Background: Almost 90% of adults struggle with complex health information. This is because most health information is presented in ways that make it hard to understand and use. People of color, older adults, and people with poor health status struggle the most with finding and understanding health information. It doesn't have to be this way — health information can be understandable, accessible, and convenient.
Program background: There is a clear need for innovative solutions to improve health literacy. Crowdsourcing is an approach to solving problems that utilizes collective knowledge and creativity from an online community. One way to tap into the crowd is to host a hackathon. Traditionally, hackathons are events where software developers and designers collaborate intensively on projects for a short period of time. In the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became more widespread in other fields, and more recently, they’ve been used to kick-start creative ideas for social good. CommunicateHealth, Inc. hosted the first-ever Health Literacy Hackathon — pairing public health and health literacy experts with technological and creative innovators. While there have been several health hackathons, this was the first to tackle the health literacy gap. The long-term goal for this event was to create a framework for ongoing health communication partnerships between creators, innovators, and health advocates.
Evaluation Methods and Results: The challenge for the hackathon participants was to create a technology-driven innovation to improve how people access, understand, and use health information. The grand prize winners created Carrot/Stick, a phone-based service that utilizes family and social support to help smokers quit. A paper survey was distributed during the event to all participants as an evaluation tool. Participants included medical professors, undergraduate design students, public health doctoral candidates, adult educators, nutritionists, medical device researchers, and more. Ninety-four percent of the participants said they would recommend the hackathon to friends or colleagues, and 78 percent said they had a clearer understanding of health literacy after the hackathon. In addition, 61 percent said they networked and made valuable contacts at the hackathon.
Conclusions: People are motivated by social causes and the opportunity to collaborate outside of the work environment to do “good.” The short timeframe of a hackathon encourages intense, creative thinking and collaboration, and great things can happen when health advocates, graphic designers, and developers work together.
Implications for research and/or practice: When done well, crowdsourcing has amazing potential to help the public health and healthcare innovation communities solve complex problems with new, creative, and inexpensive solutions.