Status Report

Providing Data for ‘The Langley Story’

By SpaceRef Editor
February 7, 2010
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By: Jim Hodges

Not long after dozens filed into the classroom on the second floor of NASA Langley’s Building 1216, they learned that they were “Innocent” “Sages,” with a tinge of “Hero,” more of “Everyperson,” a bit of “Jester” and with an affinity toward being a “Ruler.”

They also learned that a good many were “Creators,” but about as many weren’t, and that they weren’t particularly “Revolutionary,” in part because most believed it had a negative connotation.

The descriptors were drawn from a December survey of center personnel, and volunteers from their midst were in the classroom in small groups spread over six days to offer insight that could be folded into “The Langley Story.”

Building from those characteristics, Cindy Atlee and Jennifer Dusenberry shepherded the groups through exercises that yielded what was called “data” to be honed into a story to be used by Langley employees as a conversation wedge that could end with how NASA Langley helps everybody.

“It’s not like we’re going to become big public speakers,” Atlee said. “It’s one or two sentences to be repeated outside the gate.”

Each of the descriptive characteristics brings with it the potential for good or ill. “Heroes” achieve and are willing to take risks, but can be ruthless. “Innocents” don’t know what they can’t do, but can naive. “Everyperson” can think in terms of others, but can be intolerant of maverick thinkers.

Understanding that dichotomy is important in weaving the story line.

From all of that discussion, those within the groups conjured up ideas with the help of scissors, glue and pictures cut from magazines: “We are people who live to inspire a world.” And “We are sages who pursue the value of what is possible.” And “We are heroes who rise to the challenge.”

Those ideas, with others, along with the give-and-take of the focus groups, are the “data.”

“People are bringing a very high level of engagement to these focus groups,” Atlee said after meeting with nine of the 11 groups that she and Dusenberry saw over the two weeks.

“They really want to understand the process and to air their views. There has been so much diversity of thought. It’s very complex.”

That complexity was the genesis of doubt among many in the focus groups. From a gathering of researchers in space, aeronautics and science, and from support groups in business and information came ideas. How can that gold mine of ideas be turned into a nugget?

Atlee pointed to an earlier Langley project in which the Science Directorate sought a message that would include all of those activities in the atmosphere, data gathering, data use, the research pointed toward space exploration and all of the programs under the directorate’s umbrella.

“Finding answers to the great questions that can protect and preserve our planet,” Atlee recited a storyline that her group conjured up more than a year ago.

From that platform has come video presentations and other outreach tools that the Science Directorate has used to better define itself to those in the community and beyond who wonder just what goes on in science at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

Atlee offered another example, from a group seeking an identity that came to her for help: “Volunteers of America,” a non-profit organization with 1,235 programs over 44 states involving 15,000 people who help groups of homeless, veterans, the aged and others who are less fortunate.

“Getting our most vulnerable people back on their feet,” Atlee recited the storyline that her group derived from a wide range of data.

From the “data” of the past two weeks, and the survey, the Atlee Group will formulate a “grand platform” for review by people at Langley. Approval will provide a springboard for more concrete products, including a video and message grid.

The reason was presented early in the focus groups.

“You know who Langley is … but the public doesn’t,” Atlee outlined in the presentation. “Your work is complex and wide-ranging … (and) your results are outstanding … but your communications need to make the link between the technical outcomes and their benefits to the public.”

It’s why the focus group was there in the first place.

SpaceRef staff editor.