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In April of 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) to be specific. For many cancer patients they say your life is divided into two parts: before you were diagnosed and after. For me it wasn’t that dramatic, but it still knocks you off center — kind of like bottoming out while hitting that big pothole on your journey of life. You’re still going but you don’t know how much damage it did to your vehicle.

My defense was to fight forward. I wanted to use my cancer as an experience, like everything else that’s happened in my life. I wanted it to be a change catalyst — maybe even for the better (however strange that may sound). I figured I’d be embraced by my care team and together we would come out of the other side victorious.

This illusion quickly dissipated though. What replaced it was frustration — my frustration with the medical community. While cancer was a big part of my life, it was only a part. I was still a caregiver for my elderly parents and I was still in the opening stages of creating this project (called Community 3.0 at the time). None of that mattered to my “care” team. To them I was little more than numbers, results of my numerous blood draws.

The whole patient (or patient-centered) concept parroted by so many healthcare providers regularly is nothing but words — rhetoric in their glossy marketing brochures. Most can’t even connect the dots between different offices in their buildings let alone outside the building. It’s like they’ve created a maze of Chinese Walls. Healthcare has been reduced to a collection of random specialties (often assembled haphazardly based on profit potential). Communication doesn’t happen naturally or systematically — and normally only from the prompting of the patient. Truly, a patient’s health is in their own hands. You may have help, but you’re still the one driving.

What I’ve learned over eight years on this cancer detour on the journey to my perfect world is there is very large chasm between health and healthcare. Before cancer, pre-2015, I was naive enough to use the terms interchangeably. After — no longer.


Salutogenesis, Engagement and Self-Efficacy

Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a former professor of medical sociology in the United States. The term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). More specifically, the “salutogenic model” is concerned with the relationship between health, stress, and coping. Antonovsky’s theories reject the “traditional medical-model dichotomy separating health and illness”. He described the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the “health-ease versus dis-ease continuum.”

In 2008 Scotland, specifically Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, adopted salutogenesis as national public health policy. Burns helped Scotland conceptualize health improvement differently, being aware that the small gains that resulted from a range of interventions can add up to produce significant overall improvements. Much of these interventions were and are aimed at empowering the populace through engagement with their own health outcomes.

Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The key is to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity and engagement — personally, socially and civically. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.


Hope, Well-being and Community

In America there is little effort put into getting people to engage directly with their health and personal well-being on the part of the established healthcare industry. Healthcare providers seem to be reluctant to relinquish control. However transferring some of this responsibility to the patients will prove beneficial to them. And it’s not just focusing on themselves physically that causes impact. Nurturing altruism and benevolence by doing good things for other people takes their minds off of their own ailments and gives them purpose beyond just their condition. If they can’t actively participate in hands-on volunteer projects, then they can at least feel they’re part of the solution by experiencing the joy of giving vicariously through attendance.

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement. The more engaged our residents would be ... the more empowered they would be and feel they were more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to help others realize the same were part of the fabric our daily lives. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in a fellow neighbor’s time of need. And what if the streets of our community became melting pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was now the norm.

What if engagement and well-being was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics. What if we fixated on what we “could,” rather than what we “can’t.” And what if getting up in the morning was a chance to nurture our hope … and engage with others to help them do the same. This societal phenomenon is Hopepunk.

In order to maximize the collective potential of 'the people’, ‘the people’ need to maximize their individual potential. A sick and isolated populace is not likely to succeed at rebuilding their world, or much of anything else. ‘The people’ need to be mentally and physically fit and socially connected.

What we need is a conduit that can help us build towards communities of engagement. This is the conduit to take Hopepunk from an idea to reality and a practice. We need a vehicle that connects the dots in our communities and makes its resources not only accessible – but actually taken advantage of. We need engagement.


Introducing Melvin

Amazon’s digital personal assistant is called Alexa. To say it’s been a runaway success is an understatement. Originally created to help you buy more Amazon products easier – if that was even possible; Alexa has turned into a repository of over 100,000 lifestyle automation applications. It controls the heat in your home, it gives your kids definitions (by voice) and provides recipes for the finicky guests at your next dinner party. And everyday its uses only multiply.

Imagine if you had an Alexa for engagement, engagement that improved your well-being and built your community. Imagine if you had a virtual assistant that gathered ways you could engage with your body, your mind and socially with your neighborhood. And imagine if these were sorted, prioritized and nudged you accordingly. These nudges could be based on advice from your doctor, your relationships and preferences with your neighborhood small businesses or even alerts for volunteer opportunities. Your nudges and notifications would be your conduit to engaging with the environment around you in positive way.

The Melvin in Melvin’s Neighborhood is really a personal assistant that helps you enhance your well-being by building self-efficacy and personal agency through your nudging you to involve yourself with your community in a plethora of ways.

We at the Neighborhood believe the journey is what matters, not the destination or even where you start. Same goes for the efforts to make you a better self. Melvin is a partner on your journey, an automated connection to your community. He/she/it/they (you choose) helps you in your process using  "A Look In The Mirror", a well-being assessment designed to ferret out the areas that might help you a achieve a more fulfilling journey. The results from this ‘look’ are turned into points of action that nudge you to improvement and self-actualization. These nudges are communicated to you, a Resident of Melvin’s Neighborhood, through suggestions and offers from a network of local businesses and organizations (Front Porches) you currently interact with. A text link to a synopsis of suggestions that correlate to the findings of your "A Look In The Mirror" is then sent to you every morning.

As the navigator in your journey, Melvin has you look in the mirror and answer 20 questions (or Topics). From your responses Melvin’s can assess where the areas are that need some work. The assessment doesn’t tell you where your at (since that’s irrelevant). Instead "A Look In The Mirror" gauges your effort and intent. As long as you’re making an effort — your journey will be fulfilling.

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As mentioned above, center to this collaborative effort to build your well-being and agency is Melvin’s Neighborhood’s Front Porch network. Front Porches are your community’s small businesses, NGOs and informal citizen-run groups that anchor where you live. They are the places you probably already frequent in your day to day activities, and probably are filled with friends of yours. Naturally, they are where you should turn to; and as a Resident of Melvin’s Neighborhood, we’ll make it easier for them to assist in your change journey.

From the information gained from your "Look In The Mirror", Melvin’s technical alter-ego, the bleedingEDGE Engagement Platform, determines the areas of behavior that would serve you best to allocate your scare time and resources to. We call these Action Points. 

Action Points (summary of the Mirror results) are the conduit to building a better you. But they can’t work in a vapor. They need to feed the system; specifically the Neighborhood, your community — to produce behavior change and improvement. No one is asking you to go this alone. Most all health and well-being companies and apps envision your improvement to be a solo effort, a quixotic quest of dissolution. We don’t at Melvin’s Neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood effort. Next: Front Porches.

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