Continued Closed Openness At NASA: Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK)

By Keith Cowing
December 6, 2010
Filed under
Continued Closed Openness At NASA: Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK)

Here’s the premise: Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) – a series of long workshops (often known as “Hackathons”) are held in multiple locations around the world wherein people come together to share their skills and create things (software etc.) that can be of use to others locally and globally. Wonderful idea. NASA becomes involved – thus offering the potential to bring its resources to bear – and ingest ideas from external and novel resources. Doubly wonderful – I can smell the synergy. Add in NASA’s Deputy Administrator, the Secretary General of the United Nations at the opening session and there’s an emergent property – one of heightened visibility for the concept and the participants. I’m sold. Marvelous concept. Gimme more.

NASA sends representatives from the Chief Technologist’s and Chief Information Officer’s organizations. What are they doing? Well, that’s uncertain. NASA civil servant participants Robbie Schingler (NASA HQ CTO Chief of Staff) and Nick Skytland (NASA HQ CIO office) and perhaps others are big fans of social media tools yet they did little to use these tools other than to retweet several generic items about the event as a whole. They made no mention of what they – or NASA – were actually doing at this event. Were they coding? Organizing? What? So much for being “open and transparent”. This is especially ironic given that Schingler and Skytland work on NASA’s Open Gov efforts, often serving as agency evangelists in this regard.

This is not the first time this has happened. You can read this item to get a summary of the first RHOK which was held in near perfect stealth mode. No one knew about it until the very last moment except a small self-selected group of NASA digerati. This time NASA did little better. I complained last week that a press release was not issued. Well, I was partially wrong. One was written and posted on a NASA website but as far as I can tell it was never “released” via NASA’s email system, PR Newswire, etc. Press “releases” are somewhat pointless if they are not “released” such that the meda and the taxpaying public (potential participants) can be made aware of the content of the release.

A month after the last RHoK, a summary was posted. No mention is made of what NASA personnel did at this event, how NASA “supported” it, or what NASA gained from its participation.

Again, the basic concept of such events and the interest of NASA’s paritcipation is sound. But when the agency goes out of its way not to imform the public at large (and the media) in advance that these events are going to happen, and then provides little or no feedback as to what NASA’s participation generated, you have to ask yourself two questions: Is this worth doing? Are the people who are doing these things the right people to be doing them?

I think it is worth doing. I do not think that the NASA personnel who are doing these things have a clue as to how to engage the taxpaying public – the same public they so eagerly profess an interest to involve.

Time for a reboot.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.