More Than a Library: A Portal for the Supply Chain Learning Community

Contraceptive Security

John Liebhardt

IntraHealth International | Digital Library Knowledge Management Advisor

Barbara Stilwell

IntraHealth International | Senior Director, Health Workforce Solutions
Dr. Andrew William, JSI/USAID | DELIVER PROJECT

Dr. Andrew William, JSI/USAID | DELIVER PROJECT

Too often, knowledge portals take “a build it and they will come” attitude. The thinking goes that by simply dumping enough research and best practices in a single virtual corner, you’ll attract a crowd. This is shortsighted.

The internet is full of knowledge portals and digital libraries, but we are currently partnering with the Regional Centre of Excellence of Health Supply Chain Management in Kigali, Rwanda, to design something special.

Positive health outcomes require access to medicines and other health commodities. This in turn demands excellent performance from dynamic and complex health supply chains. The health supply chain workforce plays an essential role in achieving health goals and, to be effective, supply chain managers require specific technical and managerial competencies. Yet the status of the supply chain workforce in many low- and middle-income countries stands in marked contrast to its status in the modern commercial sector, where supply chain management is recognised as a key strategic function, instrumental to institutional success.

With this in mind, the Regional Centre of Excellence of Health Supply Chain Management (RCE-HSCM) in Kigali, Rwanda, teamed up with us at IntraHealth International to build a robust knowledge management platform to address the information needs of supply chain students, researchers, and personnel in the region.

Professionalizing Supply Chain Management

The East African Community (EAC) is currently establishing the centre of excellence to professionalize the health supply chain workforce and to jumpstart more research of supply chain practices in the five member countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. It will be housed at the School of Public Health at the University of Rwanda and offer continuing education courses as well as preservice programs.

The centre of excellence’s team envisions a multi-faceted knowledge portal to support its mission. And that’s where our partnership comes in.

No matter how simple, any website—or knowledge portal—provides some level of knowledge management. By definition, these sites organize information and prioritize its most important aspects simply by placing certain things in more prominent sections or higher in the architecture. Site developers build methods to push information to users, through services like social media channels, RSS feeds, or newsletters. Websites are also repositories, allowing users to find old reports and best practices from previous projects.

At a minimum, the Centre of Excellence does need this basic level of knowledge management and a website that will meet its charter as an academic institution, providing information on admission, major dates in the academic calendar, and contact information for questions. It would be easy to stop there.

Developing Content with Users in Mind

But our approach to knowledge management is that websites like this must appeal to all levels of users. Too often industry-oriented sites speak mainly to expert-level users, making it difficult for the rest of us to get a basic understanding of an issue. And websites designed for newbies lack the meat and technical resources experts find useful. Our task is to meet each level of user’s specific knowledge needs while bringing together the academic community with the already bustling local, regional, and international professional supply chain communities to support the center’s goal of becoming an innovation hub.

Novices and learners: The site will have a place for simple services like a community-built glossary to explain even the supply chain field’s most basic terms and sourced Wikipedia-type pages outlining the largest issues in health supply chain management with simple links to get more information. (Not to get too librarian-y, but we’ve also borrowed from USAID a simple, flexible taxonomy that will hopefully make it easy for people to find the information they’re looking for.)

RCE-HSCM students, faculty, and researchers: To support the blended learning approach of the Centre of Excellence, we will create a space for online learning where students can access class readings, important papers, and the latest reports. The site will also house and disseminate the Centre of Excellence’s research and provide channels for communicating directly with its community. Blog posts, news items, and an events calendar will help keep everyone up to date.

Supply chain professionals and international development community: Those already working in the supply chain field have spent many years developing knowledge sharing platforms like email discussion lists, conferences, and websites. Rather than creating a parallel platform, the RCE-HSCM portal will aggregate resources already available in one place with search tools for users to quickly find things available elsewhere like “professional development eLearning courses,” “virtual communities,” or “employment/consulting opportunities.” We are also setting aside space for the international community to contribute blog posts, updates on new research, and job fairs.

We hope the engagement among these users will transcend cyberspace. We’re currently working with funding organizations to allow the centre of excellence to hire a communications specialist to ensure the portal can adapt to changing needs. Kigali is an excellent location for conferences, international meetings, and share fairs, and we are eager to see how the international community and the Centre of Excellence can use the portal to extend face-to-face collaborations.