RWJF Games to Generate Data Challenge Interviews, Part 1

rwjf-logoThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Games to Generate Data Challenge, which awarded $200,000 to 5 promising game applications, closed in the fall and winners were announced at the Health 2.0 Fall Conference. We had the opportunity to follow up with the sponsor and winner of competition to chat about their experiences with the competition.

Below, we highlight a conversation with Mike Painter, JD, MD, Senior Program Officer at RWJF, on the inspiration behind the challenge and next steps for RWJF. Enjoy!

1. Why did the RWJF decide to run the Games to Generate Data Challenge?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to improving American health and health care.  As such we are interested in a variety of funding approaches to help promote that improvement, including challenges.  We have sponsored  a number of challenges and believe that they are an interesting funding approach for us.  Of course, by their very nature they will never be a major funding avenue for us, nevertheless, we think they serve an interesting purpose in helping us find and spark innovation and development.  For instance, we have found that challenges help us work with groups, individuals and communities that we might not otherwise reach.  We believe that our prior Health 2.0 Aligning Forces for Quality Developer Challenge was successful.  That challenge prompted a robust response from app developers, and the winning app, Symcat, was precisely the kind of application that would help people use publicly available quality information that we were hoping would come from that effort.  Given that success, we wanted to run another Aligning Forces challenge, but we did not simply want to rerun another app challenge.  By the time we were ready for this game challenge, we did not see the need to prompt additional app development for the field—the ecosystem was generating a huge number of interesting apps on its own.  We do think there was and remains plenty of room to develop the games in health idea.  While many of us can see the great potential for games and gamification tools in promoting good health—it is still hard to find a resounding success—that killer game in health.  We decided to run a game challenge in which we reached out to app developers and game researchers.  We also wanted to hook this game explicitly to reality.  By that I mean, we decided to ask the developers to create games that not only created a virtual game experience but also created data in that virtual environment that people in reality could use to improve community health.

2. Did the winning game applications surprise you or were they in line with your expectations?

Yes, absolutely.  As with the last Aligning Forces Developer Challenge, the winner of this game challenge, Team wHealth, created a game that nicely captured our initial vision.  They created a fun and compelling game and also very explicitly have shown how the game developers can draw interesting data from those experiencing the game.  It’s pretty interesting.

3. How does this challenge fit into other RWJF efforts to utilize gaming and gamification concepts to improve health care?

The Foundation was an early supporter of the games for health work.  We tapped that expertise for this game challenge, specifically, Ben Sawyer from DigitalMill and Games for Health, and his colleagues directly provided mentoring and feedback to our game challenge finalists.  Ben is also working with the Foundation to help Team wHealth further refine this game and identify ways to implement it into actual community settings.


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