Crowdsourcing for Government: Turning Crowds into Communities

Jul 28

Over the past week, I helped world renowned scientists from Carnegie Mellon University discover new ways to fold RNA molecules, adding to their understanding of RNA’s biological activity and contributing to the storehouse of knowledge that may eventually shed light on the origins of life. What did you do?

I did this playing an online video game (in my spare time) called EteRNA, which I learned about at Crowdsourcing: The Art and Science of Open Innovation – an event held at the NIH last week. The video game harnesses the wisdom and enthusiasm of amateur biologists by asking them to compete against each other to create the best synthetic RNA molecule designs. Players are rewarded with increased rankings and bragging rights. Top designs are chosen weekly and the molecules are actually synthesized by scientists at Stanford and scored based on their ability to function properly in real life environments. The EteRNA community’s collective effort could have significant medical and scientific applications.

According to research lead Dr. Adrien Treuille, the success of the game was built largely upon the enthusiasm and connectedness of the community of gamers, not just their collective brainpower.  They chat, talk trash, share ideas and best practices on forums, contribute to the visibility of the University and its RNA research, and are “part of the RNA revolution”. Without the ongoing engagement of the community, Treuille’s research would not be as successful (he acknowledged this last year by crediting his players as a contributing author in a peer-reviewed article in Nature). Read the rest of this entry »

The Intersection of Cause Involvement and Behavior Change

Jul 16

When designing interventions for behavior change, the first things that usually come to mind are how to remove the barriers to action, how to increase self-efficacy, or even if the external conditions are favorable for the adoption of the desired behavior. Not often do we consider that involvement in causes can actually trigger individual behavior changes.

However, new findings from the Dynamics of Cause Engagement study revealed that more than half of Americans say they have changed their behavior because of their involvement in a cause.

Voting is the number one behavior change triggered by cause involvement across all ages, ethnicities and genders. Environmentally conscious actions (e.g., changing recycling habits, becoming more energy efficient) are also near the top of the list, while health-related behaviors (e.g., visiting a medical professional, requesting a specific medical test) fall lower.

Our study also found interesting differences by ethnicity and gender when it comes to cause-driven behavior change. While Caucasians are more likely to report changes in environmentally conscious behavior, African Americans are more likely to have visited a doctor or medical professional as a result of their involvement in a cause. Women are significantly more likely than men to say they have changed their behavior due to cause involvement (55% vs. 48%), including environmentally conscious actions and health-related behaviors.

These results were presented for the first time at the 21st Annual Social Marketing in Public Health Conference.

During the presentation, we suggested some strategies to motive behavior change through cause involvement. We also shared some real-life examples of how practitioners are applying these strategies.

Here is a sneak preview of the strategies:

1. Provide multiple touch points for support expression

2. Motivate story sharing

3. Reinforce a sense of community

4. Empower supporters

5. Foster an emotional connection

To download the full presentation click here.

Surprised by the findings?  Please share your thoughts.

For more information on the study, click here and stay tuned for the upcoming release of the final report.

Big Words / Little Understanding – Scientists need to learn the art of public speaking

Jul 01

I love words and growing up I loved learning and using new words – strange and different words that most people didn’t know and certainly didn’t use. It helped that I had four older brothers all attending college while I was still in grammar and middle school. Using big words – 50 cent words as neighbors would call them – impressed and made me look smart. But when honing my skills as a journalist I realized that if the goal was reaching and affecting people, big words were more often a barrier than a conduit (especially in broadcast news).

By and large, most scientists are still very much in love with the words of their profession. And why shouldn’t they be? They spent a lot of time, money and energy learning those words – the ones that precisely express what they are trying to say. Unfortunately, the rest of the public have no idea what they’re saying and therein lies the rub.

College president Barry Glassner recently wrote in USA Today that while the public does have a science literacy problem, scientists need to be more “publicly literate.” He ticks off a list of things that science has failed to communicate very well. First on that list is global warming. Sharon Begley has also written about this in Newsweek and sums it up in one declarative sentence, “scientists are lousy communicators.”

After having spent a couple of decades wrangling soundbites from some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, I now spend much of my time helping scientists speak more simply before they get in front of an audience.

