Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —
In May 2012, the U.S. Navy will launch a week-long multiplayer online wargame in order to tackle America’s energy crisis as a national security issue. This effort is being spearheaded by the Department of Innovation of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), an academic-oriented applied research facility based on the outskirts of Washington, DC.
For years, various parts of the U.S. defense establishment have used collective intelligence tools to address some very serious challenges in national security and intelligence matters. In 2009, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA held a nationwide Network Challenge calling upon citizens to find hidden balloons (a team from MIT won). ONR, which focuses on challenges related to U.S. naval operations, held MMOWGLI (an acronym for Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) in order to better understand problems associated with combating global sea piracy. In that game, thousands of players collectively shared tens of thousands of ideas. According their website,
The goal of the project is to explore the potential of a massively multiplayer online war game leveraging the internet (MMOWGLI) to expand engagement in military and non-military strategy development for complex geopolitical problems. The platform is designed to support large numbers of distributed players in synchronous and asynchronous ideation and action planning, with an eye to surfacing innovative, outlier strategies…a new kind of war game that can engage diverse players from across many organizations and ranks, both in the United States and beyond. In fact, this kind of war game can even engage the educated public in an arena that has traditionally been reserved for a limited elite. The future strategies for situations like we see in MMOWGLI will play out in an environment where players can rapidly communicate across boundaries, self-organize in ad hoc online networks, and share a wide variety of media and resources to influence decisions. MMOWGLI is designed to guide strategy development in this context.
So could playing World of Warcraft help transform you into a Navy SEAL? Not quite. But clearly with this new twist on Open Government, the military is increasingly researching ways to interact with intelligent citizens to leverage their collective knowledge to solve hard problems.
Next for MMOWGLI: Tackling an even more urgent problem for the Navy — all the fuel they use. Most people don’t think about it, but it makes sense; the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world. If you think it’s expensive to fuel your private jet, imagine how much it costs to keep battleships, submarines, and naval bases powered 24/7.
Thus, in May 2012, ONR will dedicate a week to their next MMOWGLI focused on improving the energy effectiveness of the U.S. Navy. You can sign up for email alerts about the Energy MMOWGLI at this ONR website.
There is an ongoing discussion among tech-savvy public servants about what the term “Open Government” means now (AKA “Government 2.0″ and “WeGovernment”) and if that’s changed over the last few years. To some it primarily means having public knowledge in searchable, machine-readable formats and making government data more readily available for analysts, entrepreneurs, and average citizens to see. To others it means more use of blogging and social media to interact with citizens. To others it means improving citizen services. I think it means all of these things.
In many cases, however, execution of Open Government has been relatively simple and/or trivial — a non-interactive blog about why an agency does things the way they do, an app to tell you when a subway car is coming, a Twitter account announcing government initiatives, and so forth. What MMOWGLIs show is that government being transparent and engaging citizens with “social media” can go far beyond a WordPress blog or Twitter account and dive really deeply into solving long-term challenging problems in a highly interactive, collaborative manner…with strangers. This is all the more impressive to be endorsed and performed by national security professionals.
It will be interesting to see if MMOWGLIs move outside the realm of the defense establishment to be applied by agencies like the Departments of Treasury, Education, and Health and Human Services to more “civilian” challenges related to jobs and the economy, K-12 education, and healthcare and fitness.
Dr. Mark Drapeau is part of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation based in Washington, DC.