This collection is adapted from the SolutionsU Pro Innovation in Action series on COVID-19. The series seeks to highlight some of the most powerful social change strategies being used around the world today in response to the global pandemic. Each collection highlights a social change "trimtab" based on Buckminster Fuller's metaphor to explain the power of a single individual to effect significant change. Fuller realized that the trim tab on a large ship’s rudder—really just a sliver of the whole rudder—induced the leverage that moved the entire rudder and thus turned an enormous ship. He applied this idea to individuals, whose small actions can in turn induce larger changes, and ultimately, significant social change and problem solving.
The three stories in this collection (see below) are about containing and mitigating the coronavirus outbreak. Each story demonstrates the innovation trimtab "harvesting the power of many." The breadth, depth and velocity of most problems -- including the coronavirus -- cannot be effectively solved with the limited agility and scope of traditional organizational structures and hierarchies. An "all hands on deck" approach is required. In the case of the containing this deadly virus, that means breaking down command and control structures to ignite and harvest the exponential power of teams, and teams of teams, in order to empower as many people as possible in the diagnosis, design, implementation, and evaluation process.
Read about how Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City launched an app to quickly collect data in order to alert health care providers in real time about growing clusters of cases. In the words of Laura Huckins of the Icahn School of Medicine, "Everyone is included, and everyone can help." In the second story, learn about how doctors are building global communities of practice through social media to rapidly share ideas and discuss what is and is not working. Finally, learn how a multitude of groups are doing whatever they can, as quickly as they can, to produce and source personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Click here for the original collection curated by Greg VanKirk.
Click here for more teaching collections on COVID-19.
- Explain how the app developed by Mt. Sinai Health System works. What problems does it intend to address, and what are the potential outcomes if the app is successful? Can you imagine other social change challenges that harvesting the power of many could address?
- Enumerate the benefits of the physician “hive mind” in addressing the virus. How is this response different than in previous epidemics? What are some of the early positive results from this effort? Do you think it possible or feasible that such “hive mind” brain power could be used by those working on problems such as poverty, homelessness, the refugee crisis, or climate change?
- Describe some of the innovative efforts that are emerging from the “makeshift networks” goal of quickly and cheaply producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s). How might this coming together of neighborhoods, communities, even states and countries in contributing their specific skills and experience be harnessed to solve persistent social problems?
- Users simply text “COVID” to a code number, then fill out a health questionnaire. Each day, they fill out a brief survey about their symptoms. By collating this data, public health officials can see in real time where new cases are breaking out and can begin to predict potential “hot spots” and direct additional resources to those areas. If the app is successful, it will give health care providers a head start on resource allocation, including media campaigns, to limit the spread of the virus in hard hit areas. Student answers to the second question will vary.
- By bringing together tens of thousands of physicians and health care professionals in various disciplines, these social media groups are able to bypass many of the traditional medical boundaries to formulate answers in real time. They are not waiting for the typical double-blind studies followed by peer-reviewed publications—a process that can take years—and communicating immediately and directly as a collective source of solid medical knowledge. One striking example is the discovery that skipping the usual ascending protocol of oxygen masks and boosters for those having respiratory distress and going straight to a ventilator is much more effective in saving lives. Such a collective “hive” mentality might be a very effective way to address persistent social problems. If, for example, the thousands and thousands of people working on the refugee crisis could all communicate continuously and collectively about every effort that was working (and those that weren’t), perhaps previously unknown or untried strategies could be utilized and brought to scale.
- The real power of these “makeshift networks” is their breadth and diversity; libraries using 3-D printers to print plastic face shields; maker spaces producing PPE’s; manufacturers retooling their assembly lines to produce needed medical supplies; even a part of the network concerned solely with connecting the products produced with the health care facilities that need them. Student answers can vary widely (it should be a lively discussion!) regarding how this intense communitarianism can be harnessed to address any number of social ills such as homelessness, hunger, poverty, and mental health.