What is a Pioneering Idea?

Sep 17, 2012, 3:09 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

As we re-launch the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s website and the Pioneering Ideas blog, it is a good time to pause and take stock of Pioneer’s role--and, a question we get asked often: What is a pioneering idea?

Most of what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation does is sharply focused on four targeted issues—childhood obesity, the quality and equality of health care, public health, and access to health care insurance—and two critical population groups—vulnerable populations and human capital.

The Pioneer Portfolio has a unique, but complementary, mandate. We seek to identify and explore new ideas and approaches that help shape the future of health and health care. We are dedicated to finding the next new idea – whether it is a game-changer that accelerates a breakthrough or an initial exploration into a new area. So what makes the cut? Why do we fund the ideas we do, and where do we go to find them?

Pioneer is the only portfolio that accepts unsolicited proposals. We like to say we are “open for business.” We are always looking for the next big—or small—idea with the potential to transform health and health care.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll fund every good idea that comes in. We carefully nurture a set of conditions that make it possible to find and support new ideas, and we try to be as precise and intentional as possible about those we select.

We don’t need to turn a profit, so we can invest in innovation at many different stages—not just with dollars, but also in shaping the vision and strategy, in convening sectors to shift thinking, in cross-pollinating fields, and in taking risks by investing in early ideas.

Some of our grants examine how to effectively identify emerging approaches and ideas. They enable us to evaluate new spaces for potential.

Some are early investigations. These are grants we think have potential—but we need to see more before we invest heavily in them.

Some we fund because we believe they have the potential to produce breakthroughs that will be important to the future of health and health care. To this end, we make grants around common themes, such as the role games on virtual platforms can play in health and health care.

And some grants we believe have the potential—in and of themselves—to create transformational change. Project ECHO is one of these—a disruptive model of health care delivery based on collaborative practice that is changing how primary care providers can treat very sick patients who previously did not have access to specialty care. This type of grant has historically been seen as Pioneer’s core product, but it has become clear that these breakthrough ideas often emerge from our initial explorations into new areas.

In short, we believe a pioneering idea can come from anywhere, and anyone. And that is where you come in. On this blog, we hope to both explore and celebrate the solutions that look to tomorrow to drive change today. We will share some of the innovations we’ve been privileged to be a part of, talk about where we want to go and invite to you to join the conversation. We hope you’ll join us and share some of your own pioneering ideas, by commenting or tweeting to @pioneerrwjf. We’re listening!

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.