Innovating Well-Being

We’re sharpening our focus. Remaining true to our legacy of cutting-edge research and innovation; but setting our sights on defining, measuring and creating a well-being economy. We envision an economy that puts people and planet first; an economy where quality of life (and not just GDP) is the ultimate measure of progress. We’re connecting with new researchers and funders to better understand the central pillars of a well-being economy. And partnering with innovators to incubate real-world solutions to systemic inequities.

Join us in the journey.

In 2021, the IC² Institute and the Bureau of Business Research conducted a state-wide survey and analysis of how Texas libraries work to advance digital literacy. Led by Jim Jarrett, a Senior Research Scientist at the BBR and IC², the study suggests that libraries are facing increasing and rapidly evolving demands from their patrons. This is true across rural and urban communities and young and old patrons.

Libraries, like the communities that they serve, are in transition. Libraries have been a vital source for digital literacy for more than three decades. Along with schools, libraries are often the first responders in the effort to expand digital literacy. In a world dominated by computer-mediated, automated, and data-dominant systems, digital literacy is more vital than ever before.

The library study is a great complement to the health equity work that IC² is doing. Libraries are evolving into what we at IC² call, well-being hubs. This is a reference to the emergence of community-based anchor institutions that are now delivering life-enhancing services. Think, for example, libraries and faith-based organizations. These institutions are increasingly being expected to respond to the health and well-being needs of their communities. Among other things, libraries and faith-based organizations have been on the frontlines responding to the impacts of COVID and the call to expand mental health services to more people. Our preliminary analysis suggests that well-being hubs can and should be designed to help address health disparities. These institutions are often trusted and they are embedded in their communities.

IC² researchers are currently examining how libraries have emerged as hubs for health and well-being. Librarians are helping their patients access health information, manage online correspondence with care providers, even assisting in accessing telehealth appointments. This research dovetails with our analysis of how Texas libraries are working to advance digital literacy. We encourage you to read the Digital Literacy report; it’s a timely reminder of the evolution of digital literacy and the frontline institutions that are working to ensure that all people gain access to the basic technology skills required in the modern world.

-S. Craig Watkins

Texas Libraries and Digital Literacy: Impact Report

The Bureau of Business Research (BBR) at the IC² Institute recently completed a study for The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to better understand digital literacy in Texas public libraries.

Led by Jim Jarrett, IC² Senior Research Scientist, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with more than 300 librarians at branch and main libraries across the state to identify areas of urgent need relating to digital literacy.

Among the findings: Texas public libraries are providing significant formal and informal digital literacy training to their communities; these efforts account for approximately
$70 to $90 million in statewide investment by the state’s libraries.

“The report highlights the impressive work of Texas libraries and supporting digital literacy training in their communities,” said Gloria Meraz, TSLAC Director and Librarian. “However, the report also finds that libraries statewide identify significant unmet needs and point to the benefit of increased opportunities for training and resources.” Data findings will enable TSLAC to inform elected officials and funders about public library digital inclusion efforts and will also guide libraries as they plan for expanded digital literacy services.

Read Summary

IC² Studying the Exploitation of Austin’s Day Laborers

A 2019 survey found that 86% of day laborers had experienced some form of exploitation, with 66% reporting wage theft. Law enforcement interventions are largely ineffective, because day laborer hiring and payment are only partially observable and generally involve scant documentation.

A team of researchers led by IC²/Bureau of Business Research Senior Research Scientist, Matt Kammer-Kerwick is tackling the day labor exploitation problem by testing possible social/behavioral interventions. A recent case study explores two specific interventions:

1) advocates training day laborers about workers’ rights and options for addressing wage theft; and 2) supplemental media campaigns designed to disseminate similar education. Both interventions depend on spread-the-word dynamics: workers telling other workers what they’ve learned.

These sorts of systems interventions take time to create real change, but, based on the researchers’ work (which includes virtual modeling), the behavioral approach holds promise. This work is funded through a National Science Foundation grant and builds upon a decade of IC²/BBR work in the area of exploitation. Research will continue this summer with on-the-ground surveys conducted with Austin laborers. You can read about research methods and findings here.

New App Advances in Texas Health Catalyst Program

IC² Executive Director S. Craig Watkins and Senior Research Scientist Matt Kammer-Kerwick are developing an app that enhances the capacity of mental health professionals to deliver more efficient and effective care. The app will capture real-time social and behavioral data to help providers design personalized interventions for their patients.

The app has been selected as one of 9 finalists by Texas Health Catalyst, a unique concept-to-market accelerator program at Dell Med. Earlier this month, Watkins and Kammer-Kerwick joined the other 8 other finalists in sharing their innovations at THC’s Demo Day.

Ruben Rathnasingham, Dell Med Assistant Dean for Health Product Innovation, and Demo Day coordinator, had this to say: “Craig and his team are developing an impressive platform that addresses the real unmet need for mental health support in our most vulnerable and underserved communities. Their work in the Texas Health Catalyst Program helped focus their value proposition and differentiation in the incredibly crowded and fragmented market. And their advisors helped them identify and better define their most critical market risks around technology adoption and customer behavior.”

IC² - Convening/Connecting/Collaborating

As we strive to better understand what it will take to advance a well-being economy, IC² is busy convening researchers, clinicians, community leaders and funders; the resulting mashup of ideas is fertile ground for incubating innovative solutions to societal problems.

Also Noteworthy …

IC² Institute Senior Research Scientist Matt Kammer-Kerwick is working with the City of Austin Office of Innovation to refine an index designed to measure the prosperity of Austin’s neighborhoods and address the broad prosperity themes of economics, education, health, civic engagement, and social justice. The research team includes Kara Takasaki, Adriann Oommen and Anirudh Muralidaharan. The scope of work includes community participatory research to ensure that neighbor perspectives inform how prosperity is conceptualized and that those views can be measured.

IC² Institute Director S. Craig Watkins recently participated in the UT Good Systems annual Symposium April 3-4. Watkins joined Maria De-Arteaga (McCombs) and Meme Styles (MEASURE) in a roundtable discussion, “Using AI to Advance Racial Justice and Combat Disinformation.”

Watkins also participated in the recent Adolescent Health Symposium hosted by People’s Community Clinic. Watkins joined other panelists to discuss, “Where do Youth Get Healthcare Information on Social Media.”

An expert in the equity implications of computer-mediated technology and the impacts of technology on youth, Watkins was recently interviewed by the New York Times for a piece exploring appropriate ways to introduce Chat GPT to children.

In February,  IC² Executive Deputy Director Gregory Pogue presented, “Small Business Training: Tools to Accelerate Community Economic Growth” to the Texas Economic Development Council. Small businesses are the foundation of community economies – and IC² has developed two training programs to encourage local business expansions. One program focuses on traditional small business; the second teaches Historically Underrepresented Businesses (HUBS) how to access public and private contracting.

Pogue also welcomed colleagues from Norway to this year’s SXSW festival, with a presentation entitled,, “Welcome to Austin, TX – Where We Scale Tacos and Technology!”

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