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, didn’t need much help from me when I first interviewed him for CNN more than 15 years ago and he didn’t need much help from me when I helped him put together this recent video on the NIH’s Strategic Plan on Obesity.

He uses common phrases such as “short list” and “wagging fingers at people.” He uses a different intonation when he paraphrases the critics who say, “well, you know, it’s just because people eat too much and don’t get enough exercise.” He’s not afraid to admit that clinical trial results have to be tested in the “real world” and to use every day phrases such as “heart attacks” rather than the jargon “cardiac events.” I like him because he describes things as “truly frightening!”

Having Dr. Collins at the head of NIH shows scientists everywhere the value of learning how to communication effectively – using less big words that will ultimately promote, not compromise, good science to the public.

What Drives Human Behavior…And How Can We Harness That?

Jun 30

The 100 plus attendees engaged in spirited discussion with Piyush Tantia, one of the foremost experts in behavioral economics, attests to the overwhelming success of Ogilvy Washington’s What Drives Human Behavior Exchange. Mr. Tantia translated academic, often cerebral theories on behavioral economics into a set of application-driven insights easily grasped by the PR, government, and media professionals gathered on Wednesday morning. His hour long presentation was interactive and thought provoking, challenging the audience to question long held ‘givens’ and form new reality based insights.

Traditional View: All humans are rational.

Really…

The assembled crowd laughed and nodded in agreement because all could recall a time when they had made the less rationale choice. Tantia pointed to 4 reasons why we sometimes behave ‘irrationally’. Read the rest of this entry »

Ogilvy Washington Takes on CSR Initiative Offering Training to Local Nonprofits

Jun 30

Today, Ogilvy Washington will launch OgilvyConnect, a program to provide communications training to community-based nonprofits serving the National Capital region. Led by rising leaders at Ogilvy Washington, the program’s curriculum will offer communications knowledge, tools, and resources to help these organizations better fulfill their missions.  

Inspired to give back to the DC community, Ogilvy Washington believes that the program will help unite Washington, divided by disparate proportions of wealth and resources.

La Clínica del Pueblo, which provides health services to the DC Latino population regardless of ability to pay, is one of the 21 groups selected to participate in the program. Looking for counsel on how to engage individuals and businesses who can impact their success, Viviana Knowles, Chief Development Officer for the organization, says, “We are thrilled to be part of this innovative program and look forward to implementing what we learn into our communications planning.”

Ogilvy invited select groups to apply earlier this year, and received an overwhelming response. After careful consideration, 21 nonprofit groups were been selected to attend OgilvyConnect’s 2011 inaugural program, including groups that focus on youth engagement, women’s services, hunger, environmental protection, and minority empowerment.

Based upon research conducted with membership and grantee organizations that serve these nonprofit groups as well as others—Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Venture Philanthropy Partners, and Nonprofit Roundtable—the founders of OgilvyConnect have developed a curriculum that will be delivered in four sessions annually.  It will guide groups through key steps in building successful communications programs. The program will feature presentations from experts in and outside the office and will provide an opportunity for nonprofits to learn from the day-to-day work of Ogilvy.

“Since opening our doors 30 years ago, Ogilvy Washington has done pro bono work for local nonprofits. However, we’ve never had a program that trains nonprofit leaders in communications for sustained success,” said Robert Mathias, president of Ogilvy Washington.    “OgilvyConnect allows the local community-based nonprofit groups participating to take what they learn here and apply it for years to come.”

Ogilvy to Host Harvard Behavioral Economics Expert on June 29 to Discuss What Drives Human Behavior

Jun 23

When you’re facing a decision, does the way in which a product is positioned or a question is phrased influence your answer? Proponents of behavioral economics would say yes, resoundingly.

Take this example from a study that examined the rate at which people opted to donate their organs in different countries. In some countries the rate was more than 90 percent, while in other countries it was around 20 percent or less, and there was no in between. Why? Turns out it wasn’t a cultural difference (countries thought to be culturally similar showed widely different behavior), but instead the way the question was worded on the registration form. In countries with high organ donation rates, people are opted in by default and must check a box to opt out. In countries with low rates, people must check a box to donate their organs. Some would say the decision was practically made for the respondents based on how it was positioned.

