Month: July 2018

Kiba Gateaux on how blockchain can facilitate peace

Kiba Gateaux (Photo: Brian Jamie)

Kiba Gateaux (Photo: Brian Jamie)

Kiba Gateaux is the founder of Blockchain for Peace, an initiative started by Peace Accelerators, a New York City non-profit using data and their technology network to “co-create a peaceful future for our planet as efficiently as possible.” The organization includes a community of more than 2,000 thought leaders, futurists, and creators that hosts technology, culture and social impact events.

Kiba shares his thoughts on the role blockchain can play in making the world a more “hospitable and prosperous place for everyone,” and how others can get involved.

How can blockchain facilitate peace?

In my opinion, peace is about working together and having everyone be in exactly the place they want to be in. (see my article about “What is Peace?”) Blockchain facilitates this because any blockchain can only exist by having a group of people working together to create a shared ideal outcome. You do not need to know who they are, their background, skills, capabilities, or any personal values. All a blockchain cares about is that all participants shares a common goal and are willing to put in effort to achieve it.

A lot of people see blockchain as a savior that will fix all of our problems. I don’t think it will solve anything, it is just a tool. The only way to change society is to change our people, not the technology that surrounds us. What blockchain, and other forms of distributed ledger technology such as Holochain or IOTA, do is help us facilitate the type of behavior that we would like to see in the world. What that behavior is depends on the person so we can just as easily use blockchain to entrench the current system (which is happening right now) as it can build a more peaceful one.

You’re hosting a Blockchain for Peace hackathon in New York City. What’s your objective with this?

Our events bring together creative technologists, impact investors, industry experts, and multimedia artists for a highly curated weekend of ideation, creation, and inspiration. This hackathon is about Law & Governance and will  be focused on local communities. Hackers will be making decentralized autonomous organizations, futarchies, participatory budgeting systems, and more over the course of three days. At the end they will present to judges and the most promising projects have the opportunity to be incubated and mentored further by Bushwick Blockchain Alliance, Peace Innovation Lab, or Future of Humanity. You can find more info on our blog post about the hackathon.

We use our events to recruit more people into the Blockchain for Peace initiative. Blockchain for Peace is a community resource center for social entrepreneurs, researchers, and impact investors to create a global open-source knowledge library. Our objective is to help the international peace community understand the global landscape, form business relationships, coordinate more effectively, and share critical information such as research reports, impact data, and best practices.

What are some ideas for using blockchain to hack peace?

Peace can and should be integrated into every aspect of life. Personally I don’t think blockchain should be, so finding the line where blockchain should stop is important. Master brainstorm doc

Some ideas:

  • Tracking supply chain to verify product origins and track emissions data
  • New forms of government that are evolutionary vs dogmatic, direct vs delegated, etc.
  • Open currency trading in restricted markets e.g. Iran, Greece (inherent in cryptocurrencies)
  • Social reputation systems that obviate the need for money by facilitating trust in peer-to-peer systems.

How can folks interested in blockchain and peace related efforts learn more or get involved?

Participate in our events, starting with the Blockchain for Peace hackathon, join our slack, contact Malik directly, follow Peace Accelerators on Facebook and Instagram or visit Peace Innovation Lab.

California releases state government website standards

Web Standards and Design System for California Government

Source: webstandards.ca.gov

The California Department of Technology has published unified design standards and accompanying resources for official state government websites.

As part of this initiative, a new website, webstandards.ca.gov, will serve as the foundation for “standards, code, functionality, implementation guidelines and best practices for Agencies/state entities to implement this policy,” according to the technology letter announcing the standards.

More from the announcement:

As state government continues to expand access to online services, websites are an essential tool to interact with the public and deliver information to the people of California. The Website Standards policy ensures standardization and adoption of best practices to strengthen the security, usability, accessibility and quality of State of California websites. This policy will foster a consistent look and feel, and a common navigational framework across government, helping visitors recognize they are accessing official State of California information. This policy also promotes reasonable steps to design and develop websites that are accessible to people with disabilities and supports the adoption of usability principles that adhere to California’s usability standards for website development.

Visit webstandards.ca.gov to learn more.

