Connecting the Dots: NIC . . . the Kresge Foundation . . . and the Road to Better Health and Well-being

One of the underpinnings of our work at the National Interoperability Collaborative (NIC) is the understanding that “people constantly navigate multiple, interconnected systems — from education, transportation and employment to health, housing and human services — that shape their opportunities.”

There are quote marks around the truism above because I didn’t write it. Rather, it is borrowed from the Kresge Foundation’s Health Deputy Director, Chris Kabel, who included it in a letter introducing the Foundation’s just-released 2017 annual report. I’ve read the report, cover to cover, for several reasons:

  1. Because it underscored that the lens through which Kresge now views its work, and that of its grantees, is a focus on interoperability, integration and information-sharing. That’s music to the ears of us who agree those practices are integral to making real progress in people’s health and well-being.
  2. Because it contains thoughtful commentary about the role of philanthropies during today’s politically turbulent times; offers insights into how we can elevate equity as a common goal and improve opportunities for the least-privileged among us; and provides strategies for increasing the effectiveness of initiatives to level the playing field for every child, adult, family and community.
  3. Because (full disclosure) a generous Kresge grant enabled us to launch NIC just over a year ago, and one of the annual report’s highlighted articles, titled “Connecting the Dots,” is about NIC!

For over a dozen years, the Stewards of Change team has strived to achieve a mission that converges with those of organizations like Kresge. We’ve done that through numerous activities, including innovative symposia, research-based reports and guidance documents, strategic planning and implementation for public and private organizations at every level, and hands-on project consultation. Whatever the immediate means to the end happened to be, of course, our primary focus has always been to advance interoperability, information-sharing, and systems integration across the multiple “social determinant” domains that impact everyone’s health, well-being and, ultimately, life prospects.

NIC is the culmination of our efforts to date and, simultaneously, it is the vehicle with which we are growing and – with our NIC leadership partner, AcademyHealth – accelerating SOCI’s work into the future. So, all of us at SOCI and AcademyHealth are deeply grateful to the Kresge Foundation for believing in and supporting this innovative, collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach.

The headline of the annual report article about NIC tells the tale. It’s called “Connecting the Dots: Empowering Health and Human Services Entities to Collaborate Like Never Before.” The story goes on to describe NIC as the vehicle, the enabler of this potentially unprecedented opportunity for organizations to learn from each other, to work together and, as a consequence, to help move health-related equality and opportunity forward in our country.

It’s an ambitious mission, to be sure, so we’re striving to carry it out thoughtfully and not, as they say, trying to boil the ocean. Instead, we’re taking a step-by-step methodical approach, creating an overall governance structure and strategy while engaging in specific activities that provide real, on-the-ground benefits while building support for a sustainable future.

A good example is the interactive symposium NIC held in California earlier this year, which not only brought together thought, policy and practice leaders to shape relationships and share knowledge, but also served as the launching pad for NIC’s first state chapter – which we continue to build today. And it serves as the model for NIC’s second major event, a symposium we’re planning for the New England States in late November, to which we’ll bring the learning from California; focus on innovation, integration and collaboration efforts in New England; and begin the nitty-gritty work of starting our chapter in the region.

At the same time, we’re putting the final touches on the NIC website’s new Collaboration Hub. It’s an exciting, important tool designed to expand your ability – whoever you are! – to share your ideas and projects, and to learn what others are thinking and doing within and across the six primary domains in which NIC operates: human and social services, health, health care, education, public safety and health information technology. Learn more about the domains by clicking here.

We’re also about to launch NIC’s innovative webinar series “A Deeper Dive.” It takes a novel approach to learning and engagement by linking blogs, webinars and the NIC Hub for a highly interactive experience. Our first topic will be “Getting to Yes on Confidentiality and Privacy.” The blog on that topic will arrive in a few weeks, followed by a conversation on the NIC Hub, followed by a webinar at noon on Friday, Sept. 14. More details, including an opportunity to sign up, are coming next week.

I’ll end this commentary with another quote from the Kresge annual report, this time from David Fukuzawa, managing director of the Foundation’s Health and Human Services Programs. “Focusing on interoperability and integration of services reminds us all that we are on the same team and allows us to essentially ‘pass the ball’ as we serve clients,” he says in the article about NIC. “When partners come together to examine these issues, we are better able to connect services around individuals and families and identify effective methods of operating that advance social and economic mobility.”

That’s what NIC is all about. Please take a look at the annual report and NIC’s website, This is an important, worthy journey. We invite you to join us for the ride.

Daniel Stein

Daniel Stein is President of the Stewards of Change Institute (SOCI), a unique not-for-profit think tank and advocacy/implementation organization. He is also Co-Principal Investigator for the National Interoperability Collaborative (NIC), a new “Community of Networks” initiative led by SOCI and AcademyHealth. SOCI is built on the foundational belief that responsible, systemic information-sharing is the key to achieving enduring advancements in the health and wellness of children, adults and communities. SOCI’s mission is to improve lives by initiating, inspiring and implementing transformational change in Health and Human Services at all levels of government, industry and the nonprofit sector. For over a decade, Stein has been a thought-leader, educator and advocate in promoting and implementing “interoperability” by working nationally in the private and public sectors – at the local, state and federal levels – to instigate systemic change. Through the Stewards of Change Consultancy, which is the implementation arm of SOCI, Stein also has provided his expertise and experience nationally to create the strategies, operational regimes, tools, trainings and materials needed to achieve tangible results and fulfill the Institute’s mission.