Category Archives: Uncategorized

Crowdsourced Legislation & Policy

Crowdsourcing is going to revolutionize how government legislation is drafted and how policy is created and executed. And why not? The very nature of government crowdsourcing is involving the people in government. Whereas open data initiatives are one way – government publishing info to the masses – crowdsourcing enables two-way collaboration. Citizens will have the ability to actively comment on and shape legislation and policy. That sounds a lot like democracy to me.

How will this revolution occur?

IBM recently produced an excellent series of articles on government crowdsourcing and the co-design and co-production of government services.

If you have 18 minutes, Clay Shirky has an excellent TED talk about how Gits could be used to comment on and revise legislation. This is a brilliant idea that I examine in more detail below. implements a variant of this model, publishing legislation and allowing the public to comment on it. But there’s one major flaw with OpenCongress – Congress isn’t participating. It’s citizens talking to themselves.

John Boehner led the charge to publish legislative data in xml as well as other openness reforms, but why not go all the way and adopt an OpenCongress model, where pending legislation is posted online for public comment, and proposed changes or amendments are tracked and referenced to the legislator making the change?

Why not? Accountability. But hiding from accountability is not Congress serving the people, its Congress protecting its own interests.

I’ve often wondered whether the Department of State will ever crowdsource policy development and execution. DoS could theoretically publish its current or proposed policies in an OpenCongress style forum, (perhaps and allow the public to comment on and edit them. Quality control could be enforced by the crowd itself, with the best ideas and information upvoted and highlighted. This would certainly provide policy-makers with a much wider diversity of opinions and presumably richer data inputs. Who doesn’t want more high quality policy options?

Our Embassies could also post information online on policies towards the host country as well as proposed development/ foreign assistance programs. Posting this information in a collaborative forum would engage a broader swath of host country society and would presumably encourage valuable feedback that might not otherwise be available (e.g. an Embassy might discover that development assistance in particular region is disproportionately guided towards one particular ethnic group by government officials). International visitors could be proposed and voted on by the people. Policy initiatives could be generated by host country nationals. It seems like a great way to actively engage a wider swath of society in the kinds of dialogues we want to engage in.

These moves would inevitably generate criticism of our policies, of course. But if we want to create the best policies based on the best available information, shouldn’t we be willing to place our ideas into the public domain so they can be honed by criticism and feedback? If our ideas can’t survive the public crucible, then I believe they probably weren’t all that wonderful in the first place.

The world is increasingly a marketplace of ideas, and if we want our ideas to survive and thrive, they have to be hearty enough to survive a rigorous public debate. These collaborative forums would also provide us outstanding feedback before policies are actually implemented rather than after, when it will be too late to avoid blowback. Also, audiences are far more likely to forgive bad ideas placed into a collaborative forum where they’re expected to be shaped and critiqued, than bad ideas which never go through critique and debate but are simply announced and implemented.

One other concern is that the crowd is sometimes, well, a mob. NASA offered the crowd an opportunity to name a new space station module. Comedian Stephen Colbert hijacked the effort and his followers ‘won’ the contest for him. NASA declined to name the module ‘Colbert’ but they did name a treadmill after him. Still, it demonstrates that there is the risk that special interest groups could hijack particular issues or the mob could promote frivolous ideas (like petitioning the White House to build a Death Star.)

Nevertheless, the idea of crowdsourcing policy inputs and execution IS going to be implemented, it’s just a matter of when. Will DoS do it proactively in an effort to shape discussions with non-state actors? Or will it do it reactively in response to our foreign policies being debated in open forum without State input?

I hope it’s the former. Ditto for other departments and agencies.

In a future article I’ll go into more detail about exactly how a Git-style policy collaboration tool might work. Until then, you can check out this innovative effort by the NY Legislature to serve up legislative data using an open source platform.

