Tag Archives: foreign policy

The End of the American World: Without Vision there can be no Leadership

America is leaving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This is, by scientific consensus, a terrible outcome for the planet. But it is also a disaster for American foreign policy and its role as a global leader.

With this decision I’m left scratching my head. What does America stand for? What does it want the world to look like? I can no longer tell you.

Here, quick test: Name an issue the US Government is taking a leadership position on in the world.

I can think of three. All of which are reactionary, none of which represent of a vision of where we should go. What is easier to tell you is what the US Government — and by this I don’t just mean the president, but also a large number of congresspeople and possible senators—no longer believe is important.

American Priorities.png

US Foreign Policy Priorities

Some of these items — women’s rights and climate change for example — have been contentious domestically for some time. But others formed the bedrock of the American vision for the world. Yes, there are lots of examples of American hypocrisy in its foreign policy (this is true of all countries) but trade, the western alliance (grounded in NATO), human rights and democracy served as general foundations for bringing together key stakeholders around the world in a shared vision of what the world should look like.

That is now all in tatters.

What does America believe in? What is the shared vision around which it will rally allies and unaligned countries? Beats me. Fighting terrorism is important, but it isn’t an organizing principle upon which to build a vision of the future.

China is willing to marshal economic and political capital to fight climate change which it is also leveraging to engage India and others. Its One Belt, One Road infrastructure plan is a vision for re-organizing global trade. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank offers an alternative to the World Bank(which it is unclear the current administration even cares about) as a way to fund development and growth.

There is a lot about China’s vision for the world that is unclear and frankly, I’m not comfortable with. It is not hard to imagine a mercantilists’ world where human rights are non-existent. But it at least conveys a vision of shared prosperity, and it has a vision that tries to tackle global shared problems like climate change that require leadership.

And this rot in US leadership is not about Trump. What is clear is that Congresspeople and Senators appear happy to trade American leadership and vision for domestic wins such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and rolling back taxes. When Chancellor Merkel of Germany says the United States can no longer be relied upon, she wasn’t just talking about the president.

It’s the end of the American century, not because America lacks the capacity to lead, but because, at best, it has no identifiable vision for where it wants to take the world. At worst, I’m left inferring its vision is a planet my kids won’t be able to live on and a trade system unconnected to rules but linked to market size and where America must also “win.”

This isn’t to say the alternatives are much better, but those looking for vision and leadership need to hope America wakes from its sleep walk, get very creative in finding partners, or start picking between relatively unpalatable options.

But hoping others change has not been a sound basis for foreign policy in the past, and so I doubt the world will wait long.

Open Data for Development Challenge on Jan 27-28

This just came across my email via Michael Roberts who has been doing great work in this space.

Mail Attachment

Open Data for Development Challenge
January 27–28, 2014 — Montreal, Canada

Do you want to share your creative ideas and cutting-edge expertise, and make a difference in the world?
Do you want to help Canadians and the world understand how development aid is spent and what its impact is?
Do you want to be challenged and have fun at the same time?

If so, take the Open Data for Development Challenge!

This unique 36-hour ”codathon” organized by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will bring together Canadian and international technical experts and policy makers to generate new tools and ideas in the fields of open data and aid transparency and contribute to innovative solutions to the world’s pressing development challenges.

The event will feature keynote speakers Aleem Walji, Director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, and Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation. It will have two related dimensions:

  • Technical challenges that involve building applications to make existing open aid and development-related data more useful. Proposed topics include building a data viewer compatible with multilingual data, creating a publishing tool suitable for use by mid-sized Canadian non-profit organizations, developing and testing applications for open contracting, and taking a deep dive into the procurement data of the World Bank Group. There is room for challenges proposed by the community. Proposals should be submitted through the event website no later than January 8th. Challenges will be published prior to the event, along with key datasets and other related information, to enable participants to prepare for the event.
  • Policy discussions on how open data and open government can enable development results. This would include the use of big data in development programming, the innovative ways in which data can be mapped and visualized for development, and the impact of open data on developing countries.

The international aid transparency community will be encouraged to take promising tools and ideas from the event forward for further research and development.

An overview of the draft program is attached. The event will be in English and French, with interpretation provided in the plenary sessions and panel discussions.

