HHS @ SXSWi Part 1: Sound bites

Content From: Read Holman, New Media Strategist, U.S. Department of Health & Human ServicesPublished: March 15, 20113 min read


I’m writing from Austin, Texas, the capital of the Lone Star State, checking in from South by Southwest Interactive, or SXSWi. For those of you who don’t know, SXSWiExit Disclaimer is one of the biggest technology conferences in the world. I’ve met people from California to Nova Scotia, from South Korea to Hamburg, Germany. Over 10,000 people are here, including a number of people from HHS here to observe trends in technology, meet innovators outside of our normal circle, and to hear presentations from some of the smartest people in the industry.

With over 1,000 panels, sessions and events with a wide range of topics, it’s difficult to keep track of even a fraction of the activities. Sessions vary from Your Computer is the Next Wonderdrug and Offline America, Why We Have A Digital Divide to Stop the Bleeding! Immersive Simulations for Surgeons, Inclusive Mobility: How to Make Mobile Apps Accessible, and The Behavior Change Checklist. Down with Gamefication, and well... a lot more.

A number of panels representing HHS were well attended. Including: Health Data Everywhere: Not a Drop to Link?, Minority Report: Social Media for Decreasing Health Disparities, and How Open Health Data Can Improve America's Health.

I’m still internalizing the information, presentations, and personal conversations I’ve had, so deeper reflection is still to come. But here are a few specific takeaways and sound-bites I’ve been chewing on thus far:If you’re thinking mobile apps, your first one should be a web app. Platform-specific apps are secondary. Web apps and mobile-friendly versions of your websites are viewable across the various platforms. Plus the building of a platform-specific application requires learning (and retaining) expertise in the particular platform.

Contests and challenges continue to change the way government does business and interacts with the public. Thinking beyond the typical video contest is important. And partnerships with private vendors or other federal Agencies is a must to reach the visibility for a successful engagement challenge. See Apps for Healthy Kids: Government Challenges FTW.

Data Visualization with Lego’s is cool but doesn’t scale well to online presentation. Meanwhile the role and priorities of government related to data visualization continues to come up in conversation. Is it the role of government to simply release the data and let the private market communicate the values in that data?

Designers and developers/engineers often have competing interests but the end-user should remain the common goal. While the engineers at Google were excited to use the landscape-to-portrait rotation functionalities of the iPad, Gmail designers opted against using it as they thought it would disrupt the user experience.

People living with at least one chronic condition are actually less likely to search online for health information, according to Pew Internet researchExit Disclaimer.

Simplicity trumps all. Simplicity in technological design, user interface, and communication messaging that lead to “baby steps” and tiny iterations of (user-generated) data are the most effective and sustainable public health campaigns. See Mobile Health in Africa: What can we learn?.Tablets are replacing the low-end computer in the electronics market.

Behavior change is not a targeted enough end goal for a public health campaign. What type of behavior change? According to BJ Fogg of Stanford University, there are 15 ways behavior can changeExit Disclaimer. (So this is not particular to technology, but still applies to every messaging that uses technology!)

For a recap of health related activities and to follow them over the next two days, you can search twitter for #sxswhExit Disclaimer Have you been following the SXSWi activities? What have you found as applying particularly to carrying out the mission of HHS? What insights are changing the face of healthcare and health communications?

Read, along with other colleagues from HHS and members of the HIV.gov team are attending South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas. Later this week, we'll also be attending the 2011 Nonprofit Technology ConferenceExit Disclaimer in Washington, DC. Check the blog again soon for more on these conferences.