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Stanford University School of Medicine

Citizen science effort is empowering communities to advance health equity

In rural villages, or big cities, individuals in communities can band together to make healthy changes. That's the driving belief behind the citizen science efforts orchestrated by Stanford's Our Voice team, which is led by Abby King, PhD, a professor of health research and policy and of medicine.

The team's successes include projects to promote safe, physical activities in a low-income San Mateo County neighborhood, efforts to promote farmer's market use in Arizona and investigations of neighborhood walkability in Mexican communities, among many others. Many of these projects used a mobile app, Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, which allows individuals to contribute observations about their community. The app is currently available for pre-approved projects, said Ann Banchoff, Our Voice director of community engagement.

Now, the Our Voice team has released a video that captures the essence of their efforts. "We wanted to share and celebrate, but also build toward the next phase of work," Banchoff explained.

And although the app is featured in this video, the group's work extends beyond that tool, she told me.

"The Discovery Tool is an entrée into the Our Voice process, which empowers community members to document and build consensus around the features in their own communities that help or hinder their health and well-being" Banchoff said. "They then use their data and insights to generate and pursue solutions and improvements in their local communities."

The ultimate goal is to increase health equity in the U.S. and beyond and current directions for the work include citizen science activities to prevent violence, identify environmental stressors, promote active transportation, encourage healthy food environments and improve neighborhood quality surrounding affordable housing sites.

The projects occurring in the U.S. complement an array of initiatives underway as part of the Our Voice Citizen Science Global Network. The group plans to continue to expand its work to additional communities. To do that, however, it needs to build a broader network of partners and financial supporters, she said.

"We're really trying to build an inexpensive scalable model that can be disseminated globally," Banchoff said.

And the video captures a sense of just how that might happen.

Previously: Can a food-tracking app help promote healthy eating habits?, More evidence on the importance of physical activity for older adults and Project aims to improve well-being in rural Mexican communities

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