We invite you to register, at no cost, at this website as soon as possible and no later than January 10. A message confirming your registration and providing additional information about the venue and accommodation will be sent to confirmed participants. Please wait for this confirmation before making any travel arrangements. Participants are asked to make their own accommodation arrangements. A limited number of guest rooms will be available to event participants at a preferential rate.

To find out more about the Open Data for Development Challenge, please go to DFATD’s website.

Weaving Foreign Ministries into the Digital Era: Three ideas

Last week I was in Ottawa giving a talk at the Department of Foreign Affairs talking about how technology, new media and open innovation will impact the department’s it work internally, across Ottawa and around the world.

While there is lots to share, here are three ideas I’ve been stewing on:

Keep more citizens safe when abroad – better danger zone notification

Some people believe that open data isn’t relevant to departments like Foreign Affairs or the State Department. Nothing could be further than the truth.

One challenge the department has is getting Canadians to register with them when they visit or live in a country labeled by the department as problematic for traveling in its travel reports (sample here). As you can suspect, few Canadians register with the embassy as they are likely not aware of the program or travel a lot and simply don’t get around to  it.

There are other ways of tackling this problem that might yield broader participation.

Why not turn the Travel Report system into an open data with an API? I’d tackle this by approaching a company like TripIt. Every time I book an airplane ticket or a hotel I simply forward TripIt the reservation, which they scan and turn into events that then automatically appear my calendar. Since they scan my travel plans they also know which country, city and hotel I’m staying in… they also know where I live and could easily ask me for my citizenship. Working with companies like TripIt (or Travelocity, Expedia, etc…) DFAIT could co-design an API into the departments travel report data that would be useful to them. Specifically, I could imagine that if TripIt could query all my trips against those reports then any time they notice I’m traveling somewhere the Foreign Ministry has labelled “exercise a high-degree of caution” or worse trip TripIt could ask me if I’d be willing to let them forward my itinerary to the department. That way I could registry my travel automatically, making the service more convenient for me, and getting the department more information that it believes to be critical as well.

Of course, it might be wise to work with the State Department so that their travel advisories used a similarly structured API (since I can assume TripIt will be more interested in the larger US market than the Canadian market) But facilitating that conversation would be nothing but wins for the department.

More bang for buck in election monitoring

One question that arose during my talk came from an official interested in elections monitoring. In my mind, one thing the department should be considering is a fund to help local democracy groups spin up installations of Ushahidi in countries with fragile democracies that are gearing up for elections. For those unfamiliar with Ushahidi it is a platform developed after the disputed 2007 presidential election in Kenya that plotted eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message on a google map.

Today it is used to track a number of issues – but problems with elections remain one of its core purposes. The department should think about grants that would help spin up a Ushahidi install to enable citizens of the country register concerns and allegations around fraud, violence, intimidation, etc… It could then verify and inspect issues that are flagged by the countries citizens. This would allow the department to deploy its resources more effectively and ensure that its work was speaking to concerns raised by citizens.

A Developer version of DART?

One of the most popular programs the Canadian government has around international issues is the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). In particular, Canadians have often been big fans of DART’s work in purifying water after the boxing day tsunami in Asia as well as its work in Haiti. Maybe the department could have a digital DART team, a group of developers that, in an emergency could help spin up Ushahidi, Fixmystreet, or OpenMRS installations to provide some quick but critical shared infrastructure for Canadians, other countries’ response teams and for non-profits. During periods of non-crisis the team could work on these projects or supporting groups like CrisisCommons or OpenStreetMaps, helping contribute to open source projects that can be instrumental in a humanitarian crisis.

 

On Policy Alpha geeks, network thinking and foreign policy

In the past few weeks the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the Canadian International Council (CIC) both launched new visions for Canada’s foreign policy. Reading each, I’m struck by how much overlap both documents have with Middle to Model Power, the Canada25 report written 5 years ago by over 500 young Canadians from across the country and around the world.

With Middle to Model Power, a group of young people largely self-organized to lay out a vision and selection of ideas around how Canada could rethink its foreign policy. Take a look at this selection from its executive summary, including an overview and the first recommendation:

We submit that Canada should cease assessing its influence on the basis of its size or position within an obsolete global hierarchy. Instead, Canada25 calls on Canadians to look at the world as a network, where influence is based on the capacity of an individual, company, non-governmental organization (NGO) or country to innovate and collaborate. Building on this perspective, we propose that Canada become a Model Power—a country whose influence is linked to its ability to innovate, experiment, and partner; a country that, by presenting itself as a model, invites the world to assess, challenge, borrow from, and contribute to, its efforts.
In pursuit of our vision of Canada as a Model Power, we outline three priorities for action. These, accompanied by some of our recommendations, include:

MAKE CANADA A NETWORK NODE. Enhance the ability of Canadians to create, nurture, and tap into international networks:
• Issue five-year work visas to foreign graduates of Canadian universities • Reach out to Canada’s expatriate community by creating an international network of
Canadian leaders…

You can download the full report here, but you get the idea. Remember this is a group of 23-35 year-olds writing in 2005.

