Online Competition Searches for 'Nudges' That Can Lead to Better Health

    • February 8, 2009

The Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Ashoka’s Changemakers have launched a global search for individuals and institutions who help people make healthier choices for themselves and others.  The “Designing for Better Health” competition will use the unique, open-source online competition model developed by Changemakers to find “nudges” – innovative  little pushes that help people make better decisions. The competition, which accepts entries through April 1, 2009, expects to attract innovative individuals and institutions that have created environments that make it easier for people to make decisions that can improve their health.

These “nudges” can come from anywhere: the cafeteria worker who arranges school lunches in such a way that children naturally gravitate toward selecting fruit and other healthy foods, as opposed to unhealthy options; the health plan that provides “vitality bucks,” an alternative currency that allows people to earn shopping and travel rewards every time they complete healthy activities such as preventive screenings or fitness assessments; or an anti-smoking and asset-building campaign that offers smokers wanting to quit the option to invest the money they would normally spend on cigarettes in a savings account.

“Sometimes what makes the difference in the decisions we make are the nudges we get.  We hope that the ‘Designing for Better Health’ competition will spotlight innovative and effective approaches that make it easier for people to make better choices that can have a dramatic impact on their health, or the health of others,” said Paul Tarini, M.A., team director for RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio. “We are pleased to be able to partner again with Changemakers because their global platform allows us to reach innovators not only across the US but also around the world.”

Inspired by the influential book Nudge, written by behavioral economics experts Cass R. Sunstein, J.D. and Richard Thaler, Ph.D., the “Designing for Better Health” competition was developed in consultation with Thaler.  This is the fourth in a series of competitions co-sponsored by the Pioneer Portfolio and Changemakers.  Through April 1, 2009 entrants can post their ideas on the Changemakers site, where a global network of social entrepreneurs gather and provide feedback and comments that the whole community can review. 

A panel of judges – including Tarini, Brian Wansink, M.S., Ph.D., John Dyson Professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Carrie Chen, M.D., M.S.ed, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, Wellington Nogueira Santos, founder of Doctores de Alegria and Jose Gomez-Marquez, program director, Innovations in International Health @MIT – will narrow the entry pool to 10 to 15 finalists. The global Changemakers community will then vote for three winners, who will each receive a $5,000 award from Changemakers.

In addition, RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio will review competition entries to identify ideas that show potential for far-reaching impact on health and health care in the United States; particularly promising innovations may receive additional support from RWJF at a later date.

 “The competition is driven by the Changemakers community through the sharing of ideas, nomination, digital voting and blogging, making it organic and relevant to innovators and enthusiasts worldwide,” said Charlie Brown, Changemakers’ executive director. “Changemakers is excited about this opportunity that is open to all to discover new innovations in designing and nudging choices for better health.”

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. The Foundation’s supports innovative ideas and projects that may trigger important breakthroughs in health and health care. Projects in the Pioneer Portfolio are typically future-oriented and look beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves.

When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit

Changemakers is an initiative of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Changemakers focuses on the rapidly growing world of social innovation. It provides solutions and resources needed to help everyone become a changemaker and presents compelling stories that explore the fundamental principles of successful social innovation around the world. Changemakers is building the world's first global online "open source" community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole. For details on the competition, visit