On June 7, 2013, the Office of eDiplomacy within the State Department's Bureau of Information Resource Management hosted its 11th Tech@State conference, Tech@State: Moneyball Diplomacy, to explore their intersection of four disparate fields: economics, technology, diplomacy, and baseball. The event, held on the campus of George Washington University, examined the increasingly large role of economic issues and data analysis in foreign policy formulation and implementation. Over 30 experts from within the U.S. government, international non-governmental organizations, policy institutes, technology companies, and academic institutions convened to engage an audience of 300 attendees, as well as hundreds more U.S. and foreign participants watching online from several U.S. embassies overseas.
In a welcoming address, Richard Boly, Director of the Office of eDiplomacy, explained the connection between “moneyball” and foreign policy. In the same way that the underfunded Oakland Athletics baseball team found success and talent utilizing unconventional analytical methods, so too could the government profit from finding “existing erroneous assumptions that underlie some of our premises of diplomacy.”
Kenneth Cukier, the Data Editor of The Economist, gave the keynote address, which focused on the data’s growing importance and its application to diplomacy. Citing various cases in which data brought about revolutionary change, Cukier argued that “big data is our generation’s Galilean moment.”
Ambassadors Marc Grossman and Alan Larson joined Cukier on stage for an animated discussion about “moneyball” diplomacy. The seasoned career Ambassadors offered insights on the creative applications of data and applied economics in the business of diplomacy and foreign affairs. Ambassador Grossman suggested utilizing data to better engage the public in matters of foreign policy.
Next up was a plenary panel of leading economists, who reflected on the theme of the day: the evolving integration of economics into foreign policy, and the challenges thereof. Later conference sessions included highly engaging five-minute “ignite” presentations where presenters discussed new and innovative technologies. Amir Bagherpour, a senior advisor for the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), highlighted CSO’s data analytics efforts in the prevention of future violent conflicts. John Silson, a financial economist for the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, showcased an innovative use of open source geographic information system (GIS) technology in an exciting new trade leads application.
After the “ignite” presentations, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile, The Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness, delivered the afternoon keynote address. Taleb warned of the “noise” in data and the need for discrimination in analysis. Taleb was optimistic of big data’s potential use for social good.
Three breakout panels followed. Topics included the application of big data in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy, how behavioral economics can be used to improve diplomacy and development, and the use of prediction markets by the government. Most sessions from the first day of the conference, including the opening and closing keynote remarks, are available for online viewing here! Comments regarding the Tech@State: Moneyball Diplomacy conference and the topics discussed are most welcome. .
Tech@State, a component of the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, is a series of quarterly conferences, curated and run by the Office of eDiplomacy in the State Department's Bureau of Information Resource Management.
Designed to connect technologists to the goals of U.S. diplomacy and development through physical and virtual networks, Tech@State brings together leaders, innovators, U.S. diplomats, other government personnel and academics for a two-day interactive deep-dive to explore ways to incorporate new technologies and tools into diplomacy and development. Learn more about the Tech@State series by visiting our website and following @techATstate on Twitter.