Office of Analytics: The Silicon Valley of State Dept.

Office of Analytics was definitely one of the coolest offices I feel lucky to have worked at the State Department. We had the open spaces, the tech tools, the Macbooks, and the nerf guns. We were housed under the Office of Public Engagement, but the difference was that we engaged the foreign audiences, not domestic. We helped our diplomats in DC and embassies to develop interesting projects or help supplement their diplomacy objectives by building digital networks and partnerships with foreign communities.

I sat in the role of editing our communications products and strategizing our marketing efforts. Our foundational areas of experiences included data science and analytics drawing from the private sector.

We also worked with outside vendors attending tech meet-ups such as DCode. Some of the tools we acquired tools for the Department included Crimson Hexagon and CrowdTangle. 

In the Spring of 2018 as President Trump was about to head to the  North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, we led a project with colleagues in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs to counter disinformation sponsored or owned by the non-state or Russian government.

Visualisation of the Russian amplification network

Russia sponsors content through state or cyber-enabled platforms through RT, Sputnik, Life, and Vkontake, a European online social media with Russian speakers. The messaging often questioned the legitimacy of NATO as an alliance.

My main job was to emphasize U.S. commitment to NATO in the lead-up to the NATO Summit and counter Kremlin-backed disinformation that undermine trust in NATO among key U.S. ally audiences in Western and Eastern European countries.

The project went on for 3 months with many different types of media in four different languages. I didn’t love having to be up and running in different time zones, but I really loved the types of experiments I could run on so many different platforms.

The more difficult part of the project came after – measuring the effect and the impact – we used keyword-based to capture the tone, the type of audience, the engagement, and the outlet analysis. The type of emotion that we got from the engagement was also very interesting.

A fun fact is that this office was born out of a backseat of a car conversation between Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.

Since I left, Office of Analytics was rebooted into the Center for Analytics and the Global Engagement Center at State. Although it no longer remains as it is, I have very fond memories of it, and to me, it will always be remembered as the techiest office with the cool guns.

A Platform for Collective Wisdom

Impact is measured in its outputs of measurement, which I believe is reported back on platforms like Philanthropedia, GiveWell and others.

However, challenges persist in measuring impact for traditional investments, such as time period for returns. I think it also stems from changing the narrative of how to make investments accountable for impact than for a simple value sacrificing compensation.

There’s more and more talk of blended capital – a host of investors out there awaiting the emergence of profitable enterprises that will improve the lives of the poor in fundamental ways. We’ve been waiting for a while. In the real world of the poor, real change still means stepping up with money that you don’t expect to get back while demanding maximum returns in the form of impact.

There are serious challenges for improving efficiency in measuring impact – the existing power dynamic between donors and grantees prevents a feedback loop for foundations to know what is working and what is not. Investors, philanthropists, and for everyone else, people are more likely to achieve results that they intentionally seek.

The interest of the public sector is that foreign policy often equates to economic policy. An economic prowess of promoting growth and development is a drive wedge for sustainable growth, stability, peace, and prosperity.

Governments’ traditional roles have been to strengthen the reach by opening foreign markets, improving governance, transparency, as well as conditions for private sector-led growth. Governments and some foundations now provide funding to improve the social, political, and regulatory environments in which social enterprises and their investors operate—essentially a market building activity.

Today’s political environment is often described as “smart power,” using means of trade, diplomacy, aid, and others for a value-driven policy where individuals, businesses, and institutions act through global networks.

For any government to secure national interest upon economic industrial links and trades, it needs to deliver solutions to sustainability and scalability in impact investing as well as advancing conditions for private sector-led growth.

National interests are no longer simply delivered through applications of intelligence and tact to moderate relations between governments; it rather embraces solutions to cross-cutting socioeconomic challenges.

The ability to understand the evolving environment and capitalize on trends is a crucial skill of today enabling leaders to convert power resources into successful strategies.

I hope by continuing to work on a platform – we begin to understand that for more difficult problems, more nuanced and ambiguous solutions are. More ambiguous the solutions, the more diversity of voices there needs to be. Through convening of intelligence, I hope to continue the work where we cultivate conditions wherein collective wisdom emerges over time.

How Public-Private Partnerships Can Tackle Our Most Emergent Global Crises

Investing in sound value-driven opportunities that can significantly reduce global threats are “good” investments, not only in a humanitarian sense but also in driving monetary value.

So how do we know what lies ahead of our future? What is the greatest crisis of our generation? What is relevant to us?

