Month: June 2017

Federal agency blockchain group to convene July 18

BitcoinThe General Services Administration will host an in-person U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum meeting on July 18 in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to facilitate virtual currency adoption within the federal government.

About the initiative and event from DigitalGov:

About the Event

An inter-agency forum for executives across the federal government to learn about advances in Blockchain technology, discuss use cases and set an agenda for working together to evaluate and implement it among our diverse missions.

What You’ll Do

  • Develop, share and discuss practical use cases for Blockchain technology among federal government missions.
  • Identify resource, policy and compliance needs for the effective and efficient evaluation and implementation of Blockchain technology in the federal government.
  • Develop a U.S. Federal Blockchain Atlas and roadmap for the next 6 months on how agencies can collaborate to achieve our goals and support the creation of shared services for Blockchain technology.

The U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum is a program led by the GSA Emerging Citizen Technology program in partnership with the Secretary of State Office of Global Partnerships and GSA Office of Information Technology Category.

Learn more and register.

‘War Dogs’ and government procurement

I’m late to the party on this, but finally watched War Dogs, and it’s the great American federal government procurement movie.

Based on a 2011 Rolling Stone article, “The War and the Dudes,” “War Dogs” chronicles how two twentysomethings, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, via their company, AEY Inc., venture into government contracting, supplying weapons and ammunition to the U.S. Department of Defense.

From “The War and the Dudes”:

At first, Packouz struggled to land his own deals. Bidding on contracts on was an art; closing a deal was a science. At one point, he spent weeks obsessing over an $8 million contract to supply SUVs to the State Department in Pakistan, only to lose the bid. But he finally won a contract to supply 50,000 gallons of propane to an Air Force base in Wyoming, netting a profit of $8,000. “There were a lot of suppliers who didn’t know how to work FedBizOpps as well as we did,” he says. “You had to read the solicitations religiously.”

“War Dogs” exposes many of the nuances of federal contracting, from FedBizOps to bidding, small business set asides, contractor ratings to the unwritten rules that call vendor integrity into question.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in a comedic take on the business of war, there’s enough references to government contracting to make it fully entertaining for those of you who are proud procurement enthusiasts.


Hacking for Defense lessons learned

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

We just finished our second Hacking for Defense class at Stanford. Eight teams presented their Lessons Learned presentations.

Hacking for Defense is a battle-tested problem-solving methodology that runs at Silicon Valley speed. It combines the same Lean Startup Methodology used by the National Science Foundation to commercialize science, with the rapid problem sourcing and curation methodology developed on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq by Colonel Pete Newell and the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.

Goals for the Hacking for Defense Class

Our primary goal was to teach students entrepreneurship while they engaged in a national public service. Today if college students want to give back to their country they think of Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or Americorps or perhaps the US Digital Service or the GSA’s 18F. Few consider opportunities to make the world safer with the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community or other government agencies.

Our second goal was to teach our sponsors (the innovators inside the Department of Defense (DOD) and Intelligence Community (IC)) that there is a methodology that can help them understand and better respond to rapidly evolving asymmetric threats. That if we could get teams to rapidly discover the real problems in the field using Lean methods, and only then articulate the requirements to solve them, could defense acquisition programs operate at speed and urgency and deliver timely and needed solutions.

Finally, we also wanted to show our sponsors in the Department of Defense and Intelligence community that civilian students can make a meaningful contribution to problem understanding and rapid prototyping of solutions to real-world problems.

The Class

Here’s a brief description of the Lean Methodology our students used:

If you can’t see the video click here

Our mantra to the students was that we wanted them to learn about “Deployment not Demos.” Our observation is that the DOD has more technology demos than they need, but often lack deep problem understanding.  Our goal was to have the students first deeply understand their sponsors problem – before they started building solutions. As you can imagine with a roomful of technologists this was tough. Further we wanted the students to understand all parts of the mission model canvas, not just the beneficiaries and the value proposition. We wanted them to learn what it takes to get their product/service deployed to the field, not give yet another demo to a general. This meant that the minimal viable products the students built were focused on maximizing their learning of what to build, not just building prototypes.

(Our sponsors did remind us, that at times getting a solution deployed meant that someone did have to see a demo!)

The Hacking for Defense class was designed as “fundamental research” to be shared broadly and the results are not subject to restriction for proprietary or national security reasons. In the 10 weeks the students have, Hacking for Defense hardware and software prototypes don’t advance beyond a Technology Readiness Level 4 and remain outside the scope of US export control regulations and restrictions on foreign national participation.


  • Eight teams spoke to over 800 beneficiaries, requirements writers, program managers, warfighters, legal, security, customers, etc.
  • Seven out of the eight teams realized that the problem as given by the sponsor really wasn’t the problem. Their sponsors agreed.
  • Received from a problem sponsor mid-live stream broadcast “we are working funding for this team now.”
  • Over half the student teams have decided to continue working on national security projects after this class.

This is the End

Each of the eight teams presented a 2-minute video to provide context about their problem and then gave an 8-minute presentation of their Lessons Learned over the 10-weeks. Each of their slide presentation follow their customer discovery journey. All the teams used the Mission Model Canvas, Customer Development and Agile Engineering to build Minimal Viable Products, but all of their journeys were unique.

The teams presented in front of several hundred people in person and online.

21st Century Frogman

If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below. You can see all their slides right below this video.

If you can’t see the video click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here

VA Companion

If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below.  You can see all their  slides right below this video

If you can’t see the video click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here

Austra Lumina

If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below.  You can see all their  slides right below this video

If you can’t see the video click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides  click here


If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below.  You can see all their slides right below this video

If you can’t see the video click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here


If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below. You can see all their slides right below this video.

If you can’t see the video slides click here

If you can’t see the presentation click here


If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below.  You can see all their slides right below this video

If you can’t see the slides click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here


If you can’t see the video click here

The video of the team presenting is below. You can see all their slides right below this video.

If you can’t see the slides click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here


If you can’t see the video click here

If you can’t see the presentation slides click here

The Innovation Insurgency Spreads

Hacking for Defense is now offered at eight universities in addition to Stanford – Georgetown University of PittsburghBoise StateUC San Diego, James Madison University, University of Southern Mississippi, and later this year University of Southern California and Columbia University. We established Hacking for a non-profit, to train educators and to provide a single point of contact for connecting the DOD/IC sponsor problems to these universities.

The Department of Defense has expanded their use of Hacking for Defense to include a classified version, and corporate partners are expanding their efforts to support the course and to create their own internal Hacking for Defense courses.

Another surprise was how applicable the “Hacking for X…” methodology is for other problems. Working with the State Department we offered a Hacking for Diplomacy class at Stanford.

Both the Defense and Diplomacy classes created lots of interest from organizations that have realized that this “Hacking for X…” problem-solving methodology is equally applicable to solving public safety, energy, policy, community and social issues internationally and within our own communities. This fall a series of new “Hacking for X…” classes will address these deserving communities. These include:

If you’re interested in learning how to apply a “Hacking for X…” class in your workplace or school we’ve partnered with the 1776 incubator in Washington DC to offer a 2-day “Hacking for X…” certification course 26-27 July for those interested in learning how. Sign up here.

It Takes a Village

While I authored this blog post, these classes are a team project. The teaching team consisted of:

  • Joe Felter a retired Army Special Forces Colonel with research and teaching appointments at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), the Hoover Institution, and the dept. of Management Science and Engineering. Joe is the incoming Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia.
  • Pete Newell is a retired Army Colonel currently a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy and CEO of BMNT Partners.
  • Steve Weinstein a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies and Hollywood media companies.  Steve is CEO of MovieLabs the joint R&D lab of all the major motion picture studios.

Our teaching assistants were all prior students: Issac Matthews our lead TA, and Melisa TokmakJared Dunnmon, and Darren Hau.

We were lucky to get a team of 25 mentors (VC’s and entrepreneurs) who selflessly volunteered their time to help coach the teams. Thanks to the team Lean Startup mentors: Paul Dawes, Tom Bedecarre, Kevin Ray, Craig Seidel, Daniel Bardenstein, Roi Chobadi, Donna Slade, and Rafi Holtzman and other advisors; Lisa Wallace, Peter Higgins, Steve Hong, Robert Medve.

We were privileged to have the support of an extraordinary all volunteer team of professional senior military officers representing all branches of service attending fellowship programs at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Asia Pacific Research Center (APARC) at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI). These included: Colonel Lincoln Bonner (US Air Force), Colonel Curtis Burns (US Army), Captain Kurt Clark (US Coast Guard), Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Helphinstine (US Air Force), Colonel Seth Krummrich (US Army)), Commander Leo Leos (US Navy), Lieutenant Colonel Eric Reid (US Marine Corps), Colonel Mike Turley (US Army), and Colonel Dave Zinn US Army.  Additional volunteers from the active duty military providing support to our teams included  Lieutenant Colonel Donny Haseltine (US Marine Corps), Captain Jason Rathje (US Air Force), Major Dave Ahern US Army) and, Major Kevin Mott (US Army).

And finally a special thanks to our course advisor Bill Perry, former Secretary of Defense and Professor Emeritus, and Tom Byers, Professor of Engineering and Faculty Director, STVP.

‘You’re More Powerful Than You Think’

Whether you’re an agitated activist frustrated with the current state of politics, a civic hacker, government technology entrepreneur or public servant trying change the foundations of democracy from inside or out, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” is an accessible guide for helping us all rethink what it means to have power and how to obtain it.

