Hacking for Diplomacy

A collaboration with Stanford University, Hacking for Diplomacy (H4Di) uses innovative research methods for students to tackle real-world problems that defy territorial boundaries and resist easy resolution.

At a time of significant global uncertainty, diplomats are grappling with transnational and cross-cutting challenges such as the continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by states and non-state groups, the outbreak of internal conflict across the Middle East and in parts of Africa, the most significant flow of refugees since World War II, and a changing climate that is beginning to have impacts on both developed and developing countries. While the traditional tools of statecraft remain relevant, policymakers are looking to harness the power of new technologies to rethink how the U.S. government approaches and responds to these and other long-standing challenges.

In this class, student teams take actual foreign policy challenges and learn how to apply Lean Startup principles, (Mission Model Canvas, Customer Development, and Agile Engineering) to discover and validate agency and user needs and to continually build iterative prototypes to test whether they understood the problem and solution. Teams take a hands-on approach requiring close engagement with officials in the U.S. Department of State and other civilian agencies.

Fall 2017 Class


In 2017, JMU offered the only H4Di course in the country at JMU X-Labs and was the first in the nation to offer it exclusively to undergraduate students. Unlike other “Hacking for” courses (Hacking for Defense, Hacking for Diversity, H4Di, etc.), JMU staff and faculty did the legwork to secure client sponsors and find wicked problems for the class to tackle. As a result, students from nine different majors worked in interdisciplinary teams on problems as diverse as cybersecurity and hate crime prevention for clients such as a nonpartisan think tank called The Aspen Institute, a cybersecurity firm called Endgame, a nonprofit called PeaceTech Lab, and the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Class Website

Fall 2018

Hacking for Diplomacy
Th 5:30-8:30pm
Lakeview Hall 1165

Hack – to improvise effectively; to take things apart and repurpose them to solve problems or create new products

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Client Partner

Are you aware of a technology that could transform your industry but you don’t have time to explore it? Does your organization have long–range design problems that you don’t have the resources to solve yourself? What if you could hire graduates who are ready to start working on your top needs from Day One?

JMU X-Labs collaborates with distinguished government and industry organizations that give interdisciplinary student teams real-world experience. We invite industry professionals who are eager to plug into our expanding programs to submit problems to be included in our curriculum and apply to work directly with these exceptional students and faculty.

Wicked problem –  a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.

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