Steve Downs is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s chief technology and strategy officer. In this role, he focuses on the practice of program strategy and on the alignment of the Foundation’s technology strategy and operations with its organizational directions. RWJF’s pursuit of a Culture of Health requires an approach to strategy that is highly flexible and adaptive. In his current role, Downs works with his colleagues to institutionalize an approach to program strategy that is based on the integration of learning, co-creation, and reflection into the processes of strategy development and ongoing strategy assessment and adaptation.
Since being appointed chief technology and information officer in 2011, Downs’ goal has been to ensure that RWJF staff have the resources they need to practice philanthropy at the highest level. He has emphasized technology directions—namely mobility and social CRM—that encourage informal knowledge-sharing, data-informed decision-making, and peer-to-peer engagement.
Since joining RWJF in 2002, Downs’ career at RWJF has proceeded along two parallel paths: management and programming. Along his management path, he served as the first team leader of the RWJF Pioneer portfolio, helping to shape the portfolio’s direction and initial body of work. From 2007 to 2011, Downs served as the assistant vice president of the Health Group. In this position, he worked with the senior vice president of the Health Group to oversee the Foundation’s strategies and investments in the areas of childhood obesity, public health, tobacco control, and support for vulnerable populations. He also played a key role in helping to shape and articulate the Foundation’s vision for transitioning to a “Web 2.0” philanthropy, one based on values of openness, participation, and decentralization.
Starting as a senior program officer, Downs has focused most of his programming efforts on bringing the benefits of health IT to the mission of improving health and health care. He developed and supported work in public health informatics, including the creation of the Public Health Informatics Institute and the Common Ground program. In recent years, he has focused on how consumer technologies can be leveraged to better engage patients and improve their care. He co-developed Project HealthDesign, a program that challenges conventional notions of personal health records; supported the OpenNotes project, which opens up physicians’ notes to their patients; and has been working on an exploration of how researchers could use self-tracking data to identify health patterns in everyday life.
Over the years, Downs has contributed to numerous blogs. His posts have appeared on RWJF’s blog, The Health Care Blog, the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets blog, Philantopic, and The Huffington Post.
Before coming to the Foundation, Downs served as director of the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), a U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration initiative that promoted the widespread availability and use of digital network technologies in the public and nonprofit sectors to provide better education, health care, public safety, and other social services. During his eight-year tenure with TOP, the agency provided more than 600 matching grants to state, local, and tribal governments; health care providers; schools; libraries; police departments; and community-based nonprofit organizations.
Having begun his career in telecommunications in the private sector, Downs was also a former research fellow of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, he was inducted into the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI), which serves as the voice of the nation’s top biomedical and health informatics professionals and encourages the use of data, information, and knowledge to improve both human health and delivery of health care services.
Born in New Hampshire, Downs earned an SM in technology and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BS in physics and applied physics from Yale University. He and his wife Janet Estes reside in Princeton and have two children.