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Special Olympics Holds Lessons, and Inspiration, for All of Us

Jun 24, 2014, 2:30 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

 

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

—Special Olympics motto

The other day I cheered myself hoarse during a swim relay for a team from Maryland that put their all into the race. In fact, the whole viewing crowd cheered on this team. When they finished, the athletes were jubilant, hugging each other and their opponents, thrilled by their performance in this national event. It didn’t seem to bother them much that they finished last.

The 2014 USA Games for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest organization for people with intellectual disabilities, was held in New Jersey June 14-21. Some 3,500 children and adults from all 50 states competed in 16 different sports, and the vast majority took tremendous pleasure in the pure joy of athletics. Sure, plenty were fiercely competitive, but they were also happy and proud to have the opportunity to compete to the best of their ability.

That was pretty inspirational to the 110 staff members from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who volunteered at the Special Olympics.

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And the Winner is … Streetlights, for Applying Big Data to Community Health

Jan 15, 2014, 12:41 PM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Cropped Streetlight project

Big data, the buzzword of choice these days in information technology, holds the promise of transforming health care as programmers and policy-makers figure out how to mine trillions of ones and zeros for information about the best (and worst) health practices, disease and lifestyle trends, interconnections, and insights. The problem is, where to start? To jump start the process, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation joined in a Knight News Challenge: Health and issued its own call to developers to come up with innovative ways to combine public health and health care data, with a $50,000 prize to the best idea.

The results are in. When the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners of its News Challenge for ideas focused on unlocking the power of health data on January 15—you can see the list here—we also announced the winner of our companion prize for the best entries who combined public health data with data from health care to improve the health of communities. Our first place winner is the Streetlights Project from Chicago.

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Leveraging the Power of Design and Design Thinking for Public Health

Oct 8, 2013, 10:00 AM, Posted by Matthew Trowbridge

AIGA UVA Design

It is increasingly clear that solutions for our most pressing and challenging public health issues will ultimately hinge on designing environments that encourage healthy behavior choices by making them more available, economical, and enjoyable.

Traditional public health approaches are not perfectly suited to this task. For example, epidemiological studies allow us to measure the association between environmental design features such as parks or sidewalks and walking behavior, but these experimental data are generally insufficient to be either actionable by decision-makers or effective in prompting behavior change. As Jeff Speck, urban planner and theorist, observes in his recent book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time:

The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability. Under the right conditions, this creature thrives and multiplies. But creating those conditions requires attention to a broad range of criteria, some more easily satisfied than others.”

Public health must improve its ability to develop multi-dimensional interventions to more successfully provide environments and experiences that encourage positive health outcomes.  Put another way, public health must develop its capacity for design thinking.

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