Hudson Hollister and government open data leadership

Hudson Hollister (Photo: The Data Coalition)

Hudson Hollister (Photo: The Data Coalition)

Hudson Hollister is a pioneer and hero of the government open data movement. As he steps down from his role as executive director of the Data Coalition, Hudson reflects on the organization he founded and shares his insights, appreciation and advice to the open data community at large.

How has the open data landscape changed since you first started the Data Coalition?

First, open data is part of the regular business of the federal  government now, in a way that wasn’t true in 2012.

We see this change in the increasing visibility of chief data officers like Mona Siddiqui at U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Kris Rowley at General Services Administration, and Dan Morgan at the Department of Transportation. Five years ago, CDOs, if appointed at all, were in charge of designing application programming interfaces for external stakeholders. Today, CDOs are part of the management team, and their work is more about organizing data for internal use.

Second, federal agencies better understand the need, now, to transform their documents into standardized data to reduce the costs of reporting and analytics. We are seeing bigger, more ambitious data standardization projects at the White House, in grant reporting, and in financial regulation.

Third, the phrase “open data” is not at all trendy any more! All these new roles and projects aren’t always tagged with that phrase. Which is fine by me–it is much better for our government and our society if open data management is just management, period.

What have been the highlights and major accomplishments of your time at the Data Coalition?

I am so proud of passing the DATA Act of 2014, the nation’s first open data law, directing the entire federal executive branch to begin reporting spending information as a single, unified, and public data set. When I started the Coalition in 2012, there was strong support for the DATA Act in Congress, but subtle opposition in the White House. If our Data Coalition members hadn’t supported such a vigorous campaign, the law would never have been enacted in the strong form it was. And I’m proud of the Data Coalition’s work to continue to support the transformation of spending information–which is by no means complete.

The DATA Act was our first beachhead. We have made good progress since then with the Financial Transparency Act (open data for all federal financial regulatory reporting), the OPEN Government Data Act (default policy in favor of open licenses and open formats for all government information), and the GREAT Act (open data for all federal grant reporting), all three of which have moved forward in this current Congress. And we have made progress in the agencies too. Just last week the Securities and Exchange Commission finally adopted the Inline XBRL format for corporate financial statements–which means a single, human- and machine-readable filing, a huge step forward for investors and markets. We pushed for Inline XBRL for over five years.

In 2016, we spun off the Data Foundation as a separate think tank. That is important to the Coalition’s campaign, too, because the Foundation provides in-depth research on the need for governments to standardize, share, and use their data. Research supports reform.

Finally, I’m proud of the Data Coalition as a trade association. We have more members now–nearly fifty–than at any other time. Trade associations must do three things for their members: help them grow their businesses, provide a seat at the policy table, and set a vision of change that is philosophically appealing, good for the world. Our growth shows that the Data Coalition is doing this for data companies.

What’s your advice to the next Data Coalition executive director?

I hope earnestly that the Coalition will continue to empower data companies to make our government more and more efficient and transparent. The next executive director will have a chance to find new ways to do that.

Last week, feeling nostalgic, I looked at the first slide deck that I used to try to convince IBM to join the Coalition, in February 2012, right after I had resigned from my Congressional staff job to start this thing. I hadn’t opened the file in over six years. I was shocked to see that the slide deck contained almost all of the policy ideas that we are still working on–open data for spending, open data for grant reporting, open data for regulatory reporting. Those projects are not done, and the Data Coalition will need to keep pushing them, but a fresh leader can certainly find new battles to improve government, beyond my old ones.

Who are your open data heroes?

There are so many public servants inside and outside government who are trying to make it easier to standardize, share, and use data. Almost always they could earn more notoriety or more money working on some other issue, or some other job. Data standards can be a boring, dry, thankless topic. (The applications that arise after standardization are thrilling, but only after years of spadework.)

Some of these public servants are well-known for other reasons, like my former boss, Congressman Darrell Issa; Senators Mark Warner, Ben Sasse, and Brian Schatz; and Reps. Derek Kilmer, Carolyn Maloney, and Randy Hultgren. But their open data work gets lost amidst other battles.

Others are very quietly changing the world: Katy Rother at the House Oversight Committee; Seamus Kraft at Article One; Kristen Gullickson at the House clerk’s office; Rebecca Williams at the White House office of the CIO; and the DATA Act team at the Treasury Department, led first by Christina Ho and now by Amy Edwards.

Aside from joining the Data Coalition, what is your open data call to action to others?

It has been the same since I first joined the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a decade ago this month: standardize data first. All of the flashy stuff will be much easier after that. Hashtag blockchain.

Any perspectives or advice to others on the general government and civic tech landscape you’d like to share?

Don’t let political battles, even the really important ones, ruin the opportunity to build our democracy with civic tech! Every opportunity to get a reliable government data set standardized, published, and then protected by vigorous, frequent use is a win.

Connect with Hudson on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Inclusive government forms

Transportation Security Administration TSA Pre✓® Application Program

Forms—online and paper—are a major interaction point in how the public engages with government.

According to analytics.usa.gov, government forms such as the U.S. Transportation Security Administration TSA Pre✓® application and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services case status are two of the most accessed federal government web pages.

The ‘Select One’ chapter in Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book, “Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech,” emphasizes the importance in being mindful of the fields included on forms, as many are either unnecessary or not inclusive, providing only binary options in a non-binary world.

Fields like race, ethnicity, salutation and gender are potential points of alienation for those who may not have an option that suits their identity. If we are to include these fields on government forms, they should either be optional or fully inclusive, accounting for identities anyone can associate with.

In the above examples, TSA makes binary gender (male or female) required, and USCIS offers salutation an an unnecessary, non-required option.

As Wachter-Boettcher writes:

Is being forced to use a gender you don’t identify with (or a title you find oppressive, or a name that isn’t yours) the end of the world? Probably not. Most things aren’t. But these little slights add up–day after day, week after week, site after site–making assumptions about who you are and sticking you into boxes that just don’t fit. Individually, they’re just a paper cut. Put together, they’re a constant thrumming pain, a little voice in the back of your head: This isn’t for you. This will never be for you.

Governments must take a proactive lead on inclusivity, making all members of the communities they serve feel welcome in their interactions with them.

Being mindful of these identity-related form fields, opting out of their use when they are irrelevant, is a small, simple step towards showing government is for everyone.

Building software for better public meetings

Philadelphia City Council Meeting. (Photo: Jared Piper)

Philadelphia City Council Meeting. (Photo: Jared Piper)

Traditional government meetings software, used to publish agendas, minutes, and livestream and archive videos, are in dire need of a modern, affordable upgrade.

There’s a particular need to serve smaller municipalities at scale, something no current government technology vendor does effectively.

Open.Media, powered by the Open Media Foundation, works to change both the public-facing user experience and internal administrative management and innovate an aspect of civic engagement critical to effective public awareness.

Team Open.Media shares how they’re working to build better public meetings software for communities no matter the size.

What is Open.Media?

Open.Media is a Government Transparency Software as a Service (SaaS), connecting state and local governments to all sectors of the public by providing livestreamed and searchable, shareable archived video of government meetings.

What was the inspiration for its founding?

We had helped the Colorado State Legislature launch a website and transparency portal (like Colorado’s C-Span) in 2008. They were paying a commercial firm over $100,000 for streaming services and as YouTube launched their free streaming service, we recognized that we could easily build tools that leveraged YouTube to do the same thing these commercial services were doing for a tenth of the cost.  

What are the key features?

  • YouTube Automation: Our software automatically creates YouTube events for the governments, enabling them to use one simple and familiar interface.
  • Chapter-Marked Video: Our SaaS scrapes government agendas and matches them with automated transcriptions to automatically chapter-mark each agenda item in the video, allowing viewers to jump to the sections they wish to see.
  • Searchable: Video of Open.Media government meetings are searchable by chapter-markers or by automated transcriptions, allowing viewers to jump to any mention of the topics they care about.
  • Shareable: Viewers can easily share snippets of meetings via facebook and twitter, bringing others into the conversation and expanding civic engagement.

How is Open.Media different than similar offerings?

We are the only nonprofit provider of this service.

We’re free for small, rural governments. Over half of all government bodies in the United States serve populations of 5,000 or fewer, yet these governments lack the budgets for commercial transparency and livestream providers. We specialize in a sector of the market that no one else serves.

What do you mean when you say ‘open’ and why does this matter to government?

