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Saturday
Sep052009

Tap the Collective in DC Wrap Up

This week we co-hosted Tap the Collective, an event to bring together thought leaders in collective intelligence and forward-looking individuals from across government and technology firms. Through briefings and discussion, we shared lessons learned in implementing programs and platforms to leverage the diverse and distributed knowledge in government organizations.

Left to Right: Adam Siegel from Inkling Markets, Melody Hildebrandt from Transcapitalist, Ryan Hahn from World Bank, Robin Hanson from Consensus Point, Shyam Sankar from Palantir Technologies, Emma Antunes from NASA, Don Burke from Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and David Resseguie from SensorpediaAdam Siegel of Inkling Markets and I kicked off the event before we turned it over to our six panelists who each spoke for 7 minutes about their initiatives. Here are the highlights:

Don Burke, Intellipedia doyen, opened by sharing his insights implementing a CI platform -- a Wikipedia for the intelligence community -- in a large bureaucracy. He noted that while individuals are finding value from CI, the organizational structure does not yet align incentives sufficiently to encourage wide spread adoption.  Among his ideas for how to advance CI in large organizations : "measure reputation not output" and eliminate the use of documents: "if you can't send it as a URL, don't send it".

Ryan Hahn of the World Bank, then discussed the use of prediction markets at the Bank. He cited the challenge of seeking to make predictions on future occurrences when the organization making those evaluations actually has the power to make the prediction a reality if the results were leaked. He learned this lesson the hard way, asking this question of the market : "Will X country default in the next year?" which nearly got the entire project shut down by the corporate communications team. While the prediction market experiment has seen notable accuracy, the challenge remains to convince senior leadership to act upon its results.

Emma Antunes, Spacebook manager at NASA, shared her lessons learned bringing social media to the enterprise with NASA's internal Facebook-like social network site, Spacebook. Spacebook was created to advance innovation and discovery; Emma described how innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines and the site helps people make those connections. Emma also shared some gems about NASA's culture, such as "no one ever retires at NASA, they just die" and also its "employee emeritus" program where those who do retire come back as volunteer employees.

David Resseguie of Sensorpedia at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, discussed the lab's "Wikipedia for sensors", a mashup of map and sensor data to be used by local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. He spoke of the "citizen as a sensor" citing the first shot to come out of the Hudson river airplane landing, taken by a bystander on a passing boat on his iPhone, and how much rich data could come out of that simple, grainy photo, such as the number of people escaping -- especially the contrast between the first and second classes. Sensorpedia seeks to take advantage of the fact that everyone of us is now a sensor -- we all have cell phones in our pockets -- while figuring out how to aggregate this data in a way that is meaningful and actionable.

Shyam Sankar, Palantir Technologies, profiled the disruptive collaborative information analysis platform, Palantir, that came out of efforts by the team from Paypal and engineers from Stanford. Paypal stumbled upon CI while dealing with the existential risk from hackers, as Shyam states, "Paypal wasn't about sending money, it was about sending money without being defrauded by the Russian mob." When fraud was at its height of 150% of revenue, Paypal recognized that humans were much better than machines at catching the fraud, but they didn't have the power to scale sufficiently. Paypal eliminated the fraud through intelligence augmentation, leveraging the collective abilities of the organization through a robust technology platform. Palantir is now applying that same approach to counterterrorism, cyber threat analysis, and open government (open to the public through analyzethe.us). Here is a great article/demo about their capabilities.

Robin Hanson of George Mason University, presented last, exploring how organizations can make decisions based upon unverifiable or controversial data. He described prediction markets as a great way to evaluate controversial and political topics and to incentivize people to "shut up when they don't know the answer". Best Buy's success in crushing Circuit City, for example, may be attributed to their markets asking employees about the direction of certain technologies, leading them to be better stocked with Blu-Ray players when that was decided upon as the HD video player of choice.

The event wrapped up with a lively 40 minute Q&A session with questions ranging from how to get more raw data out, to creating the incentives to enable culture change, to how to fight forces who lobby against pursuing these more innovative paths. We were really thrilled to see the level of engagement by the audience and the diverse group of attendees, coming from government agencies, professional industry organizations, startup technology firms, and nongovernmental organizations.

The full Flickr stream is available here and I'll update the post later this weekend when the video is finalized.  Thank you again to Boalt Interactive and Palantir Technologies for sponsoring the event.

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