Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ODG Launches Crowdsourcing Site

The OpenGov Diplomacy Group is proud to announce the launch of its first crowdsourcing site - http://publicdiplomacy.ideascale.com. The site encourages individuals from around the world to share their ideas on: "How the United States can advance its foreign policy objectives through smart power diplomacy."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Global Health in the Age of Social Media (Honorable Mention - CSIS Smart Global Health Essay Contest)

The OpenGov Diplomacy Group is pleased to announce that an essay written by its Executive Director, Michael Walsh, recently received an honorable mention in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Smart Global Health Essay Contest.

The submission, "Global Health in the Age of Social Media," argues that the United States should extend its global influence by deliberately "filling the void that currently exists in the global community for accurate, timely, accessible, impactful information on global health issues."

In addition to his role at the OpenGov Diplomacy Group, Mr. Walsh also serves as a Project Director at Forum One Communications and the Chair of the Public Diplomacy Discussion Group at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

The full text of the article is posted below and featured on the CSIS Smart Global Health web site:

"Global Health in the Age of Social Media"

The field of digital communications is undergoing rapid change. From increased broadband penetration in the developed world to the proliferation of mobile technology in the developing world, more people in more places have Internet connectivity than ever before. With the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies (including social networking and software as a service computing), the entire global community also is becoming more interconnected. Government and nongovernment organizations are responding to these changes in technology, behavior, and cultural norms by embracing a more open, transparent, and participatory government.

The new mandate for open government is transforming how these organizations conduct basic functions, especially those related to public affairs, public policy, advocacy, and public diplomacy. In the long‐run, the countries that invest in trustworthy digital communications will project openness, spur innovation, and encourage value‐based discourse. This presents a strategic opportunity to radically alter how countries are perceived ‐ not only by their own citizens but also by the global community.

If the United States hopes to realize its full potential to be a thought leader in the world, it therefore must invest in projecting its influence through innovative digital communications platforms around topics that are globally relevant and universally valued, including global health. It can do so both in concert with global inter‐governmental and non‐governmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization, and on its own initiative under its own departments and agencies.

Either way, the United States can work to fill a void that currently exists in the global community for accurate, timely, accessible, impactful information on global health issues. Acting as a global service provider, the United States can emerge as the authority for global health information that is relevant to every single member of the global community – regardless of nationality.

To do so, the United States merely requires the will to seize upon this opportunity. As evidenced by innovative online projects by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States already possesses the expertise to leverage technology to radically change global discourse on global health issues.

The United States therefore must not miss the opportunity to be the voice behind the digital communications platforms that facilitate the sharing of knowledge, enable communities of practice, increase awareness for pressing global health issues, and generally improve the condition of individuals around the world.

In considering this opportunity, the United States cannot take for granted that others states and nonstate actors will fail to appreciate the unrealized demand for accurate, timely, accessible, impactful global health information. If the United States does not elect to make the investment, it is possible that other states will seize on the opportunity and meet this demand with their own digital communications platforms; thereby improving their standing in the global community through relatively inexpensive soft power tactics.

Soliciting Feedback on OpenGov Diplomacy

In recent weeks, the OpenGov Diplomacy Group has been reaching out to numerous public and private organizations to solicit feedback on “OpenGov Diplomacy.” Most of our conversations have centered on our position that the United States should prioritize the export of our open government best practices and technologies to other democracies around the world. We are happy to report that the feedback has been encouraging and largely positive. Our colleagues across the public and private sectors appear to support the notion that the export of open government represents a unique opportunity for our country to support strengthening democratic institutions around the world. There also appears to be widespread support for open and transparent approaches to foreign policy like this. The major concern seems to be how high a priority export of open government should be in the greater context of the United States foreign policy agenda. There also appears to be an issue with whether the U.S. should be engaged in exporting these technologies in government-government exchanges or providing them directly to foreign citizens. In responding to these concerns, we have promoted a middle ground approach. It is our position that U.S. foreign policy must represent the right balance between hard/soft power. We therefore do not argue that U.S. should assume a foreign policy platform based solely upon openness and transparency – although these principles should play an important role our foreign policy efforts. We also take the position that the focus of our open government exchange should be on like-minded democracies in the developed and developing world. We assume these countries would be receptive to publicly available open government resources.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Argument for OpenGov Diplomacy

On January 21, 2009, the White House issued the "Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government." The document affirmed the Administration's commitment to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government and advanced the notion that increased transparency, collaboration, and participation in government would strengthen American democracy. In response to follow-on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, executive departments and agencies, including the Department of State, now are planning and implementing open government initiatives aimed at "bridging the gap between the American people and their government."

The open government initiative provides a valuable context for exploring the current state of American diplomacy. The underlying issues that the Administration seeks to address with open government are not uniquely domestic in nature. Both Americans and foreigners express a desire to see a more accountable, transparent, and open U.S. Government, due in no small measure to the previous administration's decision to limit openness and transparency both at home and abroad.

In an era where scholars argue that the United States and other Western European powers are "losing their monopoly over the definition and value of openness and disclosure," the U.S. Government is at long-term risk of losing influence over global ideas - as captured in the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2025 report. To better advance American foreign policy objectives, our country needs to resolve the global community's lingering accountability, transparency, and openness concerns and simultaneously re-establish our diplomatic leadership credentials in bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations.

Fortunately, the Administration recognizes this imperative and already is making notable progress toward repairing the country's relationship with select governments. Recent global polls reflect how these efforts have improved global views of American influence. However, in the age of globalization, non-state actors, and social media, a focus on repairing relations between states through engagement with government elites will not be enough to prevent the long-term decline of American influence. In an era of social media, the voice of individuals in the global community is strengthening and also requires diplomatic attention.

The Administration therefore should promote a larger mind shift to reorient the country's foreign policy platform around the concept of OpenGov Diplomacy - "bridging the gap between foreigners and the U.S. Government using new and emerging technology." The doctrine should build upon the country's exiting cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy tradition but place considerable emphasis on leveraging new and emerging technologies to: 1) increase transparency and promote openness; 2) better solicit and respond to foreign citizen feedback on the country's foreign policy; 3) bridge the cultural, political, scientific, and economic gap between the U.S. Government and the global community on a personal level, including leveraging American citizens to increasingly engage foreigners as "ambassadors" of American values and ideas.

The doctrine should not supplant the importance of elite engagement between professional diplomats. Instead, it should serve to rebalance relative importance of soft power and hard power objectives; recognizing the long-term strategic importance of preventing the decline of American influence over global ideas and values. This can be achieved through greater emphasis on cultural and public diplomacy within the Foreign Service and greater investment in new programs aimed at engaging foreign populations in cultural exchanges using Web 2.0 technologies, such as social media.

The doctrine also must not equate the need to solicit and respond to foreign citizen feedback on U.S. foreign policy with the need to incorporate foreign policy preferences into U.S. foreign policy. Only the American public has the right to influence U.S. policy. It is in our collective best interest though to hear the opinions of others and engage in constructive two-way feedback where our national interests lead to policies opposed by foreign citizens.

The Administration's extension of its domestic open government initiative to the foreign policy community offers the potential to make American diplomacy more relevant in "The Age of Social Media." Increased engagement between foreigners and Americans would enable the U.S. Government to: 1) better gauge the global effectiveness of its foreign policy agenda; 2) increase the cross-pollination and sharing of ideas; 3) reduce cultural and geographical barriers that undermine increased engagement between Americans and foreign citizens. Deliberate exportation of the country's open government best practices (such as crowdsourcing citizen feedback) also would strengthen the democratic process around the world. It is for these reasons that the President should consider expanding his definition of open government beyond the domestic context or issue a separate memorandum on OpenGov diplomacy to his Cabinet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ODG Executive Director's Contributions to IdeaScale Sites

On December 8, 2009, OMB released the Open Government Directive, which provided specific guidance on fulfilling the vision set forth by President Obama for open government. One of its requirements was for executive departments and agencies to create a public feedback mechanism to solicit citizen feedback during the development of each department's or agency's Open Government Plan. The majority of the executive department and agencies opted to meet this requirement through the implementation of an open government public web site built on the IdeaScale platform.

The web sites, which are now live, provide an important opportunity for citizens, including young professionals, to have their voice heard on open government. The public sites have already collected over 800 new ideas and public solicitation of ideas will continue at least through March 19, 2010.

Michael Walsh, the Executive Director of the OpenGov Diplomacy Group, already has contributed a number of ideas to the sites, including:

Young Diplomat Program
Department of State
The Department of State should develop a Young Diplomats contest program for American students. The program would provide students with the opportunity to advance their understanding of the core topics and issues relevant to the foreign service (similar to the National Geographic Bee for geography). The program would run for the entire academic school year and rely on long-term engagement with students. The program would commence with a registration process which would provide students with access to an online community of practice. The community would provide age-appropriate resources for the students. The students then would prepare for the contest using a series of online practice modules and mobile phone based applications that would test the students on sample questions. The students then would complete an online competition that would serve as qualification for a local competition. The local competition would enable qualified students to compete with their peers in the classroom and be administered by a local school district. The competition then would progress through in-person competitions to the national competition. Advancing students would be provided a paid summer internship at the Department of State once they matriculate to college - thereby ensuring that the reward is linked to both their educational and professional development.
[Vote for this Idea]

