government, nasa, presentations, reinventing government

Video: Good Ideas in 2009 in Collaboration | PSFK – Trends, Ideas & Inspiration

Video of my panel at the PSFK Good Ideas in Collaboration breakfast last week in New York. PSFK events get me up early better than any alarm I’ve ever had. Thank you PSFK. I think.

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colab, nasa, reinventing government, second life

How Online Organizing in ’04 and ’08 Can Improve our Federal Government in ’09

Recently I was asked to reflect on how the lessons of online organizing by those of us who worked in the 2004 Presidential campaign have impacted not only the 2008 Presidential campaign (in which Dean ’04 and Clark ’04 veterans teamed up to create Blue State Digital, the technology backbone of Obama’s online operation), but also the Federal Government, over the past four years.

Many 2004 veterans have been working in the realm of making government more open in order to enable watchdog oversight of it. I have been working more in the realm of trying to make government more efficient and effective through technologies and organizing techniques that promote openness. I’m personally mostly focused on the cultural and policy side of things– trying to get people inside NASA used to being more open and sharing by default rather than only when explicitly forced to. There is also a great deal of work being done by reformers in the CIO’s offices and elsewhere on the communications technology side of NASA’s operations. They’re working on open APIs, open-source licenses, etc. I’ve told a bit of this story, in the context of NASA, in several presentations over the past year. Here below I’ve attempted to break down the problems, implications and solutions I see in a more structured format, again using examples we have encountered at NASA.

Note that none of these observations below are specific to NASA… They apply to any large government bureaucracy, and we are working with our change agent peers in other Agencies as well. We simply have the luxury/curse at NASA of a high-profile brand and significant public interest and goodwill to use as a lever for this change.



  • no internal searchable database of people, projects, skills and technology assets


  • internal inefficiency and redundancy; internal competition for resources and a culture of sequestering information because having information that no one else has is perceived as having power


  • reforming human resources policy to permit and encourage more open communication (internally and externally) and bottom-up innovation, and reforming management structure to create a more flat more networked organization
  • foster cultural change, including renovating NASA’s physical plant to create inspiring workspaces that foster openness and collaboration
  • creation and implementation of systems to capture knowledge and make it searchable



  • slides for any Powerpoint presentation to be given to a public conference are supposed to be submitted for review well in advance to make sure that no sensitive information is included in them, rendering it onerous to speak openly or to include recently updated information
  • policies for NASA employees to spend their own time working on other projects, communicating through social media about their ideas and work, etc. are restrictive and at best fuzzy, and the burden of proof rests on the employee to prove WHY they should be able to communicate with the public, rather than the burden of proof resting on the Agency to prove why not
  • reaches millions but is all processed edited moderated content; very difficult to mash this content up and re-share it, and no opportunity for user-generated content either from the public or from a broader array of NASA employees than just authorized Web Content Managers.


  • less public interest and awareness and inspiration and educational benefit than otherwise possible, because content consumption is passive
  • NASA unable to benefit from the innovation and work cycle leverage that could result from leveraging the goodwill, technical skills, time and creativity of members of the general public, and entrepreneurial private sector
  • NASA has difficulty attracting and retaining talent that is used to working in a more open environment in the private sector


  • agency-wide deployment of the Web 2.0 communication tools, communications policies, and processes used by the world’s leading private technology enterprise
  • build communities and create formal processes to leverage the time and skill of these communities for practical benefit to NASA
  • highlight and build on the few examples of successful crowdsourcing at NASA
  • create sustainable professional relationships between NASA and non-NASA personnel that shift NASA’s internal culture through co-working and open-space format events
  • shifting the budget and skillset of NASA Strategic Communications staff to focus on encouraging, training and supporting non-StratCom staff in their public communications role, including hiring staff with corporate blogging and online organizing skills
  • set communications policy that mandates open publication of all internal Agency communications such as meeting minutes, absent demonstrable and internally verified need to maintain confidentiality; shift the burden of proof from the need to show that information is “safe” to publish, to the need to show the information “is not safe” to publish.



