Advancing Quickly at a Glacial Pace … and More Musings as Stewards’ 11th Annual Symposium Begins

The world in which Stewards of Change Institute operates – populated by concepts like information-sharing, interoperability, social determinants of health and, most recently, cognitive computing – is changing fast. I know that because I’ve watched the change happen, ever so slowly, for over a decade.

Fast and slow simultaneously? Absolutely. The technology and much of the knowledge necessary to make real progress in health and human services (and beyond) are the components that have been advancing at extraordinary speed, while the decision-making and implementation processes needed to utilize those tools have too often moved, shall we say, not so quickly. There are signs, however, that the tortoise may be catching up to the hare. And that’s a very good thing, because there are big problems out there to solve, and it’s long past time that we figure out ways to resolve the privacy, resource and attitudinal issues that prevent us from using the resources available to address them.

All of which brings me to the Stewards’ 11th Annual National Symposium, which begins this morning in Baltimore and which is titled “Interoperability in Action: What’s Working Now – and How We Can Shape the Future.” We’re proud to once again host this unique two-day gathering of some of our country’s foremost thought leaders in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, its Bloomberg School of Public Health and its School of Medicine.

One of the primary foci of this year’s symposium, the opioid/heroin epidemic sweeping the U.S., offers a vivid illustration of the fast-slow disconnect. Here’s what I mean: We’ve known for a long time that sharing data and working collaboratively across organizations is vital, because it’s the surest way we can aggregate the full spectrum of information needed to detect and respond to either individual or widespread problems before they grow into crises. Moreover, development of the tools capable of accomplishing those feats (think cognitive computing, open data, apps for your smart phone, etc.) has been advancing exponentially for a long time. Yet the opioid/heroin crisis seemed to surprise us and, most pointedly, governments at every level appear to be scrambling for ways to deal with the epidemic.

The good news is that governments at every level are finally responding, and I’m cautiously optimistic that they will employ many of the tools and methods that Stewards of Change and others have been promoting for over a decade. At the symposium, we’re going to try to aid and abet their efforts by developing actionable recommendations to accelerate the use of new (and not-so-new) technologies and information-sharing to address the opioid crisis; equally importantly, we’re planning to broaden the conversation – and the recommendations – by using the epidemic as a prism through which we can better explain the benefits of interoperability and information-sharing across many organizations and systems, from social services and education to public health and juvenile justice, among others.

Indeed, two overarching goals of the symposium are to 1). begin planning and building of what we’re calling a Network of Networks, meaning the platform/methodology by which all these related organizations and systems can communicate and collaborate; and 2). formulate recommendations that we will submit to the next administration on ways to keep the ball rolling on these critically important issues, regardless of who wins the White House in November.

That’s not all folks. Here are just a few more things we plan to do at the symposium:

  • Introduce two new members of the Stewards of Change Institute, Dr. William Hazel, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia; and Juvenile Court Judge Tony Capizzi of Montgomery County, Ohio. On behalf of all of us at Stewards, I want to warmly welcome these two esteemed public servants and sincerely thank them for their support of our mission.
  • Release and discuss a new White Paper that the Stewards Institute has written, titled “Improving Processes and Practices in Child Welfare: Is Cognitive Computing Part of the Solution?” A hint: Based on the research we conducted, the answer appears to be “yes.” We’d love to hear your comments on the report, which is available here.
  • Announce the availability of the Stewards’ new InterOptimability Training Curriculum and Certification (ITCC) program. This first-of-its-kind initiative – which, importantly, incorporates the Social Determinants of Health and Wellness – is designed to teach health and human services professionals at every level how to bridge silos, expedite information-sharing and manage effective organizational change. Learn more here.

One final thought regarding the symposium. A few weeks ago, I was honored to participate in the first-ever White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon. It was a fascinating and productive event but, most to my point today, it was a place where the fast-slow theme of this blog came to life for me. While there, I recalled that the Stewards’ first major foray into interoperability and information-sharing was within the realm of child welfare 10 years ago.

We haven’t made as much progress since then as we’d hoped for, but attending a White House hackathon that intentionally brought together foster care AND technology has changed my perspective a bit. A hackathon . . . at the White House! That’s real progress, even though it took us too long to get here. Now, it’s time to really hit the accelerator.



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