Lessons Learned during the Summer of Innovation Pilot 2017

28.12.17 02:00 AM By Jennie Hempstead

Lessons learned from the first Air Force Research Laboratory event at the Wright Brothers Institute - 2nd St. location.

(Pilot). Used as a verb...test (a plan, project, etc.) before introducing it more widely.

Like any test, there is uncertainty in the outcome. The Summer of Innovation Pilot, based on Google's Summer of Code, was a program funded by AFRL to bring together the brightest coders and developers from all over the U.S. to Dayton, Ohio during the summer of 2017. The mission was to tackle a big Air Force problem: how can we trust that autonomous vehicles will do what they're supposed to?

While the entire problem wasn't solved in two and a half months, a lot of progress was made. In fact, AFRL estimates that it would've taken two years using traditional acquisition methods to accomplish the same level of work. Summer of Innovation allowed participants to focus on a challenging problem and leave the bureaucracy and distractions of office/lab life behind for a few months. The overwhelming response was very positive.

Here are a few of the lessons learned from this experiment:

Innovation metrics are hard to come by.

Ideas are born from other ideas. Which can be bad ideas at first, but morph and grow into revolutionary ideas. Focusing on the short term return on investment might keep you from tracking and connecting those early ideas to the long term revolution.

Metrics that focus on engagement, environment, speed of business and trust will help you build relationships with participants and make follow-up easier. And seeing the change may take time. Reiterating that message to leadership helps manage expectations and quell rumors.

Be flexible.

Some teams wanted to work, in person, everyday. Some were ok with meeting once every two weeks. Some teams wanted to work before 7:30am and beyond 5:00pm. While not every demand can be met, be clear about when the entire group needs to be together and be creative with timing challenges. Check with partners who can provide alternative meeting space or see if an employees can adjust their hours.

We should be doing more of this.

Reports that have come in from participating organizations indicate that they are changing the way they do business because of this experience. What previously existed in stovepipes is now connected. Tools that were misunderstood or underutilized are now being woven into Department of Defense research. And participants are rediscovering why they became developers in the first place, with renewed enthusiasm for problem solving.

Influence and thought leadership.

The ripple effect continues. AFRL's influence with the Summer of Innovation has launched them into emerging thought leaders in autonomy. WBI was proud to be a part of that success. Imagine what we can do in 2018?