It has been four months since the International Space Apps Challenge took place.  We are currently in the process of planning a number of future mass collaboration events and in reflecting back on what we learned over the past six months, I wanted to share a few words from the introduction to the final report for the International Space Apps Challenge.  It really addresses why innovation is so important, why it’s so often bottom-up, decentralized and unpredictable, and why it’s so different the normal way we do business.

What does it really mean to innovate?

Innovation at NASA often reveals itself as a single advancement in a specific technology. The challenge then lies in reliably repeating the act of this advancement. We believe that innovative practices are the key to creating and discovering state-of-the-art technology. The International Space Apps Challenge sought to bridge the gap between innovative technology, and its practice.

In business and government, there currently exists a set of techniques for developing new products that has been carried over from the industrial age: a large team is pulled together, the budget is established, a business model or project plan is created, a detailed product road map is developed and rolled out to a user base in phases. This process has proven itself many times over and is especially important when building an expensive rocket – the tiniest error could yield catastrophic failure. Much technological advancement has been made through this process. However, these time-tested methods of management do not lend well to seasons of uncertainty. Innovation, on the other hand, thrives in those seasons.

Innovation is bottom-up, decentralized and unpredictable. True innovation necessitates failure. The more you experiment, the more you fail, the more you learn. Small technologies and initial development deserve innovative process and the opportunity for failure.

At the International Space Apps Challenge we opened up challenges of space exploration and social need and empowered citizens around the world to solve those challenges. This was a bold risk. NASA partnered with organizations with whom they had not previously partnered. NASA empowered local planners in 24 cities around the world, with the vision for contributing to space exploration and social good. Passionate citizens were asked to find and share their solutions to the challenges. In the process of planning, executing and concluding the event we have learned a lot; and recognized the power released when we work together with others committed to changing the way the world works. With that in mind, this report is to share our experience. We experimented with a model for accelerating technology and have captured that story here to be built upon. We hope that business and government alike can carry the story forward.

About Nick

Johnson Space Center

nicholas.g.skytland@nasa.gov