Posted November 10, 2011
A simple step—making data available about what is already being done—is a game-changer for health initiatives
By Leah Ralph
Last week marked a critical step forward for local health projects across the country with the launch of Advancing the Movement’s Community Commons, an interactive website that uses contextualized mapping to display information about hundreds of community initiatives that are working to create healthy, sustainable communities throughout the United States. Using over 7,000 GIS data layers, the complete map is still being built out and will ultimately provide access to a wealth of information about a variety of initiatives both big and small, locally and nationwide.
This innovative platform provides a space for projects, regardless of their funding source, to interact for the first time; groups are encouraged to explore interests and challenges, share resources and best practices, and highlight innovative leadership, all in an effort to better understand colleagues’ work and realize fiscal and programmatic potential. This seemingly simple step—making information available about what is already being done—provides the tools and access to be an effective game-changer for place-based initiatives, significantly broadening their reach and sustaining their impact.
Unlocking data to maximize social reform is a powerful tool, and an emerging theme in a world of changing health systems and fiscal uncertainty. Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is spearheading the Department’s Health Data Initiative, a major new public-private effort to make HHS health data sets free and accessible to the public. Bringing together the data suppliers (HHS) and those who utilize the data to create applications, HHS aims to raise awareness about community health performance and help facilitate and inform action—both federal and local—to improve outcomes. This is already being done successfully on the federal level at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who regularly releases a rich supply of high quality weather data, which is then picked up by data users who turn the information into useful services like weather websites and applications. According to Park, HHS strives to be the “NOAA of community health.”
Both Community Commons and the Health Data Initiative represent exciting advancements in the world of data-sharing and collaboration. These projects demonstrate the power of the data itself, the technological innovation that makes it widely available and user-friendly, and their combined ability to galvanize individuals and organizations in the public and private sectors. Such efforts have great potential to positively affect the long-term trajectory of our population’s health. In this rapidly changing field, full of innovation and promising developments, BPC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative is particularly excited to highlight these powerful examples of effective collaboration in pursuit of a common goal.
Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative