If We Can Report on the Problem, We Can Report on the Solution

David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg in the New York Times: “After 11 years and roughly 600 columns, this is our last….

David Bornstein: Tina, in a decade reporting on solutions, what’s the most important thing you learned?

Tina Rosenberg: This is a strange lesson for a column about new ideas and innovation, but I learned that they’re overrated. The world (mostly) doesn’t need new inventions. It needs better distribution of what’s already out there.

Some of my favorite columns were about how to take old ideas or existing products and get them to new people. As one of our columns put it, “Ideas Help No One on a Shelf. Take Them to the World.” There are proven health strategies, for example, that never went anywhere until some folks dusted them off and decided to spread them. It’s not glamorous to copy another idea. But those copycats are making a big difference.

David: I totally agree. The opportunity to learn from other places is hugely undertapped.

I mean, in the United States alone, there are over 3,000 counties. The chance that any one of them is struggling with big problems — mental health, addiction, climate change, diabetes, Covid-19, you name it — is pretty much 100 percent. But the odds that any place is actually using one of the most effective approaches to deal with its problems is quite low.

As you know, I used to be a computer programmer, and I’m still a stats nerd. With so many issues, there are “positive deviants” — say, 2 percent or 3 percent of actors who are getting significantly better results than the norm. Finding those outliers, figuring out what they’re doing that’s different, and sharing the knowledge can really help. I saw this in my reporting on childhood traumachronic homelessness and hospital safety, to name a few areas….(More)”