In an age when the legislative process occurs behind the scenes, out of sight and out of mind to the public, Open.Media opens government to the people.

A very small percentage of our population has the time it takes to go down to their local government, watch meetings, and engage (or the money it takes to pay a lobbyist to do it for them). Open.Media makes it simpler for everyone to watch and engage with local government.

Other industries have learned to meet consumers and constituents where they’re at. Especially younger generations expect it to be convenient to engage via the platforms (e.g. Facebook) and the formats (video) they prefer. Open Media makes this simple and affordable for even the smallest of government entities.

What advice do you have for government leaders researching meetings technology solutions?

Technology is moving so fast. YouTube and other services offer free what you would’ve paid someone hundreds of thousands of dollars to do a few years ago. Free Closed Captions, Free HD and 4K recording, and even cameras are getting so cheap, there’s really no reason not to be making our government more accessible and transparent.

How can others connect with you?

Watch

‘Regulatory Hacking’: How startups and governments can work together to change the world

Evan Burfield speaking at Startup Turkey (Photo: Startup Turkey)

Evan Burfield speaking at Startup Turkey (Photo: Startup Turkey)

Silicon Valley’s approach to disruption is often hindered by hubris or naiveté, but neither of these are sustainable business strategies in highly-regulated industries, where bureaucratic, political and legal barriers are inevitable impediments to startup innovation, especially for those who think they can just ‘Uber’ their way to success.

Evan Burfield, cofounder of the government technology venture capital firm 1776 and author of the new book “Regulatory Hacking,” shares how startups can engineer better strategies to work with government and navigate the bureaucratic and legislative process.

Billed as a playbook for startups, “Regulatory Hacking” is a manual for both entrepreneurs and government leaders that can help these seemingly strange bedfellows bridge their culture differences and collaboratively facilitate positive, exponential, societal change.

What is ‘Regulatory Hacking?’

Regulatory hacking is how to build a startup in a complex, regulated market that is deeply intertwined with government.

Silicon Valley has refined a playbook for building startups that works great for dating apps and photo sharing–from the blogs of Paul Graham to Steve Blank’s lean startup methodology. But this playbook offers limited guidance when you’re building a startup in a complex market where you’re ability to navigate around government–or better yet to turn government into an active ally–is the difference between success and failure.

To the extent that Silicon Valley thinks about this challenge, it often reverts to the “Uber playbook” of stacking up a bunch of cash and attempting to “roll government.” But this is a naive way of approaching these markets. In fact, when you are genuinely building a product or service that can meaningfully improve the lives of millions or billions of people, then government can often be your biggest supporter.

Why is the book important now?

The past twenty years of startups and venture capital have radically transformed our lives as consumers–from Amazon to iPhones, Facebook to Uber.

But the next twenty years will look very different. The giant returns–financially and in terms of impact–will come from transforming our lives as citizens. This means interacting with government. We are entering the Regulatory Era for startups and venture capital.

There are five specific trends driving this:

  1. Tech startups are diversifying beyond Silicon Valley to other cities to take advantage of expertise and history in agriculture, manufacturing, or healthcare.
  2. The easy problems in tech have been solved. The next focus is on industries that are still in the early phases of digital transformation.
  3. We’re seeing a backlash against Big Tech, forcing the tech startup ecosystem to adapt to a new reality.
  4. Startups are solving urgent problems that would previously have been left to government or nonprofits, such as sustainable cities and infrastructure.
  5. The technologies of science fiction are becoming a reality. In that the new reality of self-driving cars, brain-computer interfaces and cryptocurrencies, regulators will inevitably play a role much earlier than they did in the consumer-tech world.

To win in the Regulatory Era, founders, funders, executives, and policymakers will need to get smart about regulatory hacking.

How did the inspiration, ideas and thesis for ‘Regulatory Hacking’ come about?

I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between the worlds of startups and government–and have spent much of my life bouncing between the two. My work with 1776 and our global Challenge Cup program gave me exposure to founders around the world that were struggling to apply the Silicon Valley playbook to industries like health, education, energy, transportation, financial services, food, and security. Over time, we started to evolve a new approach, which became regulatory hacking.  So regulatory hacking was really an organic response to startups adapting to market forces.