Now, quickly compare this to the summary’s of both the LPC and CIC’s new reports.

The LPC report, called a Global Networks Strategy opens by stating:

Networks define how the world works today, as hierarchies did in the past. Influence is gained through connectedness, and by being at the centre of networks. That is good news for Canada, because we have a reputation for being able to work with others, we have shaped many multilateral organizations, and our population today reflects the diversity of the world. The Global Networks Strategy is designed to leverage these assets. It sets priority areas in which the federal government must collaborate with the full range of players who contribute vigorously – and most often in networks – to Canada’s presence in the world: other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, young Canadians, academia, faith- based groups, artists and others.

And in the CIC report, titled Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked World, has as one of its opening paragraphs:

Canada will never be the most powerful nation on Earth. But we live in a digital age, where might is measured in knowledge rather than muscularity. If we keep building on our openness—attracting the best and the brightest citizens, generating and exchanging new ideas and new ways of doing things and welcoming investment in our economy—Canada can position itself at the centre of the networked world that is emerging in the 21st century.

And, unsurprisingly, the deeper details of the reports offer many similar prescriptions.

So how, on a shoestring budget, can a group of young Canadians many of whom were not foreign policy experts, write a report that identifies an organizing principle that 5 years both a major political party and one of the country’s newest and best funded think tanks would put at the hearts of their own reports?

A few ideas come to mind:

1) The Medium is the Message: Middle to Model Power was not written on a wiki (in 2005 none of us knew what a wiki was!) but it was written over email. The authors were scattered across the country and the process of organizing local events was relatively decentralized. People raised whatever topics that mattered to them, and during the drafting phase they simple sent me their ideas and we batted them around. There was structure, but were were a pretty flat organization and… we were very connected. For Canada25 a network wasn’t just an idea that emerged out of the process, it was the process. It should hardly be surprising that the way we saw the world reflected how we organized ourselves. (When I say that Canada’s digital economy strategy will fail unless written on GCPEDIA this is part of what I’m hinting at). The medium is the message. It’s hard (but not impossible) to write about networks deep in hierarchy.

2) Look for Policy Alpha Geeks in resource poor environments: So why did Canada25 think in terms of networks? How was it that before Wikinomics or GPS or pretty much most other things I’ve seen, did Canada25 organize itself this way?  Well, it wasn’t because we were strategic or young. It was because we had very little money. We couldn’t afford to organize any other way. To get 500 Canadians around the world to think about foreign policy we had to let them self-organize – we didn’t have an org structure or facilitators to do it for them. We had to take the cheapest tools (email) and over use them. Don’t get me wrong, Canada25 was not poor. Our members were generally very well educated, we had access to computers and the internet and access to interesting people to interview and draw ideas from. But the raw infrastructure we had at our disposal was not significant and it forced us to adopt what I now see were disruptive technologies and processes. We became Policy Alpha Geeks because we had to innovate not to be relevant, but to ensure the project survived.

3) It’s not about the youth: People presume that our thinking emerged because we were young. This is not entirely correct. Again, I submit that we got to thinking about networks because we were operating in a resource weak environment and had exposure to new tools (email) and a risk tolerance to try using them in an ambitious way. This isn’t about age, it just happens that generally it is young people who don’t have lots of resources and are willing to experiment with new tools. Older people, who frequently have more senior titles, generally have access to more resources and so can rely on more established, but more resource intensive tools and processes. But again, this is about mindset, not about age. Indeed, it is really about the innovators’ dilemma in policy making. Don’t believe me? Well, as lead author of Middle to Model Power I can tell you that the most influential book on my thinking was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock which I read in the month preceding the drafting of the report. It was written in 1970 by an author who was, at the time, 42. In sum, young people can be a good guide, but it is environmental factors that you can replicate, not intrinsic qualities of being young, that allow you to innovate.

