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.

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.

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

See the Henry Ford Museum’s usage of the term “hack.”

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

Fall 2020 Class

Cathy Copeland, John Hulsey, Kathleen Moore, and Kurt Paterson

NGA logo         

In partnership with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and United Sikhs, teams of four students (from majors including computer science, engineering, international affairs, intelligence analysis, and political science) focused on the following problems:

  • Megacities – When population surges occur, cities are left without a way to track the resulting informal settlements that emerge, making these types of population growth difficult to manage. This team developed a system with which such settlements may be mapped so that megacities can keep records of them as well as create a model of patterns city officials can use to see where future settlements may emerge.
  • Sino-Indo Relations – Students worked in partnership with the NGA to develop a product that helps explain the present and future of the relationship between China and India’s relationship as it relates to the team’s primary research question: “How will the long-term trends of the investment, utilization, and control of water shape the future of the Sino-Indo strategic rivalry in the South Asian region, and what are the implications of these actions?”
  • Team Croconile – This team was tasked with visualizing current and projected water abstractions—any structure that extracts water from surface or underground sources—along the Blue Nile River and analyzing their impacts on the Nile Basin region.
  • Team United – Team United worked with United Sikhs to develop a comprehensive security strategy in order to adequately protect the Sikh population in Afghanistan that are often victims of terrorist attacks and religious persecution. This strategy included a combination of foreign policy, advocacy efforts, political engagement, and direct assistance to at-risk populations.

Fall 2019 Class

Students pursued solutions to achieve the following:
  • Improve efficiency and effectiveness for decision making by creating a Decision Forcing Exercise (DFE) that NATO will be able to implement at one of their training centers
  • Innovate the NRCC’s current process for engaging with IS cadre members
  • Analyze crowd behavior and create a proactive database on crowd psychology
  • Find an alternative way for the National Guard CBRN unit to conduct radiation specific cold weather decontamination.
  • Create an application to synthesize and organize JPRA’s information on the edibility of various plants.

Fall 2018 Class

Students are pursuing solutions to achieve the following:
  • Optimize the deployment speed of 20 NATO nations
  • Recruitment support for the D.C. National Guard
  • Determine early warning signs of human trafficking (U.S. Department of State)
  • Neutralize terrorist propaganda targeting youth and new followers (U.S. Department of State)

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).

Fall 2022

Th 5:30-8:00pm
Location: The Tank – Lakeview 1160

POSC 363-0001
Hacking for Diplomacy

ENGR 498
Hacking for Diplomacy

MATH 485-0002
Special Topics: Hacking for Diplomacy & Data

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