This is just one example from the field of behavioral economics, which has earned praise and criticism alike. Supporters tout an insightful new way to analyze and predict consumer decisions based on how people really behave; critics say it’s simply a repackaging of consumer behavior theory. Nonetheless, behavioral economics blends psychology and economics to ask questions important for marketing, policy development, and other efforts: why do people so often make decisions that run counter to their own best interests? How do emotions and social forces influence those choices? How do individual decisions ultimately affect the marketplace and society? Most important, behavioral economics offers creative ways to apply these behavioral insights in the hopes of developing more beneficial programs and outcomes.

Join us next Wednesday, June 29 to hear from guest speaker Piyush Tantia, the Executive Director of Ideas42, a non-profit behavioral economics R&D lab housed at Harvard University. As a leader of domestic and international financial design projects, Piyush works closely with leading academics from Harvard, MIT, and Princeton to apply cutting-edge behavioral economics research to improve the design and delivery of financial products with the goal of maximizing social impact. Since early 2009, Piyush has been leading a series of projects applying behavioral insights to foreclosure mitigation.

Click here to RSVP for this event. If you can’t join us on June 29, post your questions as comments here, and we’ll share them with Piyush on Wednesday.

Cartoon from “Behavioral Economics, Strategy and Our Hidden Side” blog

The National Prevention Strategy: A Piece of the Recovery Pie?

Jun 17

We, as Americans, find ourselves living in a time of astounding debt– $14.3 trillion to be exact. Many Americans are worried about their own financial future and freedom as well as the fiscal outlook of our country. As the Administration scrambles to find a solution, parties are further divided over the ‘best’ way to help our country absolve its debt and restore the American dream.

I was struck yesterday by the words of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) during remarks he gave at the unveiling of the first ever National Prevention Strategy by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As he talked candidly about transforming our current “sick care system” (where we invest in health only after diagnosed with serious or chronic illness) to a health care system (focused on prevention) he quoted figures illuminating just how backwards our investments in health care have been. Each year, the U.S. spends more than $2 trillion dollars on health care, but we only invest 4 cents (per every dollar spent on health care) on prevention. He continued that every dollar invested in prevention could save $6 dollars in health care costs. Now that’s a substantial ROI.

Against the backdrop of the current financial crisis, could an investment in prevention be part of our debt solution? A piece of the recovery pie. In light of these figures and the alarming rate of preventable chronic disease, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin outlined HHS’s four pronged approach for investing in prevention and creating a healthier nation. My colleague Maria James details the national plan in her post, but in my opinion, it’s a sound investment of public resources – creating healthier communities, preventing chronic and life-limiting disease, and reducing the fiscal burden of our current health care system on the economy.

As our policymakers look for new, innovative strategies to help our country crawl out of this seemingly black hole of debt, Senator Harkin, his left-wing colleagues, and health economists, who have been preaching prevention for years, may be on to something. I’m anxious to see how HHS and its peer agencies rollout this plan at the community level, and if its local programs do, over time, solicit healthy behavior changes and generate cost-savings at the national level. This unprecedented, holistic approach to improving the nation’s health is a step in the right direction for not only our waistlines, but potentially our wallets as well.

Surgeon General Unveils National Prevention Strategy

Jun 17

I can only recall a few moments in my life (so far) where I stood in awe at the realization that I’d just witnessed history in the making. Thursday was one of those moments. Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin led a press conference to announce the first National Prevention Strategy.

The National Prevention Council, comprised of 17 Federal agencies and chaired by the Surgeon General, developed the National Prevention Strategy with input from stakeholders, the public, and the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.

This new national strategy aims to reduce leading causes of death and illness, such as smoking, bad eating habits and drug abuse. By focusing on prevention, the National Prevention Strategy plans to help Americans stay healthy and fit.

The goal is to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. The Strategy’s four Strategic Directions and seven Priorities include evidence-based recommendations fundamental to improving the nation’s health. Implementation of the Strategy will include public and private partners working together at the national, state, tribal, local, and territorial levels.

During the press conference, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), a major supporter of the strategy, said as a nation, we spend more than $2 trillion on health care each year, but we only invest 4 cents on every dollar on prevention. For every dollar invested in prevention, we would save $6.

Harkin said its time we move from a “sick care” system to a health care system. The idea of shifting our health consciousness away from sickness and disease and towards prevention and wellness was the theme for the moment.