Young Adult International Development Community
USAID should develop an online social networking community for young adults interested in international development. The community should enable students to engage in conversations related to functional areas (i.e. agriculture) as well as regions of interest. The community should be serviced by a few select USAID ambassadors, which may include acting foreign service officers, as well as USAID approved educators. These ambassadors and educators should be available for town hall meetings and podcasts and would be expected to contribute high-value resources to the student community (including multimedia). On a regular basis, USAID also should leverage the community to run contests where students can propose new ideas for complex international development problems, particularly those that require international aid organizations to engage directly with young adults. Awards should be provided to students in the form of publication of their ideas and USAID leadership recognition, perhaps on a senior leader's blog. If managed correctly, the community ultimately could serve as the main clearinghouse for USAID internships for high school and college students.
[Vote for this Idea]

Standing User Experience & Design Resources for Web Pilots
Federal web pilot projects (both internal and external) consistently are undermined by usability and design shortcomings. The reason for this is because few program managers have access to standing, cost-effective user experience and design resources within their organizations. They therefore need to contract out vendors who specialize in the practice. However, owing to their small budgets and the bureaucracy of federal contracting regulations (which further inflate acquisition costs), there are few web pilot projects that can justify the procurement of such specialized services. The net effect is that pilot projects launch with poor usability and design issues, which impair their performance and undermines the value of the entire experimentation process. In a Web 2.0 world where usability and design are so important, USAID program managers should have access to standing user experience and design resources within their organizations or have access to them at intragovernmental level. These resources should be equivalent in quality to industry leading commercial organizations and must be available in a cost effective hourly manner. This would enable web pilot projects to have access to the 15-60 hours of user experience and design resources they typically need to realize their potential on the web.
[Vote for this Idea - USAID]

Comprehensive USAID Foreign Assistance Data Set for Data.Gov
USAID should publish a machine readable high value data set on Data.Gov depicting all relevant data for USAID directed foreign assistance projects. The USAID directed foreign assistance data set should be broken down by recipient of aid, location aid is rendered (geocoded), category of aid (specifically: 1) countries recovering from disaster; 2) countries trying to escape poverty; 3) countries engaging in democratic reforms; 4) other), explicit field of aid (ex. public health, economic development, etc.), rendering agent (ex. named contractor), and duration of project (by month/day/year). It also would be valuable if the data was supported by high-level pre-project initiation KPIs and post-project KPI performance evaluation data. Finally, it would be nice if the data could be easily mapped to State Department data on entity in control of territory aid is rendered (ex. foreign government, non-state actor, etc.) throughout the duration of the project.
[Vote for this Idea]

Contact Infromation Directory for Int. Disaster Response
Department of State
In coordination with its global, regional, and local disaster response partners, the Department of State should maintain a standing directory of point of contact information for governmental, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental organizations by country. In event of a crisis, the Department should publish this directory in a machine readable form. The Department also should present the directory on a rapidly deployed open web site for the crisis. The web site should present the Department's vetted information and make sure this information is clearly identifiable. In addition, the site should enable local stakeholders to upload their own information; enabling the directory to scale to meet the crisis.
[Vote for this Idea]

DoD Web Site Directory
Department of Defense
DoD should expand upon http://www.defense.gov/home/webwatch/ to include all official, beta, and pilot external web properties managed by the department. The directory should provide intuitive navigation and enable users to discover sites based upon both text-based and faceted search. Once the directory is completed, it should be expanded to include other departmental digital communication assets, such as public facing mobile web applications and social media accounts.
[Vote for this Idea]

International Disaster Community of Practice
Department of State
The Department of State should partner with other federal government(ex. DoD, USAID, USIP, etc.), intergovernmental (ex. UN), and non-governmental organizations to launch a community of practice for international disaster response. The community should enable peer-peer engagement between those most affected by international disasters, including political leaders, first responders, aid organization representatives, business interests, and civic leaders. The community should evolve into a repository of high-value resources (ex. best practices, educational material, etc.), as well as an open forum for ongoing discussion. The community should regularly highlight participation by those affected by past crises (ex. possibly mayor of Port-au-Prince).
[Vote for this Idea]

OpenGov Diplomacy
Department of State
The U.S. Government should invest significant resources to advance the concept of open diplomacy. This new construct would rely heavily upon the U.S. Government’s existing e-diplomacy and public diplomacy tradition. However, it would not be limited to these disciplines. Open diplomacy would serve as the overall diplomatic strategy for the country - placing new emphasis on: 1) increasing transparency, promoting openness, and valuing foreign citizen feedback in American foreign policy; 2) promoting the use of new and emerging technology and processes to bridge the cultural, political, scientific, and economic gap between the U.S. Government and the global community; 3) leveraging American citizens to increasingly engage foreigners as "ambassadors" of American values and ideas. Open diplomacy would not supplant the importance of elite engagement between professional diplomats. Instead, it would serve to rebalance relative importance of soft power and hard power objectives; recognizing the long-term strategic importance of confronting the rapid decline of American influence over global ideas and values.
[Vote for this Idea]