Digital Reputations, Development and Diplomacy – the video presentation

Below is my presentation from the June 7 Tech@State: Moneyball Diplomacy where I analyzed how reputation scores might transform how diplomacy and development are assessed. I’d love any comments you might have on the prezo.

Digital Reputations, Development and Diplomacy

The full slide deck is here.

Following is the text of the presentation as delivered.

Hi I’m Matt Chessen.

I’m going to talk to you about digital reputations and how they could transform diplomacy and development in the future.
Where online reputations are beginning to change how people are perceived across a variety of professions and industries, diplomacy is still struggling with the analog past.

This is part of a performance evaluation for US diplomats from 1949.

A supervisor was expected to circle the selection from each of the different groups that best described the officer.

Some of the more interesting options are:

He is slow to wrath
He shows little taste in his clothes
He is a leader of a group of mature men.

These are obviously highly qualitative, personality-driven forms of evaluation

Unfortunately, subjective evaluation still dominates how diplomats and development professionals evaluate each other and the people we work with.

A diplomat’s reputation, known as their corridor reputation, is still mostly analog, circulating through word of mouth and direct experience.

However, we may be on the verge of a technologically driven transformation similar to what is happening in the private sector.
So lets take a look at what’s out there.

If you’ve ever tweeted, written an online review or posted something on Facebook, you’ve established a digital reputation.

Someone could get a qualitative sense of your reputation from reading your Facebook page, tweets or reviews, and some employers are now doing this as a part of their interview process.

But what we’re interested in is quantified rather than subjective reputation. Something like a reputation credit score.

eBay is one of the pioneers of digital reputation. They had to create a feedback and star system to build trust between distant anonymous buyers and sellers.
Now reputation scores are widely used in these types of online transactions.

For example, freelancers on eLance and oDesk provide services in everything from administrative support to multimedia design; and reputation scores represent the quality of their work.

Now there are many more companies using reputation scores are used to build trust into online commerce.

However, reputation scores are increasingly important in niche professional communities as well.

Kaggle is an interesting example.
Kaggle allows companies to post competitions to see who can come up with the best predictive models for data-sets.

Data scientists compete for the right answer, and get points based on the predictive accuracy of their model.

In the data science field, your Kaggle score is becoming as important as where you went to school or what companies you’ve worked for.
Data scientists with top Kaggle scores are considered stars in their profession.

This isn’t unique.

Reputation scores are now relied on in medicine, programming and translation as an indicator of quality and trust.
The professional reputation score is here to stay.
But the trend is even bigger than that.

Sites like and Facebook are trying to use big data and aggregation models to create the equivalent of a reputation credit score.

I’ll make the prediction that in ten years, your digital reputation score will be as important in your professional life, as your credit score is in your financial life.

So where are the digital reputation scores for diplomacy and development?

There are sites like Global Giving and Great Non-Profits that score development projects and non-governmental organizations. And we need more of this to ensure quality.

However, online communities for development professionals like DevEx, have no reputation scoring.

We need a cultural shift to move away from subjective evaluations based on: who you know, degrees, or years of experience, to qualitative evaluations that more accurately measure talent and work quality.

In the future, more development and diplomacy work will be crowd-sourced.

State is developing an micro-tasking platform that will create an internal marketplace for foreign policy work,
But it creates trust and quality concerns similar to what you see in online commerce.

One solution is to tie the micro-tasking platform to Corridor, which is State and U-S-A-I-Ds internal social network.

Corridor is already used by diplomats to collaborate with colleagues, share professional and personal interests, and interact with potential supervisors during the bidding process.
Combining micro-tasking with Corridor through a reputation engine will allow State personnel to develop digital reputations tied to specific accomplishments that transcend their physical location.

Looking ahead, it’s easy to imagine a future where every foreign contact we meet is electronically catalogued and rated for trust and competency.

Or perhaps diplomats will use the reputation amalgamators to assess foreign diplomats and contacts, and tailor their interactions to the individual.

International assistance programs and managers will certainly be rated online, perhaps even by the communities the programs are designed to help.

