Tools, Tools, Tools: Knowledge Management for Digital Health Projects

David Potenziani

IntraHealth International | Senior Informatics Advisor
PharmAccess mHealth program

PharmAccess mHealth program. Photo by PharmAccess Foundation via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

On December 7, K4Health hosted the second webinar in a two-part series, Digital Health’s Missing Link: Knowledge Management. The webinar series explores how knowledge management can help the digital health field through understanding what has been done before and use that information to inform the planning and execution of our current efforts. The first webinar highlighted knowledge management resources and repositories that already exist and can help project leaders during the preparation and initiation phases. In the second, we highlighted specifically how digital health implementers use certain tools and methods to document and share knowledge through their projects.

So, what did we learn?

“Tools, tools, tools” was a common theme across the presentations, even though no one offered that alliteration. We learned that we live in a rich environment of tools and approaches for managing knowledge. But the tool is only helpful if it’s wielded by a person or group that can use it effectively.

Breese Arenth spoke about PATH's framework and approach for managing and sharing information during digital health solutions projects, using their Data Use Partnership in Tanzania as an example. PATH tries to think and act using information tools for internal and external communications and coordination. Their approach sees knowledge management as particularly valuable in serving partnership needs. (Breese will present on mapping a data use culture at the Global Digital Health Forum meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM.)

Kate Plourde from FHI 360 discussed how they use knowledge management in implementing m4RH (Mobile for Reproductive Health), an SMS-based reproductive health communication program. As they introduce the program in new countries, the process involves communications, an adaptation framework, cost tracking, shared information, and guidance between global and local teams. They also recognize that knowledge sometimes requires protection; for this reason, they license their content to retain the scientific validity when they deliver it to clients. (She will moderate a session on reaching underserved populations at the GDHF on Tuesday, December 13, 1:15-2:15 PM.)

Emily Nicholson explained how IntraHealth International strived to implement mHero, a two-way SMS-based tool, in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in a year’s time—immediately after the Ebola crisis. With so many moving project pieces, the local teams needed to share information, documents, and track efforts with the global team. They all used Google Docs to remotely and simultaneously update planning documents, and Google Sheets to track the location of materials and steps in the project. (Emily will be presenting mHero at an “Appy Hour” Reception at the GDHF on Tuesday, December 13, 5-7 PM.)

Finally, Annah Ngaruro from ICF International spoke on managing digital health projects from a software engineering perspective. She uses knowledge management tools and approaches to keep stakeholders informed during the software development process. This serves not only to demystify a highly technical process, but to help the project owner understand the impact of decisions on the costs, schedule, data quality, and system integrity. Her organization uses GitHub, an online and open source code repository and collaborative website, for tracking issues and version control questions during software development. GitHub offers a wide variety of tools beyond just managing software code, with capabilities for project management, notifications, resource allocation, and even wikis for documentation.

Each of our presenters told a different story of using knowledge management tools and processes in their projects, ranging from complicated development to working under stress. They highlighted how these resources offer methods to achieve the shared goal of understanding that supports coordinated action.

There will be many more uses of knowledge management for digital health featured at the Global Digital Health Forum in Washington, D.C. Here are a few examples on the agenda, but we also know that many of our insights will be found in side conversations and tacit learning over coffee breaks and in discussion forums.

Tuesday, December 13:

Wednesday, December 14: