We Make Health Fest: Encouraging community creation of tools, technologies to promote health

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Insaman, who helps children with diabetes management, represents an idea that will be translated into a digital solution for a health problem. This drawing of Insaman eventually will become an app to help children control their blood sugar. Image courtesy: Dr. Joyce LeeANN ARBOR—His name is Insaman. This virtual superhero's mission is to help diabetic children manage their blood glucose levels.

The masked crusader began as crude drawings on paper. Once a U-M Art & Design student and someone experienced in app-building finishes with him, he'll be the star of a program to help children understand how much insulin they need to balance their blood sugar.

Insaman, short for Insulin Man, is the brainchild of a patient. He is representative of the kind of innovative thinking organizers of an upcoming We Make Health Fest hope will surface from the campus and larger community.

"We need to tap into the brilliance of our community to create and promote health," said faculty organizer Dr. Joyce Lee, associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and environmental health sciences. "It's about coming together and promoting participatory design of tools and technologies for health."

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We Make Health Fest will take place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 16 in the Great Lakes Rooms, 6th Floor, Palmer Commons. It is free to the public, but advance registration is required.

Modeled after the Maker Faire movement that is increasing in popularity, the idea behind the We Make Health Fest is to bring together those who have an idea for how to use technology to advance health care with the people who know the nuts and bolts of how to create it.

Organizers bill it as a full hands-on day of health-themed design and maker activities for the whole family to share their personal stories, do-it-yourself technologies and creations for managing health.

"The difference between this and another type of demonstration is that presenters will talk about the skills you have that can equip you to use this type of technology—and not just tell people about an invention but show them and promote hands-on activity," said Emily Puckett Rogers, special projects librarian at University Library and organizer of the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire through an organization called A2Geeks. "We hope it will be a point of inspiration and collaboration."

Two stars of the Make Health Fest will be featured presenters: Jose Gomez Marquez from the Little Devices Lab at MIT, and John Costik, type 1 diabetes hacker, father, community collaborator and innovator for the #wearenotwaiting movement. The organizers welcome volunteer presenters on Maker topics as well.

The event also will feature a screening of "Maker," a feature-length documentary on the Maker Movement and its impact on society, culture and the economy in the United States.

Supported by a Third Century Initiative Global Challenges Team Development grant, the overall aim was to spur the campus community to improve health and well being by creating a pipeline to "ideate, plan and conduct a behavioral change intervention."

To that end, Lee said this event has three goals:

  • To encourage "design for health" at a grassroots level; even children should think of themselves as designers.
  • To learn about new tools and technologies that could be used to promote health (wellness or chronic disease management).
  • To bridge the gap between a technical and design community whose members want to work on health projects but need a health partner, and health partners (patients, caregivers, researchers) who have ideas but need a technical collaborator to bring them to life.

"With the latter, we become sort of a health design cupid," Lee said, noting a website created to match makers .

In a blog she created on design and health care, Lee wrote about her first venture into this arena, which she admits is a very basic educational video. She needed to help staff at school learn how to respond to her children's severe food allergies. She and her son took an overly detailed written emergency response card and translated it into a video, narrated and illustrated by the child.

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"How do I know it was effective?" she writes in her blog. "We use it! Successful design is defined by the user. We haven't scaled this, made money off this or distributed this as a consumer product. But it's the tool we use every time we start a new school, meet a new teacher or begin a new summer camp."

A tool like Insaman, who will take on Evil Boss Pizza, makes sure children know they need to take a little more insulin prior to eating that bad boy.

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