Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Open Innovation at NASA: A New Business Model for Advancing Human Health and Performance Innovations: NASA's HH&P Directorate Reshaped Its Culture through a Systematic, Stepwise Process

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Open Innovation at NASA: A New Business Model for Advancing Human Health and Performance Innovations: NASA's HH&P Directorate Reshaped Its Culture through a Systematic, Stepwise Process

Article excerpt

In 2005, NASA's human research and technology development program, which provides resources to the Human Health and Performance Directorate (HH&P) at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), experienced a 45 percent reduction in its budget. While the reduction resulted in a loss of some core capabilities in the form of personnel and grants, the directorate's mission to keep astronauts healthy and productive in space remained the same. This reduction required a novel response, one that preserved the effectiveness of the HH&P within its new budget constraints. To address this challenge, the HH&P leadership formulated a new strategy, one grounded in collaboration, to improve organizational performance and efficiency.

This new strategy, published in May 2007 as the Space Life Sciences Strategy for Human Space Exploration (Richard 2007), required HH&P not just to rethink its organizational approach to research and technology development, but to fundamentally reshape its culture, transforming itself from an organization that relied on traditional problem-solving tools such as internal development and external grants to one that embraces collaboration and open innovation tools as additional approaches to solving technical problems. This was a challenging endeavor, one that established HH&P as an early adopter of open innovation within NASA. HH&P's systematic, stepwise approach to this transformation may offer lessons for other organizations seeking to reorient themselves to take advantage of new innovation approaches and tools.

Executing the Strategy

Historically, HH&P has pursued research and technology development primarily through internal development efforts and traditional approaches to problem solving, such as grant funding. The 2007 strategy focused on driving innovation in human health and performance in space through collaboration, with an emphasis on solutions that both meet NASA needs and benefit life on Earth. Key tactics included establishing strategic partnerships with outside organizations and developing a forward-looking, flexible business model that would transform HH&P into an adaptable learning organization--one that would challenge existing paradigms and escape the "not invented here" syndrome. Another key element was the development of an integrated risk management approach to guide the prioritization and management of HH&P research and technology development activities.

To inform the execution of this strategy, HH&P conducted a benchmark study of approximately 20 organizations in academia, industry, and government known for collaborating successfully (Richard and Gonzalez 2009). Several key findings of that study guided the directorate's pursuit of collaborative initiatives. In particular, 100 percent of participating organizations perceived alliances or collaborations as necessary to achieve their innovation goals--all said they could not innovate effectively or achieve their strategic goals without such partnerships. Participating organizations told us they formed partnerships to supplement internal resources and competencies; to gain access to novel ideas and approaches to problem solving; to acquire needed services, licenses, or patents; and to further develop and execute strategic plans. Additionally, survey participants identified managing culture change as essential to successful collaboration, but acknowledged that culture change was the most difficult challenge in the change management process. While these findings validated the collaborative strategy outlined in the 2007 document, they also correctly predicted that culture change would be a significant barrier to overcome as the HH&P executed its new approach.

Now prepared to move forward, HH&P sought to identify specific methodologies to execute its new approach. A review of Lakhani's (2008) Harvard Business School case on InnoCentive inspired interest in crowdsourcing and open innovation platforms, particularly external technology solution sourcing platforms like InnoCentive, as problem-solving mechanisms. …

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