And perhaps someday we’ll de-centralize policy development, and use crowdsourcing and reputation scores to source effective solutions to foreign policy problems from the general public.

We can’t really predict how quantified reputations will transform foreign affairs,

but based on the private sector experience, we can infer that reputation scores will improve trust, and elevate the status of high quality people and organizations that make biggest positive contributions to the world.
Thank you.

Note: Comments in this presentation do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.

A wiki for US government crowdsourcing efforts

I created a wikipedia page for US government crowdsourcing initiatives. Update your projects here!

US Navy crowdsourcing ideation

The US Navy has a massive crowdsourced idea engine in the form of a MMOG. I wonder how long it will take them to figure out they can now create Enders Game for real and source innovative strategists from the youth of America?


About MMOWGLI – Game Wiki – MMOWGLI Portal.

Coming soon, the full text and ppt from my presentation at tech@state

Check back this weekend!

Digital reputations, development and diplomacy – the links

Reputation scoring has interested me since my .com days in the early 2000’s. A friend and I came up with a business plan along the lines of what and other reputation amalgamators are doing. Our vision was of an ethical credit score rather than a reputation score, but the ideas are similar. (That friend helped design the reputation system for

When I left Afghanistan in May 2012, I knew that I needed a break from Pol-Mil and security issues. I found myself going back to sci-tech, which along with foreign affairs is a professional life passion. The possibilities inherent in crowdsourcing, specifically the crowdsourcing of policy development and implementation, fascinated me. This course led me to eDiplomacy, where I consider myself quite lucky to be leading State’s implementation of a micro-tasking platform. Reputation scoring and feedback will be key elements of this system.

A few points about reputation that didn’t make it into the presentation:

-Reputation scores are contextual. Just because you have a high eBay score doesn’t mean you’re a good person or pay your bills on time. This will be a challenge for the amalgamators.

-I like this quote from Joe Fernandez at Klout: “Influence measures your ability to drag someone into action. Reputation is an indicator of whether a person is good or bad and, ultimately, are they trustworthy?”

For those interested in more information on how reputation scores are transforming the world, below are a list of good links and references for learning more about the topic:

Rachel Botsman’s website is a great place to start. She has some slick presentations on reputation scores and is an expert on the collaborative economy. Make sure you read her Wired article.

The Atlantic has a good article on how reputation scores are transforming professions.

For those interested in crowdsourcing, David Allan Grier has a new book on Crowdsourcing for Dummies. He remarked to me that he may be the only author to be published by Princeton Press and the For Dummies Series.

Wikipedia uses barnstars as rewards for contributors and editors.

Etsy, TaskRabbit, Lending Club, Amazon Mechanical Turk all integrate some form of reputation scoring., trustcloud, whytrusted, and legit (acquired by Facebook,) all try to amalgamate reputation scores and give users control over their data.

I think Facebook is going to turn out to be the winner in the reputation amalgamation game. They have something the others don’t – hundreds of millions of online identities. Reputation is meaningless if it can’t be tied to a verified identity. Combine this with nearly ubiquitous Facebook sign in and you have Mr. Zuckerberg as the gatekeeper for a large portion of the net. is doing great things in generating psuedo-credit scores for the developing world. Not quite reputation scores, but close, and very admirable.

Wikipedia has a short article on reputation scores and the way people can spoof the systems.

More updates later…

The New Feudalism?

Wired’s Bruce Shchneier recently posted this interesting article ‘When it comes to security, we’re back to feudalism.’ It makes some interesting points, but I think it misses the overall trend. Society, the Internet and Internet Security aren’t moving back to feudalism, we’re moving forward to something more distributed.