Written by Eric Liu, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen” is part tutorial, part playbook, part anecdotal, part motivation. With its 9 strategies accompanied by examples from all aspects of the ideological spectrum, Liu’s book is applicable to anyone wanting to impact change who needs empowerment encouragement.

First, to embrace power, we must disassociate the negative connotations around it — i.e. “power hungry” — and accept it is a gift we give. By changing the context in which we discuss it, only then can we fully embrace giving power to others or imagine ourselves being powerful:

“When we see power as a gift, we realize we are perpetually in the position to choose when and whether we will give and to whom — and whether to throw it away or invest it. We perceive anew our own capacity to shape how others respond to us, and thus our capacity to shape the world. We recall that this capacity is ours as humans and citizens, even if circumstances have labeled us second-class humans or citizens. We see that we can remake those circumstances if we share and activate our gift wisely.”

And we must understand its nature in terms of semantics:

“If you are illiterate in power, if you cannot speak the language of who has clout and how it is exercised, you will not even realize you’ve been excluded from the question … Power is a language. It has a grammar and a syntax. It expresses our wants and needs, and is the medium by which those wants and needs are negotiated and addressed. Ignorance of that language is harmful to your aspirations and to your well-being.”

As for justification for the haves, Liu cites research that shows “with greater relative power comes greater sociopathy: more self-centeredness, increased sensitivity to affront, a sense of entitlement, a belief that high status is not just deserved, but natural, deep ignorance about people with less power, a lack of inhibition and respect for social norms.”

And for the have nots:

“People with low power … are more trusting than people with high power. Specifically, they are trusting of the people with high power. Chalk it up to wishful thinking or what psychologists call ‘motivated cognition,’ but when experimental subjects are place in low-power situations, they very much want to believe their high-power counterparts are benevolent and worthy of trust. This hopelessness — not based on any particular evidence — arises mainly out of a desire to evade the discomfort of being at the mercy of the more powerful.”

In order to realize our power potential, we have to experience it firsthand:

“But if we as citizens — and again, here I mean all who are willing to contribute — want to revive the promise of this experiment, we have to get more experience. We have to try power. We have to practice power. We have to practice making power out of thin air.”

Liu closes with a semantic perspective I’ve used many times when people outwardly despise “the government.” Liu says he started replacing “they” with “us.” As I’ve told people in these situations, “we” are “the government.”

“It forces us to admit that we are always the co-creators of the situations we don’t like. It reveals how often and how casually we otherize others. And it reminds us that we are always someone else’s they,” writes Liu.

Practicing “us” and “we” more and executing on the strategies outlined in “You’re More Powerful Than You Think,” in this digital age, any of us can become powerful. We never have to defer to others or accept that it’s unattainable.

As Liu writes, verified by the history of social movements, “it always only takes a few.”

District Match lets mission-driven organizations match addresses to elected officials in bulk

Image via District Match

Image via District Match

Azavea Product Specialist Patrick Han and Product Manager Stephanie Thome share how Cicero’s District Match app makes it easy for nonprofits to mobilize their constituents to contact their elected officials.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

The District Match web app lets you upload spreadsheets of addresses and match them to elected officials and legislative districts in bulk.

What problem does District Match solve?

Finding information for the right elected officials is surprisingly hard, especially when you need to do it for hundreds or thousands of addresses. Manually matching your spreadsheet of constituents to their legislative districts and elected official contact information at the state, local, and federal level can take days and even weeks.

District Match automates bulk address-to-district matching in minutes instead of days. The web app also pulls from our extensive database of elected official information, which includes office addresses, emails, phone numbers, and even over 12 social media accounts per official.

With this spreadsheet of elected official and district data, you can now target outreach campaigns to the right lawmakers to scale your advocacy efforts.

What’s the story behind District Match?

Our database started as a project for a small nonprofit in Philadelphia that wanted to help its members reach their elected officials. Since then, we’ve been expanding our coverage and developing solutions for nonprofits to more easily advance their missions.

What are its key features?

District Match draws on the Cicero database, which covers legislative district and elected official data at the local, state, and federal level. Our team of data analysts and research specialists update the database daily to capture the latest election results and elected officials’ contact information. Currently, we cover 9 countries and more than 150 of the largest local municipalities and counties in the US. Here’s a link to our full data availability.

Unlike other district matching services, we match based on address-level data rather than ZIP code, which can be inaccurate given that many ZIP codes include multiple legislative districts.

The app is simple. Simply:

  1. Upload your spreadsheet of addresses.
  2. Select districts and elected officials.
  3. Receive your spreadsheet back, with each address stamped with the data you chose.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

In order to support individuals, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations with dwindling budgets, we’ve made District Match as inexpensive as possible. Pricing is based on the number of addresses matched, and the data chosen. Projects start at $25. You can use our pricing calculator to check out an estimate here:

How can those interested connect with you?