Honest Broker

Article written by Eduardo Marson Ferreira and published in Revista Força Aérea (Air Force Magazine/May 2017)

In 2015, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) sought explanations of why it had stayed behind in terms of innovation, which for decades had been a trademark of this institution. And, for the diagnosis, it hired Rand Corporation Europe, a subsidiary of the American organization of the same name in the old continent.

Organizations such as Rand, MITRE and SAIC, in support of the public management, technological development and resolution of complex problems of the US administration, began to flourish between the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s, in part by the dissolution of the American telephony monopoly and the consequential boom of the famous Bell Labs. But also laboratories of major universities and research centers had been formed, such as the MIT (MIT Research, or simply MITRE) and the Jet Propulsion Lab, which is connected to NASA.

These entities have in common the fact that they are all not for profit, nonprofit, which does not differ from non-profit organizations (NGOS). And because they are organizations free of conflict of interests, by maintaining a healthy equidistance between government, industrial and service companies (suppliers, therefore) and academia, instances which normally defend their particular points of view inherent to their activities (profit, university research, proprietary technologies).

Such centers started their activities in the post-war period to respond to military needs. They sought to attract the best scientific minds, provide a favorable environment for research, perform independent and impartial analysis, ensure the long-term survival of the work, to disassociate the centers from the need to obtain profit, stabilize interdisciplinary teams and develop appropriate technologies to the problems faced.

More than 150 of these organizations were created in the post-war years in the USA, 70 of them, sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD). Many were dissolved, but about fifty percent remain active today, in various areas of interest to the administration, such as Defense, Public Security, Development of the Judiciary, Energy, and Public Health, among others. They use the tools of the private sector for their tasks, typical of the governmental agency that is sponsoring them, and, therefore, have privileged access to the data of the agency and of its suppliers. That is why they have to conduct the work with the absolute impartiality and confidentiality on which this partnership with the State counts.

In the presentations of the MITRE, you can read their mission, which summarizes well the nature of these organizations: “company of public interest, working with the industry and academia to advance and apply the science, technology, engineering systems and strategy, allowing the government and the private sector to make better decisions and implement solutions to complex challenges of national and global importance”. Voilà!

Let us return to the British MoD and its problems of innovation. In the conclusions of the Rand study, as well as the players of the defense market, it clearly reads that the “MoD should make an explicit change from a client/ supplier relationship to a relationship focused on the partnership with external players. Efforts to change the cultural dynamics would be complemented by the establishment of an honest broker, an organization that can actively seek out these relationships, encourage them, and also identify opportunities that are more attractive to the MoD, where these partnerships should focus”. Thus it introduces a shaft that rotates the triple propeller of innovation involving government, the private sector and academia.

In the medieval era, the honest broker was an independent arbitrator to settle disputes between subjects of the kingdom. Here, it designates the organizations already widely described in the text, and in the lack of a better term, it can be translated as “independent” or “unbiased articulator”.

Here is an idea… why not?

Click here to access to PDF.

Skip to content