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Malmstrom Spark Cell gets innovation injection from Silicon Valley

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Col. Daniel Voorhies, 341st Missile Wing vice commander, provides opening remarks during an innovation workshop Aug. 16, 2021, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. During the workshop, participants applied problem-solving skills to resolve real-world Air Force issues, rather than focusing on a solution. The workshop applied theoretical concepts of a real-world challenge to allow participants to come up with prototypes to develop and test solutions. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

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Participants of the WING1WERX innovation workshop pose for a group photo Aug. 17, 2021, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The workshop focused on problem-solving approaches at an Air Force-level rather than focusing on solutions, as well as learning about the importance of Small Business Innovation and Research and Small Business Technology Transfer to innovation. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- WING1WERX hosted a Design Thinking Workshop to teach members how to produce an idea and make it effective for realistic use from Aug. 16 - 17.

The Design Thinking Workshop is part of an ongoing effort to create a culture of innovation. Rather than confronting deficiencies with a solution-based focus, participants in the workshop practiced problem0solving as a way to eliminate problems in a realistic, real-world way.

Specifically, the workshop centered around the Lean Startup methodology, which aims to take an idea, prototype it, test its viability, feasibility, desirability and rapidly get it into the field.

Jeff Decker and Keegan Cooke, members of an innovation-centered company, guided the course through real-world Air Force deficiencies.

One of the real-world problems was Civil Engineer Work Task Prioritization – a process used to organize work tasks, materials and building assessments in the civil engineer career field.

The 34st Civil Engineer Squadron is responsible for maintaining base infrastructure. This could involve making difficult decisions on what projects can be supported, however the data is limited to support those decisions.

The data needed to make a decision is divided between two databases: one with building assessments and another indicating resources available to fix buildings.

Accessing data between the two systems can be time-intensive and difficult to achieve, resulting in suboptimal allocation of resources to non-priority projects, leaving the highest-priority tasks incomplete.

Using problem-solving tactics during the workshop, 2nd Lt. Kyle Beckett, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management flight deputy, shared his homegrown prototype and the insights he gained while working with the Air Force Civil Engineering Center to discover a solution.

Beckett’s software solution takes data from the two systems and combines the information to empower base leaders to make data-driven decisions when tackling an installation's work task prioritization.

“In the Air Force we tend to be solution-driven, and the workshop was designed to flip that script,” said 1st Lt. Henry Camp, 341st Contracting Squadron officer in charge of base commodities and director of wing innovation.

“[It’s important to] empower members to think through a problem and give them the tools necessary to break through that frozen middle of folks that say, ‘no, this is the way we have always done it,” he added.

In addition to practicing problem-solving, workshop participants learned about Small Business Innovation and Research, as well as Small Business Technology Transfer.

James Africano, a former Air Force contracting officer, and Michael McCarthy, CEO of a startup that recently partnered with Malmstrom to get its first STTR, provided an overview of the SBIR/STTR programs.

Since creating the open-topic SBIR/STTR in 2017, Airmen have been leveraging this capability to partner with the commercial industry to secure funding to solve problems.

“In just two days, this workshop gave all of us the tools and mindset needed to accelerate change in the Air Force,” said 1st Lt. Taylor Davis, 341st Contracting Squadron project manager.
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