Government, crowds and policy development

How can government utilize technology to harness the power of non-state actors to: improve policy development; encourage networked governance; generate networked state/non-state solutions; and align potentially adverse actors with foreign policy goals?’

Government is beginning to confront a major emerging challenge of the 21st Century: the fact that State power is increasingly threatened and undermined by the emergence of non-state actors who, enabled by information technology and growing financial resources, play an increasingly important role in foreign policy. The U.S. Government recognizes the security threat posed by networked black-hat (malicious) non-state actors like Al Qaeda, narcotraficantes, and the Taliban, and is taking steps to counter these threats.

However, the challenge to hierarchal state power posed by white-hat (positive) and grey-hat (ambiguous) actors is still opaque and not fully addressed. White-hat, non-governmental actors are increasingly able to deploy resources and shape events in ways that could be detrimental or directly contrary to official U.S. Government foreign policy. This trend will accelerate as information technology further enables networked organization activities, and non-state actors accumulate endowments which rival foreign assistance budgets. Additionally, networked grey-hat organizations like the hacktivist group Anonymous present serious threats to law and order, but could generate opportunities and alliances if engaged proactively.

The challenge presented by networked non-state actors is correlated with demands for the U.S. Government to develop networked structures to address complex problems necessitating a whole of government approach. George Washington University Professor Fuerth identified the need for foresight-policy integration, networked governance and feedback for applied learning his October 2012 report on Anticipatory Governance. However, these initiatives are heavily challenged by government inertia, the persistent focus on crisis management and the lack of bandwidth by key policymakers to broadly network with internal agencies and external non-state actors.

I am specifically interested in how information technologies – specifically crowdsourcing, social networking and gamification technologies – could be utilized to provide practical and implementable solutions to these pressing problems. Specific topics are:

  • Networked governance is critical to countering and managing networked non-state actors, but policy-makers are resource constrained. Non-governmental organizations have considerable resources which could facilitate intra-governmental and government to NGO collaboration. How can government use crowdsourcing or other technologies to facilitate non-governmental participation in foreign policy development and implementation processes?
  • Non-state actors will have an increasing ability to influence foreign affairs. How can government use crowdsourcing and gamification technologies to broaden the policy-development process, integrate a wider range of inputs from white-hat and grey-hat non-state actors and ensure their efforts complement U.S. government foreign policy?
  • Public diplomacy at US missions overseas is integrating social media into its dialogue, but communications remain hierarchical. How can our foreign missions expand their use of technology to build alliances and networks with non-state actors? Are there opportunities to use technology to provide diplomats additional latitude to network with and promote non-traditional ideas and voices (sacrificing some hierarchal control for greater speed and responsiveness)?

More to come…

Note: ideas and views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the State Department or the US Government

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