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NASA@work is a new all-NASA Web-based problem solving tool. This effort is located behind NASA's firewall so only NASA employees can reach the Web site.
State of the Effort
In the fall of 2010, NASA ran a test of an all-NASA collaborative work process called “NASA@work, Communicate. Collaborate. Come Together”. That design tool has now been renewed for three years, https://nasa.innocentive.com/ici/index (firewalled). This could mark an important change in the way NASA people do their work, but there are a number of problems in the current design which limit its usefulness. Suggestions to address all of the known problems have been put forward.
What is NASA@work
People from all over NASA can suggest challenges which are descriptions of technical problems they think are important. These New Challenges usually run to a few pages with several illustrations. Most of the accepted challenges have been for the design of specific technical devices but a few have been for higher level problems.
A challenge is placed on the main Web site for about six weeks. Anyone behind the NASA firewall can then suggest ideas on solving the described problem. This exchange is arranged in a blog format with all the responses and answers in a long queue with the latest one on top. Most of the comments are technical details and references to the solutions of similar problems.
Note: It is instructive to note that because NASA@work is behind the NASA firewall, material placed on it does not constitute publication or release of information to the public under the color of NASA’s authority. Material posted is only an internal communication.
After about six weeks, the challenge is considered complete, and the author privately consolidates the information and selects the best ideas. Small prizes, up to $200, are awarded for the best ideas with a certificate and pin.
The top level NASA@work effort is being run out of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. At each of the other NASA centers local representatives have been designated and they control the approval of all New Challenges submitted from that center.
The original test in the fall of 2010, included 20 ideas, in groups of four, with a new challenge set posted about every three weeks. All the challenges were selected before the first test began in a manner that has not been disclosed, and no call for ideas was generally distributed beforehand. Although the possibility of new submissions was solicited on the Web site and one new challenge was submitted, no new challenges were ultimately accepted from any center during the test.
The test was declared a success and a new run, intended to last for up to three years, was started in August 2011. Again, a base group of challenges were selected without any prior notification at other NASA centers. One tab of the NASA@work Web page invites everyone to enter New Challenges, but there is no defined process so the local center representatives now have unilateral veto control over which entries actually appear.
NASA@work Self Description
The NASA@work Web sites and press releases clearly describe this effort as matter effecting working conditions at NASA:
NASA@Work: Official Re-launch Announcement:
“NASA@Work is an internal collaboration platform that connects the collective knowledge of individual experts from all areas within the NASA organization …”
“Through the power of collaboration, we’ll work together to solve our toughest challenges.”
Answers To Frequently Asked Questions
What is NASA@work?
"NASA@work is a discussion-based software platform that provides the opportunity for NASA employees to communicate and innovate more effectively on the most pressing R&D and business Challenges that matter. It provides the means for exposure of the Challenges to a broader audience and obtaining solutions from employees with whom you would not typically interact. The NASA@work website provides a private, transparent and collaborative environment for solving important internal problems."
Currently NASA@work has significant design problems at both the top and the bottom. There are ongoing efforts to address these problems.
The current software package used for NASA@work is based on the Blog. People enter comments in a serial manner. This approach has enjoyed good success for solving management problems at other organizations but is not well suited for addressing technical problems. A replacement Wiki based structure has been suggested.
The selection of the New Challenges is currently not defined and has been subject to the whims of middle level managers without any requirement of documentation. This has resulted in the blocking of out-of-box ideas without any explanation. Review processes have been suggested and a call for volunteers for a review committee has been posted as a New Challenge.
The current text editor a 1970's style line editor. The current version can take cut and paste and one file attachment. It does not: (1) have a spell checker of any kind, and (2) accept pictures, graphs, tables, or equations. The suggested solution to this problem involves rebuilding the effort into a Wiki structure.
The Blog structure leaves the material unorganized and difficult to follow. The owner of the Challenge must reorganize the material after the challenge is closed but this reorganization is not subsequently made available to the contributors. The proposed Wiki structure addresses this problem by organizing the material as it comes in.