Both the LPC and the CIC’s documents are good and indeed, more up to date than Middle to Model Power. But in terms of core organizing principles the three documents are similar. So if you are genuinely interested in this take a look at all three documents. I do think they put forward what could become an emerging centrist consensus regarding organizing principles for Canadian foreign policy. Certainly that was the ambition back in 2005.

Has Canada entered a Bush-Like Vortex?

No new piece on eaves.ca today as I wrote a special for the Globe and Mail.

The piece is entitled Has Canada entered a ‘Bush-like vortex’? and explores how the Colvin testimony suggests the public service has become compromised in a critical way. Specifically, it suggests that increasingly, public servants are being forced to shape facts and the truth to fit a narrative already constructed by our government. It’s a dangerous path down which president Bush took the American public administration with disastrous results. Here, with out traditions of a greater separation between the political and the bureaucratic, the outcome could be even worse.

Anyway, you read it here on the Globe site. I’ll cross post it tomorrow.

Your Canadian citizenship means nothing

There have, in the past few years, been some very disturbing trends around the state of Canadians rights.

The first assault was very direct. The current conservative government has made it law that children to Canadians who were themselves were born outside the country will not be Canadian. So, if you happen to be on vacation, or visiting family, studying or working abroad when you (or your partner) give birth to a child, you’d better hope they are not also caught in the same situation when that happy moment arrives. If so, your grandchild will not be Canadian. Canadians, being an international lot due to immigration and our propensity to travel, study and work abroad, are apparently only really considered Canadians if they are born in the right place.

This assault of the notion of Canadian citizenship – that you may not be able to pass it on to your children if you happen to be out of the country – is however, relatively minor. If you happen to be a Canadian that the government of the day does not like – don’t expect to be rescued from torture and false imprisonment. Indeed, don’t even expect to be allowed to return home.

The treatment of Abousfian Abdelrazik is a national scandal. In short a Canadian citizen was abandoned by his own government – the institution that is supposed to protect his rights and ensure that he receive due process if accused of a crime. It is appalling that a Federal judge had to order the Canadian government to repatriate a Canadian citizen. All this tells me is that if I do something Foreign Minister Cannon does not like and my passport is removed from my person, he can essentially prevent me from returning home. Even if the RCMP and CSIS clears me of any charges.

And the complicity of the Canadian government in ensuring that Abderlrazik remained imprisoned is still more shocking:

In a wide-ranging and sometimes chilling account of six years of imprisonment and forced exile abroad, Mr. Abdelrazik recounted stories of interrogation and alleged torture. He told of Canadian Security and Intelligence Service agents laughingly saying “Sudan will be your Guantanamo” when he begged to be allowed to return home.

Apparently, being a Canadian citizen abroad means that you are on your own. If you have the wrong colour skin, the wrong beliefs, if you do something that the Canadian government decides it doesn’t approve of, or if you are simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time… you are on your own. Again, this is a shocking state of affairs. Citizenship is supposed to come with certain rights. Our physical security and right to due process are core among them. When these disappear for some citizens they disappear for ALL citizens. Every Canadian is vulnerable.

If you are not outraged, you should be. Your government has decided that certain Canadian citizens are expendable. They can be forgotten, ignored and even tortured by a foreign government with our explicit knowledge. Maybe you think it will never happen to you – maybe it won’t. But if we are willing to treat some Canadians this way, what does it say about our definition of Canadian citizenship and, more importantly, what it means to be a citizen of this country?

As I said once before, never before have Canadians cared so little about foreign policy, but perhaps it is because foreign policy has never cared so little for them. To be a Canadian abroad is to be without support, without rights, and, in some cases, without even the acknowledgement that you are Canadian.

Articles I'm digesting 24/7/2009

Been a while since I’ve done one of these and I’ve got a lot of great pieces I’ve been reading. So let’s get to it.

Designs on Policy by Allison Arieff (via David B.) and TED Talk: Are we in Control of our own Decisions? by Dan Ariely

I keep hearing about the interaction between policy and design (most flatteringly an architecture professor said I had a designer’s mind” the other day) and so over the past few years I try (with some success) to read as much as I can about design. David B sent me the Arieff piece which, of course, weds my passion for public policy with design. One thing I like is the way the piece doesn’t try to boil the ocean – it doesn’t claim (like in other places) that good design will solve every problem – just that it will help mitigate against it. Most intriguing for me is this line:

“It feels weird to have to defend design’s importance, yet also completely necessary. The United Kingdom has had a policy in place since 1949; Japan since 1956. In countries like Finland, Sweden, South Korea and the Netherlands, design is a no-brainer, reflected by the impeccable elegance, usability and readability of everything in those countries from currency to airport signage.”