Historical feudalism is highly hierarchal. You have the monarch, nobles and knights on top, and the merchants, farmers and peasants on the bottom of the pyramid. I see the future of security as more of an extremely networked and distributed form of organization, like a mesh network. Each of the nodes on the network would be a zone of governance, so to speak. Moving from node to node, you step into different zones with differing rules and structures, many of which overlap. So you might live in a gated community with a private security force, yet it’s still subject to state and local laws. You’d drive on a private highway to your corporate campus, which might have its own security and electric system, but it still draws water from the municipal wells. You use Google for its great web services, but you prefer Apple for its hardware design, closed ecosystem and security. 

For me, the mesh network is a better analogy because all of these pieces tie together and frequently overlap.  So its not the position of each relative to each other that matters. In feudalism, where you are on the pyramid makes all the difference. It’s better being the lowliest knight than the highest serf. Knights have much better security protections, and can provide better security to their lord than a peasant can. With zones of governance, or distributed governance, the position of each relative to each other doesn’t matter. What is important is the strength and nature of the connections between them.

So your gated community can have its own security, but it’s still subject to the authority of the State. A strong connection. The local mall may be owned by a Chinese conglomerate, but they can’t suppress free speech on the property: strong connection to US law; weak connection to Chinese law. You might be 100% android and have a strong connection to Google, or you own an iPhone and use Google maps and Gmail, so you have moderate connections to both. These fall under US law, so there is a strong connection there.

But perhaps you download a Chinese chat app which just happens to be monitored by the PLA. So unknowingly you might have a strong (and negative) Chinese security connection you don’t know about. You may have connections to things you aren’t aware of and probably don’t want to be connected to. Surfacing these hidden connections will probably be critical in the future.

And more important than how strong your security connection is to any one node, is how the overlapping webs of security work together, and how resilient your overall system is to failure. So if access to your Gmail would allow a hacker access to all your other accounts in your personal network, then you do indeed have an artificial hierarchy due to the single point of failure. (Kill the noble and the kingdom falls.) We have to acknowledge that we can’t protect everything, so we have to build our security in such a fashion that if a catastrophic failure occurs, the system has enough redundancy and firewalls that the disaster would be contained (more like the lines of succession in case of the President’s death.)

So I think the mesh network/ distributed governance / zones of governance analogy will be a better method for describing the future of human security and society than medieval feudalism, which was strictly hierarchal. And redundancy is key. In the security environment, this means a much more distributed, networked model. So if gated community security fails, you can still call 911, and if your mobile OS allows in malware, your hardware device has protocols to limit the damage.

We’re all part of the Universe

I’ve always been fascinated by the Buddhist concept of connectedness. Supposedly (since I haven’t got there yet,) enlightenment comes from the insight and true understanding that we are all connected, and all one. I’ve always understood this in a rational sense – that underneath we are all just energy in different configurations, and that there is no thing in reality called the ego or self – but in practice it’s difficult to always feel and live that connectedness.

In a seminar last week, a participant mentioned that we are all part of the Universe. This simple statement has some serious ontological undertones. Any outside observer looking at the Universe would see you and I as parts of it, but our experience is that we’re separate and distinct elements in it.

Everything in the Universe is in fact part of us. We’re just different manifestations of the same underlying energy.

This quote by Shams Tabrizi says it all

“The universe is a complete unique entity. Everything and everyone is bound together with some invisible strings. Do not break anyone’s heart; do not look down on weaker than you. One’s sorrow at the other side of the world can make the entire world suffer; one’s happiness can make the entire world smile.”

So today, go out in the world and relate to everything and everyone as a part of you. When you see a stranger on the street or greet a friend, relate to them as if they were a part of you, looking from a different perspective.

Apple doldrums…why?

I think what has people spooked is that Apple is no longer the coolest game in town. Tastes change. I and others have heard anecdotes about how high school kids who are the trend-setters don’t want iPhones because everyone, especially their parents, have them.

I really believe much of the AAPL doldrums are caused by memories of RIM, PALM, etc who dominated their markets for a time, but then were disrupted by others which destroyed their businesses. Samsung/android is doing this now.

Apple needs new products to re-set these expectations. The long rumored Apple TV isn’t going to cut it. They need a product.

