Recently I had the privileged opportunity to sit down with Paul Tarini, Team Director of the Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Portfolio aims to “support innovators whose bold ideas push beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care”. I wanted to get some feedback from Paul because of the subject of competition for public health innovation that has been swirling in my head for the past few months – especially after writing a post on it several months ago. The main issue at hand here is that we are living in a time where information is plentiful, interaction is a must and new ideas are being generated all the time. The question is – how many of those ideas can be turned into something useful and in this case, useful for the improvement of our health.
During our discussion, Paul brought up great points on the value and benefits associated with prize/competition based innovation. Apart from the overarching goal to determine solutions to big problems, here are a few more points:
- Provides an avenue for actionable change
- Allows voices and ideas from other fields (in this case, other than health folks)
- Identifies the people who can be tapped in the future for additional innovative activities
Another one of the things that Paul and I discussed was the pitfalls that these ‘competitions for good’, especially in the health world, can experience. Although equipped with good intentions, when an individual or organization sits down to think of the roadmap toward innovation, having a destination is of vital importance. Just like any other strategy, without having an understanding of where you want to end up, what happens in between may ultimately become irrelevant. So it is with creating a competition that does not have a specific goal for what it will accomplish. Will it create a sustainable network of collaborators afterward or will it merely hand money to an individual or project? Also, throughout the planning process – what measurable goals will you create? A fantastic post was written on the Pioneering Ideas blog by Bob Hughes analyzing the successful determinants of prize philanthropy – which in my opinion contains required reading for those interested in the subject matter.
Finally, Paul and the other team members in the Pioneer Portfolio know a thing or two about competition to drive innovation. In the past they have partnered with several great organizations including HopeLab, Ashoka’s Changemakers and even the X Prize Foundation (which was specifically for healthcare). Paul and the team are looking forward to taking part in more smart competitions that will make a difference in the health innovation world. I think it’s an understatement to say that I am also eagerly awaiting their next initiative!
I really want to thank Paul for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about what Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is doing with their Pioneer Portfolio, specifically in regard to the merit of competition and innovation.
Here is a quick video of Paul discussing RWJF’s ‘Blank Check‘ series: