During the past four decades, the results (knowledge) of NASA's scientific activities and discoveries have proven to be extremely important to the American people and to the world. Concurrently, the means to communicate them to the world have grown exponentially. The writers of the NASA Space Act of 1958 mandate to "provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof" showed great foresight as authors of the first of many mandates that would enable NASA to garner support for its activities and discoveries at the national level in its future.

Policy and Regulatory Communications Initiatives

As the primary guiding force in NASA's communication of knowledge, the Space Act of 1958 is relatively unique in its direction and scope among Agency charters in setting the course for NASA's communications efforts. Over the years, other laws and executive directives have directed NASA to provide for the broadest application of its discoveries and results. Various directives provided by Congress and the Clinton Administration have called for Agencies to communicate their findings to the American public and to conduct science transfer and technology transfer to justify their research and development activities. Executive Orders 12591 and 12618 (1987) called for facilitating access to science and technology. The Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (Public Law 96–480) promoted the transfer of technology from NASA. Subsequent laws to foster technology transfer included the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (Public Law 99–502), the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989 (Public Law 101–189), the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (Public Law 104–113), and the United States Innovative Partnership (USIP) program (1996 White House/Governors' Agreement).

In the 1990's, the Clinton Administration gave policy guidance to NASA through such documents as Science in the National Interest, National Space Policy, and Goals for a National Partnership in Aeronautics Research and Technology, all of which placed great emphasis on the necessity for NASA to communicate knowledge (CK) to the public.1

Budgetary CK Incentives

With national budget balancing considerations taking precedence in Congress, the way NASA communicates its knowledge to the world will be examined and impact NASA's support in the future. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 required that each Agency develop a strategic plan and an annual performance plan, both of which correlate to the justification of NASA's budget requests. The Government Performance and Results Act called for an annual report on the results of various program efforts, thereby demanding program progress accountability from Government Agencies.

As the Government moved toward reaching the goal of a balanced budget, it constrained the amount of funding available to Agencies such as NASA, whose funding amounts are discretionary rather than mandatory. Agencies have been clearly challenged to demonstrate the relevance of their efforts and are being held accountable for the use of their monetary resources. NASA's budget in future years will depend, in part, on NASA's ability to communicate its knowledge and successes.

Technological CK Impetus

As early as 1976, the National Science Foundation's Office of Science Information Service foresaw the technological role that data bases would assume in the following decade. The foundation enlisted the services of Dr. Russell Ackoff, a pioneer in system design, to develop the National Scientific Communication and Technology System, with hope that it would provide organizational guidance to the information revolution foreseen and be adopted nationally. The plan, though never adopted, foresaw the role that computers would play in assuring "that scientific and technological information, knowledge, and understanding should be as publicly available as possible, minimally restricted only for reasons of personal privacy, national security, and preservation of security rights."2

As foreseen in Ackoff's book, during the following decade, data bases grew exponentially as scientific management tools. Videos communicated knowledge in most households. Science fiction came to life as movies and television programming portrayed NASA historical exploration, fictional exploration, and projected exploration. CD–ROM's stored complex color documents. Today, the best of conventional media—newspapers, magazines, television, personal appearances, fairs, workshops, conferences, tours, and publishers—have been combined with computer and Internet technology to create a powerful new interactive medium.

NASA is a recognized leader in Government for its innovative and comprehensive communications abilities. The Agency is frequently cited as having the best web site in Government, receiving praise from the Administration and Internet critics. The explosion in the number of communications vehicles available to every scientist, engineer, and technologist necessitates the need to translate information for the general public. With NASA's budgetary and personnel downsizing constraints on communications processes, it is important for NASA to take a systems-oriented, high-leverage approach to impact public understanding of NASA's science and technology activities at the national level.

