Thursday, March 15, 2007

Disrupting philanthropy

The California HealthCare Foundation and Health Affairs, a major public health policy journal, hosted an interesting interview with Clayton Christensen - the innovation guru - on disruptive technologies and healthcare. The online article is here.

The interview covers territory stemming from the simplest examples of a disruptive technology - such as LASIK surgery - to more complicated policy and financing issues, such as Health Savings Accounts, where the disruptive technology is not a routinized procedure but a new form of financing. Christensen, a diabetic, also talks about the role that self-monitoring technologies play in allowing him to track his own health, making it so he "[has] no need ever to see a physician."

The interview is interesting partially because both Christensen and his interviewer, Dr Mark Smith, CEO of the California Healthcare Foundation, are clear that routinized technologies can only go so far in addressing the high-cost issues endemic in health care. They also acknowledge that health care is not a single industry, but several (ten or twelve in their estimate).

These two observations are also true of philanthropy. Simple technological solutions - online grants and financial management, for example - disrupt at the "easy" end - compliance, monitoring, tracking, processing. The harder stuff - social benefit, progress toward goals, strategy selection - is not likely to be disrupted by a technology as we normally think of technology, but by an innovation in the 'technologies" of economics, politics, or social structures. This is why social enterprise is interesting, as it disrupts the old boundaries between the private and independent sectors.

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