Seeker Spotlight: U.S. Department of State

Posted by Steve Bonadio on Sep 17, 2012 12:40:23 PM

We recently launched a Challenge hosted by the U.S. Department of State, Innovation in Arms Control Challenge: How Can the Crowd Support Arms Control Transparency Efforts? This $10,000 Ideation Challenge seeks creative ideas from the U.S. general public to use commonly available devices to help confirm whether states are complying with treaties or international arrangements addressing weapons and nonproliferation. We recently spoke with Jamie Mannina, Special Assistant for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the State Department, about the Challenge.

Hello Mr. Mannina – thank you for joining us today. Could you tell us about the Challenge and how you believe that it can help you innovate arms control?

We launched the “Innovation in Arms Control Challenge” asking people, “How Can the Crowd Support Arms Control Transparency Efforts?” in the spirit of harnessing ingenuity and innovation. Through this Challenge, we will collect new ideas about how innovation and technological advancements can affect the implementation of arms control, verification, and nonproliferation treaties and agreements. It seeks creative ideas from across the general public – from garage tinkerers and technologists to gadget entrepreneurs and students – to support the U.S. arms control and nonproliferation agenda.

This is the State Department’s first Challenge with InnoCentive. Having run many Challenges in the public sector over the years (e.g., for Air Force Research Labs, the EPA, and NASA), we’re always intrigued by what motivated you to try your hand at crowdsourcing Challenges.

We recognize that our smaller, faster-paced world is changing the security landscape, and that these changes will bring with them new challenges and evolutions to current threats. To respond to these changes, we must adapt instruments of statecraft to bring to bear the networks, technologies, and human potential of our increasingly inter-dependent and interconnected world.

Over the past three years, the State Department has been reshaping our diplomatic agenda to meet old and new challenges by deploying one of America’s great assets – innovation. Inspired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emphasis on harnessing new technologies and 21st century statecraft, we have been working to elevate American "civilian power" to advance our national security interests, making partners of the United States government and its citizens.

The Challenge statement articulates that in some situations, one or more parties may be motivated to violate nonproliferation or arms control provisions, commonly understood as “cheating.” Could you elaborate on this?

Arms control treaties or international arrangements support mutual security and stability in general, however, in some situations one or more parties may be motivated to violate these arms control provisions, or attempt to circumvent provisions surreptitiously, commonly understood as “cheating.”  Most treaties rely on the partners’ continued desire to abide by the terms, and transparency and verification measures are used to assist government experts in monitoring compliance with treaty obligations. Monitoring the terms of a treaty and drawing conclusions about compliance with treaty provisions, however, can be difficult in practice. To deal with the difficulties, we may include explicit terms to define the scope and implementation of verification and transparency activities that help support and demonstrate compliance.

After only a couple of weeks, the Challenge has attracted nearly 350 Solvers, a great start! In your mind, what are some of the key attributes that you’ll be looking for in a winning solution?

In general, we are looking for creative ways to tackle the long-standing problems of arms control and nonproliferation transparency and monitoring. We have to keep in mind the major obstacles that come about as we move to reduce nuclear weapons to lower numbers, while meeting the security challenges of the 21st century, and exploring new ways at strengthening modern confidence building through technical and innovative means. So that has set us down the path of asking if there are some great ideas out there to use commonly available technologies in new and creative ways to support our arms control policy efforts. We have used the example of smartphone and tablet apps to help on-site inspectors verify and monitor treaty commitments as one possible solution, but we want to stress that the point of this Challenge is to seek additional innovative ideas – ideas that we may not have thought of – to help support arms control transparency efforts.

Looking ahead, what future Challenges does the State Department anticipate running?

We are looking into partnering with other U.S. government departments, as well as outside organizations from the private sector, where we can complement our collective efforts and fully leverage all of our available networks to move forward on common national security interests. We hope to have something to announce in the beginning of next year.

Thank you for speaking with us Mr. Mannina. We look forward to all of the innovative ideas that result from the Challenge. Any final words of wisdom to our Solvers?

We hope to continue initiatives like this Challenge that engage the public on arms control issues. We want the public to know more about arms control and how it affects our lives. However, these types of activities are only successful when we have public participation and enthusiasm. So, if everyone liked this Challenge and our outreach, please show us by thinking about how you can contribute to arms controls transparency efforts and submit a solution to the Challenge.

Topics: Innovation Insights, Seekers

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