Pioneering Ideas

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As our current reality underscores, the way we live, learn, work, and play is continually changing, shaped by new technologies, scientific discoveries, societal trends, and other unforeseen events. What can we do today to create a healthier, more equitable future?

Influencing the Future of Health

The future we want isn’t going to simply arrive, we have to create it.

Fifteen years ago, it was hard to fathom how certain innovations would trigger such fundamental changes to the way we live today. The gig economy, smartphones, video chats, bots, behavioral economics, solar storage, eSports scholarships, YouTube influencers, the sharing economy, and more, were either nonexistent or in their nascent form.

Now, especially given our current reality, imagine what the world might look like in the next 15 years: What shifts might we see in where and how we live, learn, work, and play? What dramatic changes to our society might the COVID-19 pandemic drive? How will these changes impact individual health, the health of our families, and the health of our communities?

Our Pioneering Ideas for an Equitable Future team is charged with exploring cutting-edge ideas and emerging trends to help anticipate, adapt to, and influence this evolving landscape to ensure a better future.

Focusing on Four Futures

While we are always on the lookout for any new signals, trends, or pioneering ideas that could help us anticipate and influence the future, we’re currently paying special attention to four areas we believe will have a significant impact on our ability to live our healthiest lives.

Imagine these four equitable futures:

  • The Future of Food... where all have access to food that is healthier for our families, our workers, and our planet.

  • The Future of Social Interaction... where we have found healthier ways to connect with one another, regardless of the beliefs we hold or the technologies we use.

  • The Future of Work... where all jobs, in every way possible, support our efforts to live our healthiest lives. Learn more >

  • The Future of Evidence... where trusted information is collected, shared, and used ethically and equitably to advance well-being. Learn more >

To help us explore and influence these futures, we work with pioneering scientists, anthropologists, engineers, artists, and other creative thinkers across the nation who are doing cutting-edge work both inside and outside of health. It is through their ingenuity that we will harness emerging trends to accelerate our progress toward a Culture of Health, and curb threats to advancing health equity.

For more background on these four futures and why we are focusing on them now, we encourage you to read our Pioneering Ideas: Exploring the Future to Build a Culture of Health call for proposals.

See some of our Pioneering Ideas explorations in these and others areas below, and get a sense of how our grantees are taking different approaches to influencing the future.

Learn more

Do you have a Pioneering Idea?

We’re always looking for ideas to help us achieve health equity and build a Culture of Health. Our Pioneering Ideas: Exploring the Future to Build a Culture of Health call for proposals seeks applications from visionary thinkers across the nation who are doing cutting-edge work.

Lori Melichar

Lori Melichar, RWJF senior director, leads the Pioneering Ideas for an Equitable Future team in discovering, exploring, and learning from emerging trends and cutting-edge ideas to advance health equity.

Jessica Clark

Meet RWJF’s 2022 Futurist-in-Residence, Jessica Clark, founder of Dot Connector Studio. As a media futurist who connects ideas across art, technology and politics, she’s helping us explore the relationship between media and health equity.

Featured Pioneering Ideas

Upend Cultural Practices

From low wages to non-existent benefits, domestic workers are often treated differently than other workers. The Good Work Code offers employers of home care and other gig economy workers a guide to treat them more equitably: fair pay, stable hours, safe working conditions, and respect. National Domestic Workers Alliance developed the code to provide a framework for both employers and workers to create good work.

Read the blog post

Expand Our Thinking

There are many ways to measure equity, but have you ever considered noise equity? Research shows that unwanted sound can trigger stress, contribute to cardiovascular-related hospital admissions, and impact health in other ways. The Community Noise Lab created the sound-tracking app, NoiseScore, that lets people measure neighborhood noise by creating sound portraits and noise heat maps. Armed with this data, residents develop action plans to combat noise issues.

Listen to the podcast

Challenge Assumptions

Many assume groupthink leads to bad judgment, and the last place you want bad judgment is in medicine. However, researchers at University of Pennsylvania's Network Dynamics Group are making startling discoveries about how to better solicit input from groups. For example, crowdsourcing using egalitarian networks might improve medical decision-making and reduce implicit bias in physicians' clinical judgment.

Watch the video

Offer New Perspectives

Nurses are natural problem solvers working on the front lines of care, but their ingenuity is often overlooked. MakerNurse examined nurse innovation in the United States, identified what nurses need to bring more of their ideas to fruition, and then opened the first-ever hospital makerspace, giving nurses 3D printers, laser cutters, and other tools to prototype and make medical devices that improve the patient experience.

Read the blog post

Harness Emerging Trends

Internet bots have been used by corporations and advocates to influence consumer behavior and sway public opinion. Researchers at Yale’s Human Nature Lab are exploring whether these same technologies could promote collaboration, compassion, and other prosocial behaviors in online communities and in real-life work groups. Can chatbots and robots that admit mistakes help humans be more open with each other?

Learn more

Apply Ideas from Other Fields

Why is it we can easily remember the novel we read last summer but can’t recall the issue brief we came across last week? Take Us to a Better Place, a collection of 10 short stories published by RWJF, uses the power of fiction to help readers imagine possible pathways to a Culture of Health—that “better place” found in the title of the collection.

Download the free ebook

Explore More Pioneering Ideas

Pioneering Ideas Podcast

Pioneering Ideas is a podcast for people interested in exploring cutting-edge ideas and emerging trends. We seek to inspire new thinking, spark “aha! moments,” and cultivate rich, ongoing conversations. Explore past episodes where we talk with visionary thinkers inside and outside of healthcare, and discover together new ways to build a Culture of Health.


Share Your Hunch

Rarely do ideas pop fully formed into our heads. If you have a suspicion, an inkling, or a hunch for how we can improve health and well-being, share it with us! When we share our hunches, they evolve and get stronger as they collide with the hunches of others, and spark new insights and ideas. Watch a video to learn more.

Share Your Hunch