Is My Thinking Disrupted, or Am I Just Confused?

by Rick Austin April 5, 2012 02:31 PM

As usual (damn him!), @cdnorman has posted a thought-provoking blog which leaves me more confused about my confusion.


Yes, you’re thinking, what is he talking about?


The blog post, “Disruption by Design,” captures some of my feelings of bewilderment over how to keep up with the lightning-fast changes we are living through:


“Observing the city I live in, the media I consume, and the way I learn, I can’t help but be amazed at how much of my life has been disrupted over the past few years. I can access nearly everything I need to run my business and do my research from my handheld or a tablet computer. I can hand that tablet or handheld to someone else and allow them to interact with the content on it by using gestural movements, not a keyboard.”


Science fiction almost always presents our future as a fait accompli – the spaceships are already landing and taking off, the nano-computers are embedded everywhere, the robotic servants are a fact of life. In reality, the future crept up on us in dribs and drabs, and we accepted each little piece as a matter of course.


But imagine (God forbid!) that you were in a terrible car accident 15 years ago, and have been in a deep coma ever since. You’ve just woken up, and things look a little different from the moments before you ran that red light. None of these things existed just before your car crash: Google, networked smartphones, wi-fi, Facebook (let alone 800 million users), or tablet computers.


You see, it’s not dribs and drabs anymore, it’s a torrent, and it affects everything and everybody. Of course, Cameron brings this torrent of change to bear on public health:


“Health promotion and public health are fields ripe for this kind of innovation, so is healthcare. Indeed, movements like those embodied in Patients Like Me, a social network portal aimed at supporting human empowerment in health care.


“We are on the cusp of this taking place in health promotion and human services – whether they are governmental, non-profit or social enterprise-based. Health promotion is largely about enabling individuals, groups and communities to better adapt to change, support themselves and gain greater control over the social determinants of health.”


I heard Patients Like Me CEO Jamie Heywood speak on a panel at SXSW Interactive, and he was the embodiment of disruptive change. Tell me in the comments how you’ve managed to balance on the crest of this torrent of change, and incorporate new technologies and new social cultures into your public health work.

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Should Researchers Be Asking Why? Why Not?

by Rick Austin October 24, 2011 03:31 PM

I’ve written here recently on the concept of design thinking, and how it could help researchers understand the importance of shaping the reporting of their results for their most important audiences.


Here’s some more food for thought from the same source, Cameron Norman’s Censemaking blog.  In talking about how difficult it is to get design thinking out of the “thinking” and into the “doing,” he mentions a technique for digging into your own motivations, called the “Five Whys.” The number five is arbitrary; the point is to ask yourself repeatedly, “why is this happening?” Somewhere around the fifth “why?” you will start to arrive at a root cause. The technique is far from perfect, but it’s an excellent way to shake up your thinking and get new ideas to fall out of the branches.


If you’re a researcher motivated to see practical results come from your research, the “Five Whys” might be modified to “Why? Who? What? What? How?”


1. Why is my research not being used?

2. Who wants my research?

3. What will they do with it?

4. What is their main information resource?

5. How do I get my research to their resource?


This model assumes that the research in question is “pure” research, driven by the research question coming out of either the grant or the researcher’s own curiosity. Thinking about up-front collaboration with stakeholders and end-users is a hurdle for another time.


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Data Design All Around

by Rick Austin April 6, 2011 01:46 PM

Tableau Public

God bless The Twitter. It led me to this brief recap of the 2011Global Health Metrics and Evaluation conference, which featured a workshop on data visualization tools and geographic information systems. Dry, no?


Not at all. Go look at a couple of the tools that were featured in the workshop. The visual design of data to make it more useful and comprehensible is a subject we’ve tackled here a couple of times. The number, variety, and usefulness of the available tools for this task continue to grow, and that’s a good thing. As Cameron Norman says in his most recent post about knowledge translation, “While good, appropriate and timely content is a necessary factor in KT, it is hardly sufficient if there are no people or environments where that knowledge can be appropriately contemplated, learned and applied.”


High-impact visual data design helps create that environment.


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Design, Knowledge Translation, Genius, and Public Health

by Rick Austin December 22, 2010 01:28 PM

It’s been just a few days since I blogged about America’s Health Rankings and their elegant, easy-to-use statistical displays; I must be much more sensitized to effective design, because now I’m being inundated with beautiful stuff.


I bemoaned the difficulty of deciphering the interactive Gapminder displays, and here comes @SusannahFox on Twitter, leading me to Hans Rosling doing an enlightening interpretation of a Gapminder graph in motion:

 The same day, @gestaltkt pointed to this powerful talk by David McCandless about the “beauty” of data visualization, with examples of how effective visuals can cut to the heart of an otherwise abstract discussion:

Finally, my favorite geek, Cameron Norman, blogged on the intersection of science and design, raising important questions about The Science of Design & the Design of Science.


My focus is on the use of effective design to impart complex information, as is demonstrated by Hans Rosling above. Anyone can look at a column of figures and say ‘that’s indecipherable, we can’t use that.’ Similarly, anyone can plug that same column of figures into PowerPoint’s charting function, and create a really crappy, boring pie chart. It takes a touch of genius to integrate information, design, and a gift for explication into a gestalt-busting teaching moment.


Can it be researched, measured, and taught, as Cameron suggests, or should we start searching for the geniuses and imploring them for help?


On a housekeeping note, RIA will be away for the holidays, but we’ll see you in January. In the spirit of holiday cheer, here’s a gift from the CDC:

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