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NASA’s Nick Skytland opens up about government 2.0 at TEDx Houston 2012

For the uninitiated, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit conference devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Its goal is to educate and inspire, bringing unique and innovative thinkers together by sharing their passions through 18-minute talks. The “x” is an independently organized event working under TED guidelines.

With this year’s theme of “Resonance,” TEDx Houston 2012 was host to an array of diverse speakers—visionaries creating change through their voice of powerful ideas. This event examined the resonance our community’s cultural frequencies create within each of us and expanded the perception of Houstonians—that we are forging a path to the future.

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TEDx is a nonprofit conference devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Photo Credit: TEDx
On Nov. 3, at Houston’s Asia Society Center, more than a dozen presenters shared their stories with the audience, which was also streamed live on the Web. Topics included mentorship to shape decision making, future thinking, the psychology of leadership, the creative process, and education through art, to name a few.

One of the maverick speakers at the packed venue was Nick Skytland, program manager of NASA’s Open Innovation Program. His talk centered on the value of transparency and the desire to get government back to its roots of participatory democracy, citizen engagement and innovations necessary to adapt to a progressively changing society.

Co-located at both NASA Headquarters and Johnson Space Center, Skytland heads a team that promotes open-source technology and works to engage employees and the public alike to increase their participation in NASA’s mission of space exploration. He also encourages people to better collaborate with government and industry to help solve problems locally and nationally.

Skytland opened his talk describing the experience of astronauts, who see the world without borders from their lofty vantage point from orbit. They don’t talk about being disconnected with humankind but, rather, what it’s like to feel connected to all of us.

He said we now live in a world where technology makes it possible for us to share in each other’s experiences through the Internet, and this shift to becoming more interconnected will help us develop new approaches to the challenges of our time.

NASA's Nick Skytland speaks on the value of transparency and the desire to get government back to its roots of participatory democracy, citizen engagement and innovations necessary to adapt to a progressively changing society. Photo Credit: TEDx
NASA's Nick Skytland speaks on the value of transparency and the desire to get government back to its roots of participatory democracy, citizen engagement and innovations necessary to adapt to a progressively changing society. Photo Credit: TEDx
Skytland used examples of the teamwork required to fly to the moon, land a robot the size of a car on Mars and even the group effort to help with the Space Shuttle Columbia accident to illustrate mass collaboration in action to solve problems.

“It’s a testament of what people can do together if given resources, permission and opportunity,” Skytland said. “It’s about finding platforms that allow you to scale participation effectively and take advantage of the exponential power of what happens when a thousand eyes look at our problems and collectively develop a solution.”

Believing that people all over the world want a chance to engage in what NASA is doing, not just those that work for NASA, Skytland said the advancements made in technology are making mass contributions a reality. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Skytland said that the desire to participate in government is not new—that it was always supposed to be collaborative. Somewhere through history government became more closed and inefficient, but this has led to a demand for greater civic participation and transparency.

One of the mass collaborative experiments Skytland’s team developed was the “International Space Apps Challenge,” where entrepreneurs and technologists hosted an event with the goal to connect as many people as possible with NASA ideas and encourage them to develop solutions to these space challenges. Skytland said in just two days, thousands of citizens from seven continents came together to help solve the 71 challenges offered.

Another way the team creates citizen engagement is through “hackathons.” Government agencies and the private sector partnered to create an annual event called the National Day of Civic Hacking, beginning next June, where people in at least one city in all 50 states will collaborate to solve challenges facing our communities.

Skytland ended his talk with a call to action for all, and reiterated that everyone has the opportunity to see the world without borders and make a difference through the connections technology enables.

“We truly live in a world today where the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act,” Skytland said.

To view Nick Skytland’s blog on his TEDx Houston 2012 presentation, “We’re In This Together: Why Mass Collaboration is Changing Our Approach to Problem Solving in Government,” visit: http://open.nasa.gov/blog/2012/11/05/were-in-this-together-why-mass-collaboration-is-changing-our-approach-to-problem-solving-in-government/


Laura Rochon
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-0229

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Updated: 11/20/2012