The network has lofty, noble goals and says it intends to use "conferences, webinars and development of social platforms for sharing training materials and resources" to help it achieve its goals.
Mayo Clinic has multiple partners lined up already (five in the U.S. and one in the Netherlands) and intends to extend its reach into Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. With the resources these organizations have at their disposal, the program appears to have a great chance at success.
However, when I read through the release I couldn't help but think that something was missing. I re-read it, and then it hit me. I never saw terms like "mobile," "open source" or "API" mentioned. My hope is that it's implied, because to not have these woven into such an endeavor would be a major misstep.
And the beauty of the Mayo Clinic's timing is that there are already numerous lessons learned from other altruistic programs that could help the SMHN grow exponentially over time. Two of my favorites are Ushahidi and SeeClickFix.
Swahili for "testimony", Ushahidi is a growing global platform that originated in 2008 out of a need to track reports of post-election violence in Kenya. The service enables people to report incidents via SMS that can be tracked on a map, which vastly expands the pool of potential contributors. Ushahidi's stated goal "to create a platform that any person or organization can use to set up their own way to collect and visualize information" is a model that many other organizations could follow to help get their message out. A look at some of the existing Ushahidi implementations underscores its flexibility.
SeeClickFix is a service that, like Ushahidi, relies on numerous contributions from thousands of mobile phone users. It helps plot, track and put pressure on municipalities to address a variety of non-emergencies such as potholes and graffiti. While not open-source, SeeClickFix sports an API that supports the open311 initiative, which seeks to create an open standard for 311 services.
The thing I love about services such as these is that they are truly social in the sense that anyone can play a role from both content contribution and platform expansion perspectives. As evidenced by the likes of Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others, there's no telling how much a service can grow and influence others when its audience is given the tools to contribute in ways that are meaningful to them.
While much of the initial announcement for the SMHN seems to focus on a more top-down approach to community involvement, my hope is that there is room in the equation for a bottom-up approach that enables a true partnership with the people the initiative is ultimately trying to serve.
In video interviews I recently participated in with a hospital client, I was reminded how much promise lies in the area of gene therapy, where patients can actually play a role in their own treatments and therapies. It seems to me that initiatives like the SMHN could similarly benefit from such a decentralized approach, aided by the people it aims to serve.