Last week, I attended IntraHealth’s SwitchPoint 2013. It was an energizing event that brought together technologists, public health professionals, entrepreneurs, health workers, and artists to discuss innovations and partnerships for social change. I personally took away three key messages.
- Making is contextual
Erik Hersman, a Nairobi-based technologist and blogger, opened the event with the statement “if it works in Africa, it will work elsewhere.” He shared the many creative solutions that can be found across the continent. Creativity and inventiveness are often by-products of having little. In Africa, if you can’t fix something, then you’re just stuck. You can’t just throw something away and buy a new version if something doesn’t work. You need to improvise, recycle, reuse, and find creative solutions.
- A solution is defined by its user
Speaking of solutions, Josh Nesbit, CEO of Medic Mobile, challenged the technologists and reminded the public health folks in the audience that a solution is only a solution when it is used by the people for what they need. That is, once it solves a problem that the user is facing. Although technology offers all sorts of cool solutions, practical innovations are often low-tech as they must meet the needs of the end user without creating more problems for them.
- Trial and error is key
Sometimes, the best solutions aren’t the high-tech or “sexy” ones. It’s critical to think about and, more importantly, collaborate with intended users to make sure that the solutions meet their needs. This process often requires a willingness among all parties to learn from trial and error. Assess the needs and what is currently be used or done to address the needs (if anything), develop a solution, monitor and learn from its implementation, and then reassess and refine or develop something else.