The Strategic Plan and NASA's Communication Roles

The NASA Strategic Plan, first published in 1994, has been updated periodically. The 1998 revised plan identifies four collections of programs, called Enterprises: Space Science, Earth Science, Human Exploration and Development of Space, and Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology. Cutting across these four core Enterprises are four Crosscutting Processes: (1) Manage Strategically, (2) Provide Aerospace Products and Capabilities, (3) Generate Knowledge, and (4) Communicate Knowledge. Their interrelationships are shown in Figure 1.

CK Defined

In 1997, Spence M. Armstrong, then NASA Associate Administrator for Human Resources and Education, was assigned the ownership of the CK Process by the NASA Administrator, which gave him the responsibility for documenting the process and leading an improvement/reengineering effort on how knowledge is communicated by NASA. The Headquarters Process Owner was not to become responsible for carrying out the process—that responsibility was to remain with each echelon of management. The recommended process was to consider metrics that could be used to measure process effectiveness over time.

For purposes of this process documentation and improvement, "knowledge" was defined as a resulting product of a NASA-conducted or NASA-funded research, development, or operational effort. "Knowledge" could be delivered in a number of formats: raw data, data base, reports, imagery, software, technology, or materials. The Communicate Knowledge Process Team differentiated between "disseminating knowledge," defined as a NASA function in the Space Act and "communicating knowledge," which implies a two-way exchange of information between NASA and its customers.

"Communication" was defined as the distribution of knowledge via various means and the collection of feedback information to complete a communications loop. The communication was to be shown over a time continuum at various stages of the scientific product's evolution.

The communication of knowledge within NASA is not included intentionally as a part of the CK Process for purposes of simplification. In the 1990's, corporations instituted the position of chief knowledge officer to facilitate the distribution of institutional knowledge within an organization. This worthwhile endeavor is addressed within the NASA organization as a subprocess under NASA's strategic management process. As Jerry Junkins, the late chairman of Texas Instruments, said, "We have world-class operations side by side with others who just don't get it."

The value proposition is: "We can reduce cycle time and costs, increase the number of proposals we win, and more effectively bring the knowledge of the organization to bear on customer needs if we effectively find and transfer knowledge and best practices. . . ."4

The scope of NASA's CK Process is shown in a simplified model in Figure 2. This model rests on the foundation of NASA knowledge. Scientists, researchers, technologists, and operators generate knowledge. They are assisted in delivering the knowledge by facilitators or subject matter experts in areas such as public affairs, scientific community interaction, education, outreach, history, and technology transfer.

The audience for NASA ranges from the general public to industry. The outlet methods for communicating knowledge to various public audiences take many forms, ranging from press releases and pictures to professional papers, brochures, publications, conferences, videos, symposia, incubators, web sites, technical opportunities, or briefs. The desired outcome from the audience ranges from making people aware of NASA's knowledge, to transferring this knowledge, to facilitating the use of this knowledge outside of NASA.

In 1995, the NASA Chief Scientist initiated a Science Communication Working Group in response to suggestions from a forum chaired by NASA Administrator Goldin and Dr. Carl Sagan, in which several participants raised concerns that NASA's scientific knowledge was difficult to obtain. The work of this group was a useful starting point for this CK Process Team. The chart from that report is superimposed on Figure 2 as the octagon to both acknowledge the work of the group and to demonstrate where their work fits in the scope of this CK effort.


. . . when I talk about (the fact that) it's necessary for scientists and engineers to reach out to Americans who are their customers, I really do mean it. I think it's a fundamental responsibility that we have to the future of this country.

Daniel S. Goldin
NASA Administrator
Worlds Apart

































Figure 1. Interrelationships of NASA's Crosscutting Processes3













  1. These three guides were produced by the Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science and
    Technology Council, Washington, DC.
  2. Russell L. Ackoff, Designing a National Scientific and Technological Communication System, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976, p. 20.
  3. NASA Strategic Management Handbook, NASA, Office of Policy and Plans, Washington, DC, October 1996, Page 31.
  4. C. Jackson Grayson, Jr., and Carla O'Dell, "Mining your Hidden Resources," Across the Board, April 1998.