ICT4D: Sharing Digital Health Successes and Failures


Lisa Mwaikambo

CCP | Co-Manager, Global Health eLearning
Lisa presenting at ICT4D

Lisa discusses GHeL and K4Health's content adaptation guide during “Sharing, adapting, and delivering content in digital solutions.”

With a wide array of conference tracks as well as presenters representing both the public and private sectors, the 9th Annual ICT4D Conference in Hyderabad, India was truly engaging and interactive!

The conference encouraged sharing among humanitarian and international development organizations that have used innovations in technology to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For many, this included examples of effective interventions and solutions, while others offered stories of failed initiatives or concepts on the road to implementation. Q&A sessions following the presentations on successful interventions were especially helpful, as they allowed time to dive deeper into challenges, lessons learned, and the process of design and implementation.

Involving all stakeholders

One particular “failure” presentation illustrated how technology solutions, even when working perfectly, can still fail to reach intended goals. Pathfinder International developed Text2Speak, a Premium SMS service rating system that allows clients to constructively provide feedback. Text2Speak was designed to address the problems of service underutilization and patient dissatisfaction in Nigeria by creating a health worker accountability mechanism via a client rating feedback loop. However, Pathfinder found that simply making a tool like Text2Speak available didn’t guarantee uptake. The presenter, who was a technologist, wasn’t sure if the failure was a result of:

  • Language and how the global health community talks about barriers to services, instead of asking clients what they are unhappy with and using their own language; and/or
  • The fact that nurses weren’t engaged in the development of the tool and, therefore, saw it as a threat to their employment.

This presentation highlighted the importance of the Principles for Digital Development, especially Design with the User and Be Collaborative—which may have helped overcome the “failure.”

It’s essential to get all stakeholders (not just intended users) involved in articulating the problem and identifying solutions. Likewise, you need to know if the method of delivery is appropriate for your audience. Ask questions that are important to them—or at least in language that they can easily understand. All interventions, whether or not they leverage technology, should know the intended audience. At K4Health, we’ve found this to be true in all our efforts, which is why we start with a needs assessment of our intended audiences. The design stage of K4Health’s Making Content Meaningful: A Guide to Adapting Existing Global Health Content for Different Audiences also highlights the importance of knowing your audience.

ICT4D panel

Erica Layer of D-tree, Steve Ollis of MCSP, Heidi Good Boncana of K4Health, and Neha Goel of Telehealth.


I presented on the Global Health eLearning Center (GHeL) and the content adaptation guide as part of a training session on “Sharing, adapting, and delivering content in digital solutions.” The most exciting part of this experience was learning about a number of other organizations using eLearning to reach health providers and program staff working in the areas of nutrition, agriculture, and financial services. The opportunity to talk shop with colleagues who face similar challenges related to connectivity, co-creation of content, and the development and distribution of courses for multiple devices was refreshing and illuminating. I learned how:

Finally, I learned about monitoring considerations for all types of learning, including through social media as well as traditional eLearning environments.

Knowledge management and sharing

Sharing knowledge and learning from each other ensures efficient work, which is crucial when it comes to accomplishing the SDGs—especially SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

A plenary speaker shared this quote from Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, that spoke to me of the importance of knowledge sharing:

Most of the world’s smartest people don’t have the right credentials. They don’t speak the right language. They don’t live in the right countries. They didn’t go to the right universities. They don’t know about you and you don’t know about them.

Technology is a social innovation only when we use it to improve people’s lives. Conference settings, such as ICT4D, provide a formal channel for knowledge sharing and connection with people working to address similar issues and challenges. Creating spaces to transmit lessons learned from one project or organization to another is critical to making continued progress and moving the needle towards achieving the SDGs—for the good of all of us.