Trina Chytka discusses knowledge sharing in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Trina Chytka serves as Knowledge Services Lead for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). Chytka is the Director of STMD Strategic Planning and Integration. In this role, she advises on technology investments and provides functional direction for strategic planning, technology development and infusion coordination, performance goal development, policy and requirements development, program/project performance tracking, portfolio analysis, and configuration management.
Chytka joined NASA in 2003 as a Life Cycle Engineer and took on leadership of the agency’s Life Cycle Analysis and Discrete Event Simulation Activities for Next Generation Launch Technology. During her tenure at NASA’s Langley Research Center she has worked the spectrum of the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale. For seven years, she held a branch head position in the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate performing Pre-Phase A/Phase A Human and Robotic Exploration Trade studies, and then transitioned to high TRL Flight Systems as Deputy Director of the Flight Projects Directorate. Chytka has a bachelor’s in civil engineering, a master’s in engineering management and a doctorate in systems engineering, and is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University.
Describe where the knowledge management function resides in your organization.
It’s at every level of the organization because no matter what we do in STMD, we all have a piece of the knowledge management process. If you think about Strategic Planning and Integration, my team is what I consider the champions, advocates and researchers of knowledge management principles and opportunities. The STMD program offices, for instance, when we’re talking about Game Changing Development, small spacecraft or Technology Demonstration Missions, they have really sound and innovative tools for knowledge management to execute on mission-critical technology development. They are using knowledge management more for the execution piece of the portfolio. We have a Tech Transfer Office that’s built an amazing platform – a communication pathway – that allows us to engage both internal and external technology communities. And knowledge management from an internal organizational construct enables us to work efficiently and effectively. I really want everyone to understand the importance of what they do and why it matters. I don’t think it’s about a title or a leader or where the function sits. It really needs to be a part of who we are as an organization.
Knowledge management is absolutely a vital component of any organization’s strategy. You have to be able to use KM principles as a means of communicating the pathways and consistency of your message. When I think about the planning piece of my job, KM plays a role to ensure configuration control of our planning tools and information so there’s consistency in the ways we are doing things. Integration, which is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle, is really just this complicated monster because there are so many interdependencies and interactions that you have to understand, map, cultivate and document. Knowledge management is the platform that enables all of that.
NASA recently released the 2017-2018 software catalog. How would you characterize this in terms of knowledge sharing and the significance of offering software code free of charge to the public?
I think any time you can leverage existing brilliance there’s a huge benefit. And that’s kind of how I look at these opportunities because all of the learning, all of the testing and all of the hard work has already been accomplished and you get to be the receiver of that effort.
We’re actually very proud of the software catalog. We’re one of the few, if not the only agency that has a comprehensive published inventory of software assets. So it’s quite unique. We make it available internally to NASA and to other government agencies and academia as well as industry. What’s very interesting is that since the catalog has started to be published, the Tech Transfer Office has experienced almost a 100 percent increase in the amount of software requests per year since 2012. In essence, they have doubled the number of software package releases and connections they’re making every year since they began publishing the catalog.
Could you give us a couple of other examples of STMD sharing NASA technology-related knowledge beyond the aerospace community?
I think if you look at the STMD portfolio, you’ll notice that we have a really healthy industry and academia component that seeks not only the traditional aerospace partners, but nontraditional partners as well. Sometimes we are even able to target some of the underserved sectors — what we call the economic ecosystems around the U.S. — that aren’t typically players with us. We’ll go into these communities, figure out where the economic hub is, and see if there’s any ability to energize those hubs for the greater benefit.
Do you have a favorite story or example of tangible benefits of knowledge sharing?
Not that long ago we were still doing things in a bit of a stovepipe manner. But the types of conversations that are happening now are around, ‘How do I share what I’m doing? How do I make sure I’m consistent in the way I’m communicating? Can you help me figure out how to . . .?’
The way we’re starting to talk in this organization is beginning to change. And I think that’s a favorite story about how small efforts that are consistent over time really can make a difference in the way you think about things, and you may not even realize it as it’s happening.
What are some of the most prominent knowledge challenges in your organization?
Volume of information. Volume, volume, volume. And tools. We need better knowledge management tools. They exist. We just need to make a concerted effort to uncover the ones that best fit the way STMD wants to operate. Configuration control is always an issue when you deal with data. Some of the systems are pretty static. What really resonates with me, and what I think is more cutting-edge, is that you can’t have just static file categorization systems. You have to have dynamic and visual repositories. I think that we need to be a little bit braver in looking at the ways that we visualize our information and our data rather than being comfortable in the hierarchical file system. That’s a challenge for us to really push the art of the possible and how we visualize data. For us within NASA that’s a cultural shift. We have pockets of goodness, but it’s not wholly embraced yet.
Are you observing any trends or cultural shifts that affect knowledge management going forward?
It goes back to the visualization of information. I really do think that’s going to be a game changer in the way we view our systems and in the way we archive and communicate and do knowledge management. It’s much more of a visual, in my opinion, rather than old-school Dewey Decimal.
What’s the biggest misunderstanding that people have about knowledge?
Some people think that data and software and words on paper are knowledge. It’s not. It’s just input. What you do with all of that and how you process it, how you internalize it, how you experience it, that becomes knowledge. I don’t consider data as knowledge. I don’t consider words on paper as knowledge. And software is not knowledge. I think all of these components have to come alive to become knowledge. They must be personalized, experienced and integrated. And in my opinion, knowledge is wholly personal. You have to have input. You have to process it. You have to transform it. I think only after you do that can data, words and output become useful.