Innovative Web 2.0 Solutions
Department of State
The Department of State has a strong record of experimentation with Web 2.0 technologies. This includes creating a number of social networking sites (ex. Exchanges Connect and State Alumni Network), participating in virtual communities (ex. Second Life), and launching mobile applications (ex. Haiti widget). Of these various examples, the ones with the most impact are those that leverage public - private partnerships (ex. Google's contribution on the development of the Haiti widget). The Department should institutionalize these partnerships to a larger degree and better leverage private and academic partners to innovate new ways to connect with foreign citizens on issues such as culture and science. The Department also should take account of projects that have failed (ex. X-Life Games) and pool the funding of disparate efforts so that the Department can launch two to three big projects a year. Finally, the Department should use social media and crowdsourcing technology to solicit public feedback and new ideas from the target audience (ex. foreigners) for all big projects prior to their implementation to better determine the probability of success. This should be baked into a new agile procurement and development process which would enable the more rapid development of solutions.
[Vote for this Idea]

Public Social Media Platform for International Disaster Response
Department of State
The Department of State should fund/establish a social platform that enables real-time, two-way feedback between crisis victims and international disaster responders. The platform should integrate with existing social media platforms (ex. Twitter) and be mobile device enabled. The platform should be easily customized for any crisis and rapidly deployed following the on-start of the crisis.
[Vote for this Idea]

DoD Social Media Data Set
Department of Defense
DoD should publish a machine readable data set outlining the department's use of social media in external communications. The data set should include all public social media accounts used in direct or indirect engagement with the US public, who the account is associated with (ex. official department or sub-department account, official PR spokesman/woman account, or leadership figure's account used for official communications), a breakdown of accounts by platform (ex. YouTube, Ning, etc.), categorization of the type of social media platform (custom platform, licensed proprietary platform, third party platform), number of posts/updates per account over specific time series (ex. 44 tweets by Twitter Account A on 1/1/10), and average number of comments/replies for each post/comment.
[Vote for this Idea]

Cultural Community to Build Bridges between U.S. and Foreigners
Department of State
Description: The Department of State should expand on Exchanges Connect and develop an American culture site where our government presents American history and culture through a personal lens. The site would rely heavily on multimedia content and present American culture through the following global navigation elements: 1) People (stories of individual Americans); 2) Songs; 3) Movies; 4) Images. The site should be supported by rich media (ex. interactive timeline) and user profiles, enable submission of user-generated stories by individual Americans as well as polished stories on historical figures by government web managers, provide functionality for user content rating, sharing, and commenting, and be fully integrated with third party social media sites (ex. YouTube; Flickr). Target audience: The site should provide an opportunity for Americans of all demographics to participate in direct cultural exchange with foreigners. It therefore should be designed to support both an American and foreigner community. Objective: The site should enable two-way interaction between "American cultural ambassadors" (a cross-sectional group of Americans selected by the Department as particularly well-qualified experts on American culture) and foreigners interested in American culture. It should seek to build cultural bridges between our own citizens and foreigners at a personal level. Technical Consideration: The site should be built on a non-proprietary platform (ex. Open Source CMS) rather than Ning to address privacy concerns.
[Vote for this Idea]

Recovery.Gov Donation and Procurement Site for International Disaster Response
Department of State
In collaboration with governmental and nongovernmental partners (ex. American 501(c)3 nonprofits), the Department of State should develop an integrated "acquisition and procurement" platform for international disaster response. Modeled on Recovery.Gov, the platform should support the unique needs of the international disaster response community, especially financial and gift-in-kind donations (ex. materials or personnel) requested by nonprofit disaster response organizations. By doing so, the site will foster rapid collaboration between foundations, corporations, and private donors and the on-the-ground American disaster responders; thereby improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire international disaster response effort.
[Vote for this Idea]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Announcing OpenGov Diplomacy Blog

The OpenGov Diplomacy Group is pleased to launch our first ever blog! The blog will cover innovations in strategy, digital communications, and Internet technology that will influence the transparency, openness, accountability, and conjointness of American diplomacy. Michael Walsh, ODG's Executive Director, will manage the blog, which will feature his thoughts as well as those of our guests.
Creative Commons License
The Open Diplomacy Blog by Michael Walsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at opendiplomacy.blogspot.com.