  • NASA hires contractors to write code and doesn’t mandate that is be open-source and often doesn’t even acquire the rights to modify, repurpose, or release that code
  • IP created within NASA is unknown and unsearchable internally, let alone externally, and it is extremely labor intensive and relationship-dependent for internal business development staff to collect data, identify IP licensing opportunities, and execute those licenses
  • petabytes of data collected by NASA that is legally in the public domain is extremely difficult to find, search, interpret, and share, due to slow data processing and archiving and limited APIs


  • the inability to get more eyes on code eliminates an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of failures such as the Mars Climate Orbiter explosion
  • NASA pays more $ for code to be written by contractors than it would have to if it leveraged existing open-source projects (including its own)
  • NASA returns less value to the taxpayers because IP assets aren’t easily licensed or contributed to the public domain where they could yield ancillary benefit to society


government, nasa, politics, reinventing government, space

Obama’s Space Policy Platform

I met with 15 other people in Austin on July 18th to conduct an Obama for President Space Policy Platform meeting, right after our Space Policy panel at Netroots Nation Convention. Our crew included Netroots activists, aerospace enthusiasts from the Austin area, and even former NASA officials. After several hours of debate, and dozens of follow-up emails among the group, we honed in on three space policy platform planks for the DNC / Barack Obama Campaign.

While there was not complete consensus within our group on the three policy planks below, we got really close, and I feel very good about what we came up with… It captures what I personally believe our space policy should be based upon under the next Administration.


From the glory days of Apollo to today’s Mars rovers and the International Space Station, the United States has always been a global leader in the peaceful uses of outer space. This leadership is now in jeopardy, and US space policy must be overhauled as space becomes a vital and increasingly competitive new economic frontier. Specifically:

1. Space and NASA are vital to dealing with the intertwined problems of energy independence and climate change, including both monitoring and finding solutions.

NASA collects more data about Earth’s environment than any other single entity on our planet. NASA has also historically incubated new technologies that are vital to clean renewable energy such as solar cells, batteries, and lightweight composite materials. The resource of space solar power may even offer us a long term, large scale solution to the problem of energy independence. However, under the Bush Administration, the “Earth” was removed from NASA’s mission statement and the findings of NASA’s leading climate change researchers were censored. Going forward, NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth must be fully funded, and the NASA must be explicitly called upon play a central role in our nation’s understanding and mitigation of climate change.

2. The United States, in cooperation with other nations and private industry, must reduce the cost of reliable access to space in order to secure national infrastructure, unlock new economic opportunities, and enable sustainable human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.

The US space program has been an incubator for new technologies and industries and a catalyst for technical education and inspiration since its inception. A renewed commitment to human spaceflight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will provide our nation with access to vital new resources and economic opportunities, enhance our understanding of our planet and ourselves, and engender a new era of peaceful cooperation with other nations. In order to unlock these opportunities, our nation must direct more of its existing investment in space to the development of far cheaper and more reliable access to LEO than we currently have, catalyzing innovation by private space entrepreneurs, and must work in close peaceful partnership with other nations in renewing human space exploration beyond LEO.

3. The President and Congress must have direct and independent advice on space and science policy issues.

Too often our nation’s space and science policy has been determined more by political lobbying by competing stakeholders than by technical merit and the National interest. The President’s space policy should be informed by regular and direct input from a panel of experts capable of balancing the complex overlapping interests, roles, and policy agendas of civilian, military, and commercial space actors. Further, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should be appointed an assistant to the president, and given the access and attention commensurate with that rank. Finally, the Office of Technology Assessment should be reestablished to provide unbiased input to Congress on scientific and technical issues.


Commentary about Plank #1:

There was nearly ubiquitous consensus that the contributions that our space program can and has made to meeting the challenges of energy independence, understanding and mitigating climate change need to be paramount in terms of funding and attention in the space policy of the next Administration. However, there was considerable debate about whether that work should continue be done under the auspices of NASA itself (as well as other Federal Agencies), or under a new umbrella Federal “Earth Systems Engineering” organization that draws resources from NASA, DoE, NOAA, etc., as has been suggested recently by a number of former Federal officials.

Commentary about plank #2:

I’m a proponent of sustained human exploration beyond LEO, though I defer on judgements about whether Earth –> Moon –> Mars or Earth –> Asteroids or Earth –> ISS –> Mars etc. are the optimal architecture. What IS important to me is that human exploration beyond LEO does not supersede the Mission to Planet Earth budget and focus, and that the human exploration effort generates significant return in terms of inspiration, education, and technological innovation. The best way I see to do this, to my mind, is to a) design an architecture that has a limited budget and thus requires requires significant technological breakthroughs in order to succeed but that therefore once it succeeds, is sustainable, and b) aggressively employ COTS type incentives so that it doesn’t just become a jobs program to maintain large payrolls for large aerospace contractors with no assurance of success, and c) by committing to conducting exploration beyond LEO in partnership with China as well as Russia and other nations.