The impetus for the book was actually pretty random. I appeared on an a16z podcast and we ended up talking about regulatory hacking. The podcast got a lot of traction and then I got an email from an editor with Portfolio within Penguin Random House. It took 18 months to turn that kernel of an idea into a complete book with startup stories from around the world.

What industries do you see the biggest need for regulatory hacking?

Goodness, it’s hard to just pick a few. As I argue in the book, the significant majority of the global economy operate within these highly regulated sectors. And these are also the sectors that the digital revolution has barely touched. The obvious ones are health, energy, transportation, government services, education, agriculture and food, financial services, and security. But some of the coolest startups that I profile in the book don’t fit neatly into any one of those categories, like HopSkipDrive in Los Angeles or Twiga in Nairobi. They’re improving citizens’ lives in ways that cut across industries.

You’ve mentioned before that Elon Musk is the quintessential regulatory hacker? Can you elaborate?

Elon Musk is absolutely the Ultimate Regulatory Hacker.

Each of the startups he’s helped drive–PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, The Boring Company, and Neuralink–operate in exceptionally regulated sectors. He’s incredibly good at turning government into an ally for his companies, and in cases where he needs to get around inconvenient regulation he’s been really sophisticated in how he’s done that. In the conclusion of the book, I show how he’s used almost every one of the hacks I talk about throughout the book.

I would argue that the real story of Elon Musk is that he was the first person in the Valley to figure out that the major returns were going to come from interacting with government to improve the public interest, and he got smart about how to do so before anybody else.

What other companies are doing ‘Regulatory Hacking’ right, and how so?

We profile more than forty startups in the book. It includes Silicon Valley stalwarts like Uber, Airbnb, and 23andMe. But we also show how startups all around the world are employing sophisticated regulatory hacks. Startups like Twiga in Nairobi, BitOasis in Dubai, or Nuritas in Dublin.

Nuritas is a great example. They’re using artificial intelligence to analyze genetic data to identify compounds that naturally appear in food, which they can repurpose for health or pharmaceutical purposes. These compounds are highly regulated by organizations such as the US FDA. Nuritas has actually turned this into an advantage though. They’ve loaded up the regulatory standards into their artificial intelligence system, so that they focus on compounds that achieve health benefits and that they know will be easily approved by regulators. This to me is a great example of the kinds of startups that will win in the Regulatory Era.

Who’s doing it wrong, and what’s your advice to them?

That’s a loaded question. You can’t talk about regulatory hacking without engaging with Uber. They are the example that everyone jumps to when you talk about Silicon Valley and government colliding. But as I talk about in the book, they are such a unique outlier in terms of startups engaging with government. First, they were genuinely facing “iron triangles” in each city they entered. Taxi commissions were never going to give them permission if they just asked nicely. Uber had to figure out how to fight. But Uber was also taking on an industry where incumbent taxi operators were usually hated by citizens. And the regulations that Uber was fighting against were pretty esoteric versus the benefits that citizens received from using Uber. So it was easy for Uber to turn early adopter users into vocal citizen armies who would march to their city councils to get regulations changed. Almost no other startup that I’ve found has faced a similar dynamic, which is why the Uber playbook can be so destructive when Silicon Valley applies it as a blanket strategy for how to deal with government.

The idea that a startup can change the world but first they must change government or disrupt policy is intimidating for impatient entrepreneurs and their investors. What’s your practical and inspirational advice to startup founders and venture capitalists wary of getting into markets with high potential for government friction?

If you’re a 25-year-old Stanford grad sitting in San Francisco, then life looks pretty amazing. You can get entertainment, transportation, food, laundry, and even a massage with the push of a button on your iPhone.

But if you’re a single mother in Cincinnati that needs to take a bus to and from two jobs to keep food on the table for your kids, it’s much harder to see how the last twenty years of the digital revolution have actually improved your life. This gap is the current generation of entrepreneurs defining challenge.

This is where you’ll find the next massive financial fortunes. But it’s also where you will genuinely change the world, not just sound cool at your next TedTalk.

And if you want to solve those problems, then you better get really smart about regulatory hacking.

Regulatory Hacking:  A Playbook for StartupsRegulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups
Evan Burfield, J.D. Harrison
Hardcover, 320 pages
Portfolio
Purchase