The iPhone needs to innovate more in features and less in design. Fingerprint authentication, mobile payments, NFC, etc are critical to re-disrupt the market.

A friend told me he lost his iPhone on the ski slopes and someone found it 18 months later, plugged it in and it worked. I’ve seen an iPhone immersed in water, and it still worked while under water. That is amazing, but also speaks to overengineering. There is a balance between investing in quality product design and investing in the software on the product, especially when most people don’t keep their phones for more than a couple of years.

I also believe that long-term, android dominance is going to fracture. Windows is going to gain market share at its expense and Samsung is going to introduce a competitive OS. When android fractures, Apple’s ecosystem will prove dominant.

Making Peace With Rockets

Re-post from Baghdad during Charge of the Knights, when the Green Zone was shelled ~8-10 times a day for six weeks…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When the alarms go off, you throw yourself on the floor of your hooch, squirm into your body armor and helmet and under your bed, and there are moments, true life-changing moments, where you are forced to confront your fear. Your mortality and the absolute randomness that decides whether you end or continue is brought into striking focus, and you realize how truly out of control we are. Life or death no longer depends on your volition, but on the aim of some person miles away, the manufacture of a weapon from another country, the local barometric pressure, political maneuvering, gusts of wind. And so it always has been, and so it always will be.

The fear you have to confront, for if you hide from it, the fear finds you in your dreams. If you try to reason around it, fear runs your neuroses. Or worst of all, you try to think you can control it through superstitional wearing of lucky socks or amulets. Or by plugging your ears or not holding your breath so as to save your lungs from blast damage. Then you begin to lose touch with the reality, which is, there is no control. All that was and all that ever will be is, ultimately, mostly out of your hands. Control is an illusion, and all we have, all the world has, are a series of choices that combine to lead us here, or there. Your choices are few among trillions.

And so, lying facedown on the floor, panting in the dust from the adrenalin coursing through your system and the 30 pound of armor plate on your back, explosions in the distance like a pack of giants throwing stones, you confront your fear…and find peace on the other side. Peace is acceptance of the fact that one day you are going to die, and they will throw dirt on your face and you will be no more. Peace is acceptance that, if this is the will of the universe, then that is the only way it could ever be. In that peace is acceptance of risk, of life, of rockets and of death, and a dismissal of worry which is, ultimately, probably the most dangerous enemy we face in the international zone.

You find peace in the fear. You accept it, and you move on. The all clear sounds, you rise and remove your body armor, propping it up for the next time you hit the deck. You go in the other room, brush your teeth and go to bed. And you sleep, soundly and deeply, until the next alarm challenges you with fear anew.

This might sound shocking, but in fact, this is everyday life, brought into laserlike focus. We’re just so often ignorant of risk…we learn to dismiss it, accept it or worry it.  In our safe little existences we don’t have the imminent risk of violent death, or at least we think we don’t, so we learn to worry about other things… are there toxins in my water bottle that are going to kill me in 40 years? Am I getting too little iron? Maybe too much? Do I have too little hair on my head? Too much on my back? Am I a boring conversationalist? Am I too old? Is my butt too big? Are my breasts too small? Am I eating too many eggs? Or maybe too few?

These are the things we think about because basic survival is no longer an issue. So we replace it with other, seemingly life or death choices. Fear is everywhere, and it finds us one way or another. You can’t control that. The only thing you can do is choose how to deal with it…face it, or hide. Accept it, or deny the reality that all life is risk, and ultimately, death.

So eat those eggs, but exercise and accept they may still clog your heart. Enjoy your food. Let your kid play barefoot in the grass, even though they might get toxoplasmosis and lose a foot. Play is good for you and sometimes you get hurt. And when you hear the CRAM, hit the deck and squirm into your armor, just know that if it’s your time, it’s your time, and if it’s not, it’s not. Nothing more. And sleep…

A-salam alekum

Peace = سلم