Our Call to Action
“We are not just building technology, we are building a movement.”
We are on a mission to build the largest, most complete database of information about how people are connected to other people, organizations are connected to each other, and how people are connected to those organizations and resources - and make that available for social good. We want to make that available in a public facing Social Connectedness platform that is available for anyone to access, search through, and support their own personal and organizational efforts to support the well-being and health of our communities and the people in them. We call that platform Aspen. We are not starting from scratch. Over 15 years, we have offered tools for people to use to collect data to fill up that database. Unless they opted out, it has all come together into one big database of people, resources, and the connectivity among them. Our Robert Wood Johnson Program Officer has pushed us to discover how we can leverage a dataset like no other, for social good. While protecting privacy, how can we leverage the largest database on whole networks, collected with the same tool, for use by ALL communities? Why does every effort have to start with new data, new resources spent, and lots of asks of social capital from out community partners? Can’t we leverage what already exists? Couldn’t we collectively do this together, and grow the database? Keep feeding it with new data so we can all collectively learn and share? We believe the answer is yes!
We know that is ambitious but are committed. Why? Because we know that if we can provide this visibility on how people and things are connected, and provide people the tools to keep that information dynamic and updated, we can leverage that information to strengthen social connectedness in world where we could all benefit. No one is immune from feeling lonely, sometimes disconnected, and lost at knowing how to get the help we need. If we can make the invisible network of connections of people and things visible, imagine what we could do together? If we all agreed to put that information into one place, in a commons, and we could all support access to it, leveraging the diverse resources we can bring to bear, we can use that information to make things better for people.
Social connectedness is a social determinant of health and well-being. It’s a determinant of education outcomes, mental health outcomes, and self-resiliency. To strengthen social connectedness for society, we all need to ask ourselves, “What is my call to action?” At VNL, we believe anyone can contribute to this work, and we believe that we have found our call to action. We are smart in Network Science and organizing complex datasets, but we also have created innovative ways for people to collect that kind of data, and most importantly we are not bad at helping people translate complex data into information they can really use. Our goal is to build capacity, community-wide, at using these kinds of data to build stronger social connectedness among people, organizations, and things. We’re not perfect at these things, but we are obsessed with getting better at it.