A design policy? How civilized. That’s something I could get behind – especially after listening to Dan Ariely’s TED talk which is downright frightening at moments given how susceptible our decisions are (and most disconcerting the decisions of our doctors, dates and who knows whose) to the layout/perception of the choice.

Lost in the Cloud by John Zittrain

A few months ago I was in Ottawa and – surprisingly and unplanned – ended up at a pub with Richard Stallman. I asked him what he thought of Cloud Computing (a term he believes is too vague to be helpful) but was nonetheless viscerally opposed to it. Many of the reasons he cites are covered by Zittrain in this thoughtful piece. The fact is, Cloud Computing (or whatever term you may wish to use) is very convenient and it carries with it huge privacy, security and access challenges. This is potentially the next big challenge for those of us who support and Open Internet – the possibility of the internet being segmented into a series of walled gardens controlled by those who run the cloud servers is real and must be thought through. If you care about public policy and/or are a geek, read this.

Is it Time to Get Rid of the Foreign Service Designation?

Am I reading my own articles? No. I am, however, absorbed by the fascinating and constructive conversation taking place – mostly involving public servants – in the comments section underneath. Here are just some snippets:

  • “For 8 years I worked at DFAIT, observing and participating in the culture within the walls of a building named after a diplomat that Wikipedia states “is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.” Sadly, the elitism (whether earned or not) is only the cause of a bigger problem; lack of desire to collaborate, and almost no desire to change in an era where the only constant is change.”
  • “…as I left the issue of the FS classification was quietly but passionately part of the watercooler discussion. From my perspective, in spite of a nasty AG report on the dismal state of affairs of HR at DFAIT, the department has more pressing problems, such as credibility with central agencies, a coherent sense of mission and talent attraction and retention.”
  • “I am also a bit puzzled by people who saw your piece as an attack on DFAIT – you’re advocating for human resource reform to improve the department, after all. I’m still not sure why you think DFAIT is required though, or why Canadian foreign policy suffers when departments forumulate it without involving DFAIT.”
  • “It’s good to see that even Craig Weichel, President of PAFSO, is open to your suggestion that it might be good to have more foreign service officers circulate through other government departments…”

Putting the Cart Before the Horse by Peter Cowan

A great blog post about the lessons from implementing social media in a government agency. Peter Cowan – an Open Everything alum – is part of the team at Natural Resources Canada team that has been doing amazing work (NRCan is one of the most forward looking ministries in the world in this regard). Peter’s piece focuses on misunderstanding the “business case” for social media and how it often trips up large government bureaucracies. This abbreviated but extended quote on why traditional IT business cases don’t work or aren’t necessary is filled with great thoughts and comments:

“They (Social Media tools) are simple and viral and they cost very little to implement so the traditional requirements for upfront business needs definition to control risk and guide investment are not as important. In fact it would take more time to write a proposal and business case than to just put something out there and see what happens.

More importantly though social media are fundamentally new technologies and the best way to understand their business value is to get them into the hands of the users and have them tell you. To a large degree this is what has happened with the NRCan Wiki. Most of the innovative uses of the wiki came from the employees experimenting. They have not come from a clearly articulated business needs analysis or business case done in advance.

In fact, determining business needs in advance of having a tool in hand may actually lead to status quo approaches and tools. There is the famous Henry Ford… quote goes something like “if I had asked people what they wanted in a car they would have said faster horses”. We social media folks usually deploy this quote to highlight the weakness of focusing too much on responding to people’s perceptions of their existing business needs as a determinant of technology solution since people invariably define their needs in terms of improving the way they are already doing things, not how things could be done in a fundamentally new way.

Genius.

Google’s Microsoft Moment by Anil Dash

A fantastic piece about how Google’s self-perception is causing it to make strategically unsound choices at the same time as its public perception may be radically shifting (from cute fuzzy Gizmo in to mean nasty Stripe). A thoughtful critique and a great read on how the growth and maturation of a company’s culture needs to match its economic growth. I’ve added Anil Dash to by must read blogs – he’s got lots of great content.