While many problems can be solved with big data and technology, many community issues can be resolved with simple collaborative solutions. Nesta, an independent charity in the United Kingdom that provides investments, grants and assistance in mobilizing research, networks and skills to individuals and organizations with early stage innovative social venture projects, identified a plethora of issues surrounding individuals with long-term health conditions. As the population gets older and struggles with conditions manageable and preventable by lifestyle, establishing community and or neighborhood-centered support systems may be the future of health education and planning.
Nesta’s People Powered Health Program is supporting peer network solutions to supplement traditional health services for individuals with long-term health conditions. My favorite example of a People Powered Health Approach is the innovation that connects newly diagnosed individuals with a neighbor in their community that has the condition under control and can support the newly diagnosed person in doing the same. This is an example of empowering people through enabling them to use their skills to serve and assist members of their local community in ways that are essential to maintaining good health and sustaining a positive quality of life. While technology can certainly enhance connecting neighbors through the use of GPS, the program can just as easily connect (especially older) individuals through more traditional means such as advertisements in local community centers and via referral/recommendation from doctors and other health professionals.
Peer networking solutions will enable community members to create relationships that successfully address the issues that plague their locale. In the case of the health system, specifically addressing long-term conditions, there is a gap after being diagnosed and advised on how to tackle and control the condition. Adding another layer to the health or social service system will simply make it more expensive. Peer networks are an alternative platform for meeting individual needs in an informal way, which simultaneously builds neighborhood trust, interaction, and inadvertently, civic engagement.