Technological heavy hitters, Google and DARPA to name a few, are demonstrating the value found in challenging both experts and the community at large to take on complex technical problems. Challenges such as the Google X-Prize empower a range of participants -- from the technological genius to the average Joe -- to devise and execute innovative ideas that otherwise may not have seen the light of day. From the sponsoring organization's perspective, these activities present a low-risk, high-payoff activity: the organization will get to select the best technical solution, regardless of the level of work exerted by the participants. The competition thus becomes a win-win situation for both the participants, who work towards winning the prize and the publicity that comes with it, and the sponsoring organization, who benefits from fresh, crowd-sourced ideas. How can accomplished organizations with established technical objectives best use open innovation challenges to further their goals? Systems Engineering students at The George Washington University, led by Ottawa-native Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber, want to figure that out.

Dr. Szajnfarber and her team are pursuing this work in close collaboration with NASA on the space agency's Asteroid Initiative: a high-profile framework created to detect, categorize, manipulate, and send humans to asteroids. Currently, the team seeks to answer the following questions: How far can open innovation methods go to bolster an organization's technology development processes? In what ways can open innovation improve the way work is done traditionally? How seriously should the staff of an organization take ideas put forward by the general public? The answers to these questions will inform and improve different parts of an organization's processes, particularly through ways that have been largely on the periphery until now. The research team's objective, in the short term, is to help NASA decision makers frame future challenges. Of course, these open innovation methods are not limited to the space industry, and future research will also seek to employ this framework in a variety of different fields.
Follow both Dr. Szajnfarber's work and NASA's Asteroid Initiative to keep abreast of these

Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber's page:
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