There is a lot of noise to screen out what is certainly dangerous or not. I would personally refer to the World Economic Forum’s The Global Risks Report. The attached link is the version for the 2019. A quick primer on risk management is that it starts with identifying and estimating the probability and impact of a given threat.

The first thing you will see is a map of different colors into the following categories of risks: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological.[1] It will also show you the likelihood of the event happening as well as the magnitude of the risk inherent. On the top right of the corner of the graph, you can view the events that are most likely to happen with the greatest magnitude.

For your interest, the top three items all belong to a single category – Environmental. They are – “extreme weather events, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and natural disasters.”[2] Another one that is close to the three is cyber-attacks under the category of Technological. There are other interesting graphs in the report, but I’ll leave them to you for your own pleasure.

The companies with the new promise of a future are often misunderstood. Another way that we value the “good” or a potential “impact” of a company might be the assessing the potential of the companies to hopefully bring the imminent risks (indicated above are natural disasters, extreme weather events, and failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation) lower on the graph spectrum. In other words, to have less impact when it happens or less likelihood of happening.

One thing I would note is that these categories refer to systematic challenges, where the identified problems are interconnected in every field of human activity. Therefore, the attempts to solve one issue may unintentionally contribute to another – like a technology that attempts to predict extreme weather events may put government employees out of work or potentially contribute to asset bubbles in a major economy.

In how companies create value, perhaps the first way of looking at sound companies is whether or not they are aimed at tackling systematic challenges or in a way to maximizes efficiency in a respective industry. In today’s globalized economy, often this is built upon a bedrock of transnational production, an inflow of people, goods, money, and ideas through multiple networks and other economic decentralization movements.  

Here’s an example. Cyber-attacks are happening more often in prevalence and disruptive potential. They present serious strategic critical infrastructure damage across the world including the government, railways, banks, and telecommunications providers, as the vulnerability to attacks increase with radical and systematic shocks.

One that may be well and alive in people’s memories is the North Korean government-sponsored hacking of Sony Pictures. North Korea could potentially hack into intelligence about nuclear deterrence in the United States or South Korea. Another adversary can also thieve nuclear material or sabotage nuclear facility by knocking out digital systems in nuclear facilities.

A growing trend that could mitigate this increased risk is the adoption of blockchain technologies. Blockchain technology can be used to protect systems and devices from attacks. They can protect data exchanges between IoT devices without a centralized authority and a data verification mechanism.[3] Implementing robust processes is essential for effective management of complex systems and is at the heart of long-standing quality management programs across the industry.

However, often technologies have been swept up in a web of restrictions, regulations, and international conventions. Innovators and investors can address the barriers in different ways, but more effective partnership mechanisms may be prudent. As technologies have been subjected to regulatory regulations or in scrutiny for a positive pricing environment, it might be more effective to identify shared priorities across stakeholders or finding a way to reduce costs in streamlining the industry.

For investors, this means having to navigate the policies of governments of uncertainties that require expertise. Perhaps this means providing early-stage risk capital for entrepreneurs to de-risk business models.

New technologies and dynamics have improved our ability to identify trends and assess risks. In investing into emerging markets, the way to realistically mitigate risk is to obtain insurance through Overseas Private Investment Corporation or partnering with government institutions, like USAID, which provides loan guarantees to encourage banks in poor countries to lend to targeted groups.

The goal for OPIC is to provide innovative financial solutions for private investors and provides upfront due-diligence to assess the ability to raise additional private equity capital. What is really interesting is that OPIC goes to the country to ask the locals for trends in local deregulation and indicators on how open the economy is to understand how returns will be made. They then connect with investors with the right skill set to capitalize on the opportunity in operating experiences, locale, and in the ability to add enough value for the entrepreneurs.

The proper risk mitigation starts with due diligence. Once we have vetted out what “issue” is interesting and is relevant, the investors conduct comprehensive due diligence covering legal, economic, technical, and others to assess eligibility criteria.

So, how do we invest in our most emergent crises? In sum, I would point to a business that can is operationally sound to curb its own organizational risks and systematically tackles inefficiencies in an industry in a given area – for instance, environmental or cyber. Match them with investors that are well-equipped for the operating environment to achieve its business objectives.

The role that promote a common platform for deals with risk profiles may be needed to build a momentum to build and scale. Investments could be better classified by factors such as performance, risk, expected return, and an exit timeline for investors preferences.

Greater collaboration among players can help lower due diligence expenses to realize synergistic potential. From a policy perspective, often this means supporting a more balanced analysis that helps companies and stakeholders to make strategic decisions about investment and collaboration opportunities.


[2] Ibid.