Can a Contest Improve the “Production of Health”?

How Esther Dyson Is Using the Way to Wellville Challenge to Promote Collaborative Innovation

May 9, 2014

The Way to Wellville is a community health innovation challenge involving five communities in the U.S., sponsored by angel investor, Esther Dyson’s HICCup (Health Initiative Coordinating Council). These communities will have five years to improve health outcomes in their towns by focusing primarily on the determinants of health, rather than the treatment of disease. They’ll be collaborating and sharing their experiences, their data, and their results. Why five communities? Esther wants to test the proposition that you need multiple interacting initiatives to have much impact.


What’s a good way for a visionary, tech-savvy investor in technology, health, and outer space to spawn innovation in the “production of health”? Esther Dyson is issuing a challenge and running a five-year contest: five communities will be chosen to compete and collaborate to see which one will produce the best wellness outcomes across five dimensions--health impact, financial impact, social/environmental impact, sustainability, and a community-specific priority—within five years.

The contest prize has yet to be determined. It may be $5 million dollars for the winning community. But that’s not the point. Your community wins if your citizens, businesses, schools, associations, recreational facilities, government, and local healthcare professionals can all pull together to seriously and sustainably improve the health and well-being of the people who live in your community. You win because it is actually healthier to grow up and live in your community than anywhere else.

Way to Wellville logoThe biggest gain for Esther Dyson, and the group of sponsors and partners she’s recruiting in her Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup), will come from supporting, learning from, and collaborating with the change-agents and consumers in five high-performing communities across the country—all focused on doing what it takes to produce better health at lower cost. The biggest gain for the rest of us will be reaping the benefits of the discoveries, the learnings, the stories, the patterns and models that work, and the mistakes we can avoid.


Who is Esther Dyson and Why Is She Interested in Communities’ Health?

I’ve known and admired Esther since at least the 1980s. Esther Dyson has been an information technology visionary, author, investor, philanthropist and active board member for technology startups for over 40 years. After a brief period as a financial analyst at Oppenheimer, covering software companies, Esther moved to Rosen Research and in 1983 bought the company from her employer Ben Rosen, renaming it EDventure Holdings and publishing a “must read” newsletter—Release 1.0, which profiled high-tech start-ups and their ideas. Esther designed and ran groundbreaking annual high-tech conferences, called PC Forum, from 1977 to 2006. These were THE places for smart technology executives, entrepreneurs and investors to meet and greet. Everyone who was anyone in high tech would attend that conference and be interviewed by Esther on stage.

The Way to Wellville Contest is underway. Communities are pulling together their coalitions, documenting their population health data, and securing funding sources for a five-year effort. HICCup (Health Initiative Coordinating Council) is spreading the word through the media and meetings across the country. They encourage potential entrants through webinars, email, and phone conversations. The spirit is open collaboration, rather than competition.

Esther was one of the first IT gurus to focus her attention on the intersection between technology and health. She has investments in 24 health-related technology companies and 40 internet/mobile companies. She has been actively following and writing about the “Quantified Self” movement and, for the last few years has been focusing on what she is calling the “Quantified Community” movement:

“I have written about the Quantified Self movement – individuals equipped with the tools (monitoring devices and software) needed to measure their own health and behavior (and, by doing so, to improve them). This movement is not quite sweeping the world, but it is making a difference. So-called Quantified Selfers are monitoring their blood pressure, sleep cycles, and body mass. At least some of them are using that information to improve their health and live more productively.
In the same way, I predict (and am trying to foster) the emergence of a Quantified Community movement, with communities measuring the state, health, and activities of their people and institutions, thereby improving them. Just consider: 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. That is about to change.
As with the Quantified Self, the tools for collecting and analyzing data about everything from public health to potholes in roads, real-estate prices, school attendance, and more are beginning to emerge….

As people and communities use such tools, more and better ones will be created, and developers will start mashing data together, enabling us to see, for example, the relationship between people’s exercise habits and local health statistics. Employers and insurers can also contribute anonymized data. The goal is to create competition – among communities and among developers of the tools – and thus to foster even better tools and more livable, productive communities.”

~ Esther Dyson, The Quantified Community, Project Syndicate, July 23, 2012


Imagine that for each health-related initiative your community takes, there’s a simple and easy way to capture the data and then to see the results on...(more)


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