist in defining forensic intelligence, its role and place in policing, and in identifying its contributions and limitations. The model will facilitate the paradigm shift from the current case-by-case reactive attitude towards a proactive approach by serving as a guideline for the use of forensic case data in an intelligence-led perspective. A follow-up article will specifically address issues related to comparison processes, decision points and organisational issues regarding forensic intelligence (part II).