10th Annual Unite for Site Global Health Innovations Conference

Seeing entrepreneurs, activists, and enthusiasts descend upon Yale’s distinguished campus would seem like just another day on campus, but this is a bit different. The 10th Annual Unite for Site Global Health Innovations Conference ran from Saturday to Sunday of this past weekend and of course Batten could not be left out! This conference is entirely about policy from EVERYWHERE. Speakers from Ghana, India, Uganda, South Africa, Peru, Kosovo, Congo and more joined the overflowing auditoriums of do-gooders.

The conference kicked off with a speech by New York Times journalist, Tina Rosenberg, on harnessing the power of peer pressure: a topic that has been covered extensively by Batten psychology faculty. After beginning with references to alcoholism and drinking, Rosenberg asked the audience “which parents in the audience have told their children peer pressure is good. One could have heard a pin drop save a chuckle from the upper balcony, but it is what leaders want — to motivate people to action. Rosenberg advised the auditorium of global public health, medical professionals, and students to “abandon their public health expertise,” but clarified quickly before the coup could ensue defending the professions of all in attendance. Abandoning the expertise learned in school is not about forgetting the knowledge; it is striving to remember what motivates a non-expert in strategy development.

Peers are more credible. While experts are motivated by dire circumstances, enormous problems, and information, the average person blocks their discomfort out. To break through negative behaviors, research shows that marginalizing the bad behavior does more to incentivize good behavior that any public health message about a wide-spread problem. People want to fit in, so to change behavior is to credibly change perceptions of a norm.

The rest of the day was a fascinating version of just that. Any skeptic in the room would have been a minority among passionate optimist will logically framed arguments and innovators making pitches for the next big health advance.  In the end, the most important advice to policy makers and public health program coordinators boiled down to the following:

  •         Collaborate with stakeholders, don’t “help” them.
  •         Always ask why, not just for numbers.
  •         Understand history and context before implementation.
  •         Involve local peers in project design and marketing.
  •         Don’t claim causality lightly.
  •         Service should drive research. Ethical arguments exist for completing research and for not conducting it.
  •          Never promise the moon.
  •          Programs are always imperfect, but improvable (if evaluated).

– Post by Kate Stanley, MPP ’13

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