The goal of creating a healthier America isn’t a new concept. For years, federal, national and local partners have independently and jointly come together to educate about the benefits of healthy living. Turn on the television and you will see the increasing number of reality shows focusing on weight-loss and overall mental and physical well-being. While this strategy was created by the government, ultimately the success of this strategy must come from the adoption of its four Strategic Directions and seven Priority areas by everyone – both government and private sector alike.

What was do you think the National Prevention Strategy will mean to the future of health and wellness in America? And, what does it mean to you?

Personal Communication Still Drives Word of Mouth on Causes

Jun 15

Quiz of the day: What is the most typical way in which people tell others about social issues and causes they want them to get involved with?

a)      In person

b)      Over the phone

c)       Via text messages

d)      Via social networking messages and invites

e)      Via personal emails or email forwards

The answer: a) in person!

New findings from the Dynamics of Cause Engagement study show that nearly two-thirds of Americans (62%) report that being told in person is the way they are typically informed about causes others want them to be involved with.

These offline conversations about causes are the most prominent across generations. Even younger Americans, generations Y (ages 18 to 29) and X (ages 30 to 45) report this face-to-face engagement –56% and 59%, respectively.

Our study also found that, while generations Y and X are more likely than older Americans to use social media to learn about causes, family, friends and TV news programs still remain their top sources of information.

Social media promotional activities such as joining a cause group or contributing to a blog are also not on the top of the list of ways younger Americans engage with causes.  Rather, the more historically prominent types of engagement including donating, learning more about the cause and volunteering remain the most often ways the ways generations Y and X get involved with causes.

 

Does it mean that younger Americans don’t believe in the power of social media to support causes?  No!

Nearly seven in 10 Americans age 18-29 believe that online networking sites help increase the visibility of social issues and allow people to support causes more easily. More than half (55%) also affirm that social media help them get the word out about causes.

 

These findings suggest that, despite the growing popularity of social media tools and their great potential to engage supporters – particularly the younger ones—the “traditional” forms of learning and talking about social issues and engaging with causes remain extremely relevant.

Want to learn more about how the different generations learn about and engage with causes? Click here and download the full release.

How Social Media Can Be Used As An Epidemiology Tool

Jun 14

Social media, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and location-based services like Foursquare, are forever changing the way epidemiologists discover, track, and study the spread of disease. Instead of waiting for health authorities to investigate an outbreak and not report on results for weeks or even months, victims from all over the world are coming together and using social media to compare symptoms, attempt to determine the origin, and arrive at a diagnosis.

An article in today’s New York Times explores this new trend, discussing how new technology is “democratizing the disease-hunting process, upsetting the old equilibrium by connecting people through channels effectively outside government control.” While there is a downside to online discussion of the spread of disease, including spreading fear and misinformation about causes and cures, many epidemiologists are seeing the new trend of using social media as a positive tool.

Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, Deputy Director for Information Science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, stating that because “SARS probably can travel at the speed of an airliner from continent to continent in a matter of hours, it just makes perfect sense to adapt the speed and flexibility of social networking to disease surveillance.”

The Pew Internet and Life Project’s The Social Life of Health Information survey released last month (see my previous post) showed that online resources, including advice from peers, serve as a significant source of health information in the U.S. This survey is the first time anyone has reported, in a national consumer survey, how consumers are using the Internet for self-tracking of their health. Health issues such as questions about a specific disease, food recall, and environmental hazard were searched online by 80% of internet users, or about 59% of the U.S. population the survey showed.

People’s communications about health events, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, or blogs, can provide valuable information to researchers that can be processed using modern tools and extract key elements to help predict disease outbreaks.

However, there are skeptics who argue that the new social media methods only provide the illusion of better disease tracking. Not everyone uses social media, so in reality, how representative can it be? While using social media to predict disease and virus outbreaks, such as the flu, may only have modest results at best, social media can compliment traditional surveillance of disease and serve as an important tool in the case of new and emerging diseases, or in instances where little or no historical data exists.

Interested in tracking or reporting outbreaks? A mobile app called Outbreaks Near Me, which has been downloaded by over 100,000 people, allows users to rely on global positioning to help them avoid infectious hazards, and report new ones from smartphones.