The Green House Project, a breakthrough solution to caring for aging Americans, illustrates what it takes to take an idea mainstream.
The Green House Project has been called the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) signature example of bringing game-changing ideas to scale. It started with an idea 12 years ago for a housing and skilled-nursing care environment that could provide a better, warmer, and more dignified alternative to traditional nursing home facilities for frail elders. Today, there are 137 Green House homes in 22 states across the U.S., with many more in development.
In a Green House home, elders live in a specially designed home where they have private rooms, set their own schedules, share socializing and meals, and receive the nursing care they need while maintaining their freedom and dignity.
Jane Isaacs Lowe, Vulnerable Populations team director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), uses the case of The Green House Project to explain the team’s strategy. Starting small, RWJF tests innovative models that can effect fundamental change and be applied on a wide scale. She explains the process of identifying compelling ideas, testing a model's capacity to replicate in a sustainable way, and rigorously evaluating progress and adjusting course as needed to fundamentally grow an approach like the Green House Project to scale.
Among the lessons learned from The Green House Project:
- Too rigid a model inhibits adoption and spread.
- Foundations should leverage funding by engaging partners.
- The “market” needs to change so innovators can more easily find funding.
While these lessons are starting to be applied widely, Lowe believes that “when it comes to nurturing social innovation and bringing effective solutions to where they are needed most, this is the dawn of a new era.”