Commentary about plank #3:

The three major areas of policy concern for the group appeared to be: 1) CATS (Cheap Access to Space), 2) renewed focus of our space industry’s resources on the Earth’s environment, and 3) efficient human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. Even among our small group it proved DIFFICULT to It is DIFFICULT to harmoniously come up with a policy to achieve these goals concurrently, and we didn’t even give much consideration to military space. Hence our recommendation that the next Administration create or revive a body like the National Space Council to work through the complex policy agendas of the myriad stakeholders in civilian, military, and commercial space, in order to arrive at a more coherent and effetive integrated space policy strategy from which the President and Congress could draw.

nasa, politics, reinventing government

Space Policy Under an Obama Administration

(please post comments over at the new thread instead of posting them here) Many space constituents are publicly critical of the Obama campaign for campaign rhetoric that is less overtly supportive of the status quo of the US space program than that of the Clinton or McCain campaigns. However, to this constituent of space, Obama’s ambivalence makes him THE MOST ATTRACTIVE Presidential candidate in this campaign.Why?Because I believe that the WORST CASE scenario for the US space program under a new Administration is the status quo, and that we’re quite unlikely– even under an Obama administration– to experience major cutbacks in public space spending, due to the political capital that the status quo of space policy enjoys in key large States.Thus, I believe the real issue of concern for space constituents in this Presidential campaign is how much IMPROVEMENT there can be on current space policy under a new Administration. In that context, I believe that an Administration LESS beholden to the status quo– an Obama Administration– is MORE likely to conduct a thorough and objective analysis of opportunities for improvement. Thus, while paying less lip service to the current space program at this juncture of the campaign, I believe that Obama is more likely than any other candidate to institute the sorts of reforms that many of us progressives who work in the space community wish to see, such as:-Appointing dynamic and technically competent leaders to the top posts at NASA who have the charisma and gravitas required to reform the culture of the Agency and turn it into the vibrant “startup” organization that it was decades ago as NACA, thus enabling it to better:-Pursue an aggressive human exploration program beyond LEO that pushes the envelope of technological innovation without significant budget increases, and presents inspiring opportunities for multi-national collaboration in the peaceful uses of outer space, and-Accelerate of the handover of LEO activities to ‘NewSpace’ private commercial enterprises, with the US and other governments as a customer, and with an emphasis on competition, entrepreneurship and innovation rather than large guaranteed “cost plus” contracts, and-Fully leverage NASA’s potential as an ‘Earth Systems Engineering’ Agency as a key component of a comprehensive Federal climate change mitigation program.I believe that an Obama Administration is far more likely to call for and to have the courage to see through these sorts of policy reforms than that of any other candidate that is today more overtly laudatory of the status quo of the US space program.Does anyone really want the status quo of the US space program to endure? (please post comments over at the new instead of posting them here)

colab, nasa, second life

Successful First Day of Mixed-Reality NASA “Next Generation Exploration Conference”

worden_in_sl2.jpgWe had the “Next Generation Exploration Conference II” streaming into NASA CoLab in Second Life all day today, creating a mixed reality conference. Below, NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden (above) and NASA Headquarters’ Ken Davidian (below) address NGEC up to 50 avatars on NASA CoLab island in Second Life as well as 100 young space entrepreneurs and NASA employees at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley. The conference continues on Wednesday with a blended Second Life and Real-Life working group on Lunar in-situ resource utilization.


government, open data, space

Open Government Data Working Group

An important meeting took place in Sebastapol last weekend (I didn’t know about it in advance, but I did wonder at the time why several folks in my Dopplr list were in Sebastapol concurrently!) to advance the cause of openness and accessibility of government data.

Good timing– the CoLab team just spent the past two days at NASA Headquarters running into and occasionally constructively running through cultural brick walls, many of which derive from the lack of perception inside NASA Headquarters of demand from the public for making government data open AND accessible. In the case of NASA, which has a massive trove of data to share, the latter is often a bigger challenge than the former.

The clear articulated set of principals for data openness and accessibility that came out of the Sebastapol meeting- and a clear public demand by highly credible citizen “customers”- will go a long way towards validating the problem statement that we attempted to convey to management at NASA HQ. Content and data managers from across Federal Agencies are beginning to network and share problems and solutions and new precedents amongst themselves, so this is a potent time to propose, implement, and then propagate change regarding government data inside Federal Agencies.

Thank you for the help, Sebastapolians! And one friendly suggestion/critique– get some people to the next meeting who are actually working on causing change on these issues from inside government– your invite list for this kickoff meeting didn’t appear to include anyone who is actually managing data or setting policy for same inside a government entity! 🙂