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Community Health Data Forum: The Community Perspective

Sonal Shah, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, moderated a discussion at the Community Health Data Forum about the use and continued creation of tools which could provide the public with access to community health data and empower community decision-making.

On Wednesday, I moderated a Community Breakout Session at the Community Health Data Forum, hosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in partnership with the Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) and our colleagues over at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This was a conference to discuss the use and continued creation of tools which could provide the public with access to community health data, to ultimately empower communities to take action.


HHS and OSTP are coordinating and releasing troves of valuable health data to the public, and the Forum was a chance to highlight some of the ways that technology developers in the private sector are already using this data to create tremendously valuable tools for health systems, communities, and individuals to assess, synthesize and act upon this data to improve health. After seeing some of the potential ways the data could be processed and thinking about future uses, our session was designated to get community stakeholders to give feedback on how these tools can get communities to improve their health.

To jump start our conversation we heard from some innovators who are using data and technology to be more inclusive of community participation and decision making. Dr. Jim Bower discussed his innovative work with Whyville. Additionally, Deborah Estrin discussed the Boyle Heights Project engaging the community using participatory wireless sensing through smart-phone technologies.

We then opened it up to the audience to solicit thoughts or ideas on how we can use this data to reach out into communities and impact decision-making. One take-away from the discussion was there is a great need for communities and application developers to start having regular conversations regarding the use of data and solving community issues to connect the technologies developed to the needs on the ground.

The goal is to find out how can we use this data to help the community make smarter decisions and how communities can hold institutions- health, government, and otherwise- more accountable. And as an exciting and actionable step, -HHS announced a partnership with Health 2.0 to create a Developer Challenge that will spur creative applications that can present the data in a form to impact communities. The challenge will conclude in October at Health Innovation Week, so stay tuned for more health data and more applications that will help get Americans on the path to a longer and healthier life.

If you have ideas on tools that can be created to help communities use the data that’s being released to change behavior, go to to submit your ideas.

And the whole Community Health Data Initiative in response to President Obama’s Executive Order regarding Transparency and Open Government that he released on his first day in office. For information on Open Government generally or progress on the Open Government Directive please visit




Sonal Shah, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation