Fard Johnmar, founder and president of Enspektos, describes a conversation he recently had with noted entrepreneur Esther Dyson about why innovation that originates in local communities may be the key to improving population health.
In May, my firm, Enspektos, a U.S.-based innovation consultancy, will be holding a unique all-Web digital health conference, digihealth pulse Virtual 2014 (DHPV 2014). During the event, more than 25 innovators, entrepreneurs, big thinkers and others will share their wisdom about digital health’s present and future.
One of the people speaking at DHPV 2014 is Esther Dyson, a noted entrepreneur, angel investor, journalist and principal of EDventure Holdings. She is also a board member of numerous companies, including the personal genomics firm 23andMe and was an early investor in a range of notable startups, including Flickr and Square.
During the event, I will have a conversation with Dyson about her startup nonprofit, HICCup, or the Health Initiative Coordinating Council. The name of the outfit is Dyson’s idea of a joke, but its purpose is deadly serious: to test and ideally prove that the best way to produce health is to use a variety of complementary approaches at the same time, at critical density — and to share the data and models from these tests for all to use.
While preparing for her session, Dyson and I engaged in a lengthy discussion about the goals of HICCup and what she hopes to achieve with its first project, the Way to Wellville. We also spoke about the limitations of individual health programs, tools and technologies when it comes to truly improving community health. I feel her work is of vital importance and asked Dyson for permission to share some of her thoughts (and describe her efforts) prior to the conference. Dyson was kind enough to review this article for accuracy prior to publication.
This article provides only a preview of the extensive discussion Dyson and I will have about HICCup and the Way to Wellville during DHPV 2014. (I’m planning on asking her tough questions about these initiatives.) If you attend, you’ll also have the opportunity to have Dyson answer your questions about a range of topics related to health technology, community health, investing and more.
What’s Keeping Most Health Advice, Tools and Initiatives from Succeeding?
Dyson told me that “health advice (or most of our prescriptions for healthy living) can be effective only in an environment that supports healthy choices. In other words, if people don’t have access to convenient, affordable and healthy food, safe areas to exercise, quiet places to sleep and the like, even the most brilliant and well-designed consumer-facing health programs (regardless of whether or not they use technology) will generally fail to improve health and well-being.”
One trend that illustrates the gap between the promise and reality of health tools, technologies and advice is the Quantified Self (QS) movement, which Dyson describes as “people measuring their own activity and various health data and taking responsibility for their own well-being.” Dyson believes Quantified Self can be an important part of producing health, but she also thinks we need to ensure that people can engage in basic activities that help them (and their families) live well without regard to QS tools.
How Can We Begin to Build Environments That Truly Support Health?
Back in 2012, Dyson predicted the emergence of the Quantified Community movement, which she defined “as communities measuring the state, health, and activities of their people and institutions, leading to action to improve them.” “Just consider,” she said, “each town has its own schools, library, police, roads and bridges, businesses, and, of course, people. All of them potentially generate a lot of data, most of it uncollected and unanalyzed.”
Recently, Dyson has been seeking to realize this concept through the Way to Wellville project. Its mission is to test the idea of combining a range of best-practice health initiatives such as good nutrition, exercise and improved preventive and acute care, with approaches honed in the digital and investment communities, such as rapid experimentation, reliance on open source technologies and data and radical transparency, to provide evidence and inspiration to improve health at the community level.
The Way to Wellville is a five-year contest where five communities compete amongst each other to see which ones can realize the greatest improvements in health and economic vitality.
The Way to Wellville is Complex, How Can People Grasp its Purpose and Mission Quickly?
Dyson suggests that one way to think about the Way to Wellville is to compare it to a digital health startup accelerator. Generally, accelerators select and support promising businesses by providing access to capital, advice about how to navigate various market challenges and more. In a similar fashion the HICCup team (run by CEO Rick Brush) will select five communities who will act much like startups. Each community will set its own course, develop plans, pitch promising health initiatives to funders, negotiate with suppliers who will help bring these initiatives to life and measure the impact of their efforts. At the same time, HICCup will act like a board of advisors, working with what Dyson calls the “Wellville Five” to nudge, refine, test, learn, navigate and engage each community.
Dyson believes that most important output of the Way to Wellville project will be a high-value data set that provides a lot of newly created information about which health improvement initiatives actually work in combination and in the real world — and which don’t. Dyson told me that she hopes “this information will be shared widely and, with luck, help accelerate health-improvement efforts in the United States and globally.” It’s my opinion that that the Way to Wellville is Dyson’s Quantified Community concept brought to vivid life.
What’s Happening Now With the Way to Wellville and How Can People Take Part?
Dyson reports that a range of communities across the United States (of fewer than 100,000 people) are preparing to submit applications to become the Wellville Five those are due by May 23. You can learn more about the contest by clicking here.
Dyson’s Advice for People Developing Digital Technologies, Wellness Initiatives and Other Projects Designed to Improve Health and Well-Being
Dyson urges people to ask themselves whether “they are thinking enough about whether the environment surrounding their health projects or initiatives will support or will limit its success.” She warns that “if people can’t engage in basic activities that sustain, or improve health, such as getting a good night’s sleep, exercising regularly, purchasing healthy foods and more, even the most promising health prescriptions and advice will fail to move the needle.”
Disclosure: HIT Consultant is a featured media partner of digihealth pulse Virtual 2014