Improving On Our Healthy Public Challenge

Our Final Look at the Healthy Public Challenge — Part 5

                                   A collage of the Healthy Public Challenge experience.

                                  A collage of the Healthy Public Challenge experience.

A collage of the Healthy Public Challenge experience.

Over the past few weeks we’ve talked extensively about the Health Public Challenge we ran earlier this year. You can read lots of the individual team coverage throughout our blog. It was a learning experience for everyone involved, and each team took away valuable lessons from the ups and downs of their project. Civic Hall Labs learned a lot as well, and the pilot turned out to be successful in generating some guidelines that can support potentially innovative civic ideas on a small scale.

Here are some of the things we learned on makes a great project, what makes a great mentor, and what kind of program structure is required to keep civic entrepreneurs on track and properly supported:

The Characteristics of a Great Project

Let’s start with the projects. While nearly all of them made great strides during the course of the program, we noticed certain qualities that appeared in our best performing teams. They included:

  • Having a clear Theory of Change (TOC), with all team members understanding how their activities affected it.
  • Having a clearly identified end-user.
  • Being accountable to end-users. Human-centered design has many benefits, not the least of which is keeping the project integrated with the real needs and feelings of the people civic projects are trying to help, spurring them to keep breaking through barriers in the process.
  • Being truly open to assistance and advising in product development. If a team is not open to consistent (and at times critical) feedback, the chances of success will greatly diminish. Teams need to be open to change, and able to pivot quickly based on feedback that they might not like hearing.
  • Appropriately scoping the cost of work.

At the end of the day, no amount of help can save a project with the wrong attitude, so finding these characteristics in the teams was incredibly important to us. 

The Characteristics of a Great Mentor

The next variable was having phenomenal mentors guide the teams. These mentors included Alistair Blake, Dr. Jack Saul, and Dr. Mindy Fullilove. We owe them many thanks, as without their dedication and our expertise, many of our teams would not have achieved the outcomes they did.

Some of the qualities we looked for in our mentors included:

  • Inquisitive teaching. Asking the right questions to help guide someone through the process of understanding a complex problem without forcing them or revealing the answer, which creates more creative, original solutions.
  • Being critically supportive. Mentors didn’t pull punches when something wasn’t working, but none of them shamed teams for their mistakes or lack of knowledge.
  • Extensive and community-based experience and values.
  • Genuinely cares about the growth and learning of project team.

These skill-sets ensured that our mentors would be able to guide teams through the creative hurdles and setbacks of the design process. 

Changes for the Future

However, there were a few issues we didn’t plan for, and, if we could do the Challenge again ( or expand on it for the future), we would add additional technical instruction to the schedule. These would include:

  • Google analytics — how to build in and how to evaluate
  • Google AdWords and SEO
  • Stakeholder analysis 101
  • User research tools — (focus groups, surveys, listening sessions)
  • Project scoping
  • Usability testing
  • Fundraising and business development tips and strategies

Diversity in background is important, but we also now agree building a common bedrock of shared skills would improve group communication and progress. In addition, while our mentors provided great one-on-one feedback with the teams, having optional group instruction on different aspects of the project would have further instilled necessary skills.

In addition, a monthly digest of all the learnings from each project to share (either as a newsletter or email series) would be beneficial in the future. Having groups see what each other was accomplishing and learning could only enhance their knowledge, and perhaps provide ideas for overcoming hurdles in their process.

The Next Step for the Health Lab

The Healthy Public Project was a key opportunity for the Health Lab to experiment and refine our design, build, and test methodologies. Through this work we gained key, replicable insights into how to collaboratively design digital tools that can not only produce an impact on community health, but deserve greater investment and refinement.

As our Health Lab moves into launching larger, multi-stakeholder technology pilots, we will continue to expand and refine this methodology. Through our commitment to open source work, we will ensure that the results from our future initiatives are visible to those working community health and the practice of using tech for the public good.

If you’re interested in partnering with us on a new idea or technology that needs development or a proof of concept, please get in touch with Health Lab Director Erika Strong, at