Technology without people is pointless, Sara Redin of J. Boye told an audience today at the J. Boye 2010 conference in Aarhus today.

I am in the land of LEGO, Denmark, attending the J. Boye 2010 conference. This meeting focuses on the online world – social media, web design, emerging technologies, the internet, and digital strategy. I’m taking part in the online health track, kicking off with a talk on participatory health.

Redin told a story that resonated with me on several levels, personal and professional.  She recently took her son shopping for his birthday gift, and they made their way to the LEGO aisle. Her son asked the question, “Mom, which sets have the most ‘people?’”

For those of you uninitiated into the current LEGO product line, ‘people’ in LEGO boxes are “mini-figures,” or for us LEGOmaniacs, minifigs. Minifigs can maximize playtime through the characters (essentially, tiny dolls) interacting with their LEGO-build environments. There are generic minifigs like firefighters and doctors, and character-based minifigs like Harry Potter and Anakin Skywalker.

Sara’s son knows: it’s simply more fun playing with people, interacting with their worlds (little LEGO ones or real-size ones), than just building a model and admiring one’s completed mini-building.

A real-life example of this was described by Sarah Jordan of Oxfam. The UK-based charity has worked wonders deploying Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other tools for raising awareness and money for emergencies. Jordan calls this phenomenon “multimedia emergencies,” and cited Oxfam’s work in Haiti leveraging social media for both community- and donation-building. Social media done the right way give Oxfam reach and the ability to update content very quickly: speed is especially useful in the case of ever-morphing emergencies (particularly the Mother Nature sort). Oxfam raised £1.9 million via digital, equivalent to 40% of total donations. “Charity in the UK is now more connected and interactive: people want to know where their 10 pounds are going,” Jordan explained.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: My daughter Anna and I are confirmed LEGOmaniacs, as crazy about minifigs as young Thomas Redin.

The hot point of the day is exactly Redin’s point, filtered through my lens of all-health, all-the-time: that in health, technology without people is pointless. In health care, particularly in the U.S., we’ve got a history of technology adoption and sunk costs that haven’t yielded maximal ROI for the primary reason that the gear hasn’t been designed in tandem with users – whether these users are physicians, patients, or caregivers. Women, consider mammography: an iconic example of a 19th century Roentgen-esque technology that only now, in the 21st century, we see morphing into something modern and (somewhat) more user-friendly.

In health, user-generated content enabled through social networks gives people community, connectivity, collaboration, and collegiality with people like themselves. There’s problem-solving going on here through those 4 C’s, built on a platform of trust and authenticity.

That’s the world of user-generated content. Welcome to the new world of user-generated design: the smartest health tool and IT developers will bring patients/people into the exploratory and design phase of the products and services. They’ll be operating like Apple and IDEO and consumer goods gurus.

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