Glossary

Agile software developmentA group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development, in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. Agile methods break tasks into small increments. Iterations are short time frames that typically last from one to four weeks. Each iteration involves a cross functional team working in all functions: planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, unit testing, and acceptance testing. At the end of the iteration a working product is demonstrated to stakeholders. This strategy minimizes overall risk and allows a project to adapt to changes quickly.

Beta test: An external pilot-test of a product (usually software or technology) before wide public release. The product has already passed through alpha test—i.e., the first-level, internal pilot-test conducted by the product team to ensure the product meets defined specifications. But since many problems or opportunities for improvement do not become apparent until the product is used under normal, everyday conditions, the Beta release is an important stage for spotting flaws. Beta testing can be considered "pre-release testing."

Big data: “Big data” is a popular term used to describe the exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured. It refers to a collection of data sets so massive and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional database management tools or data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis, and visualization. Many organizations are concerned that the amount of amassed data is becoming so large that it is difficult to find the most valuable pieces of information. However, big data—if analyzed efficiently and effectively—holds the promise of enabling: 1) cost reductions, 2) time reductions, 3) new product development and optimized offerings, and 4) smarter business decision making.

Champions: In public health programs, a champion is considered a charismatic advocate of a belief, practice, program, policy, and/or technology. It is a champion’s unique combination of skills—passion, persistence, and persuasiveness—that distinguish him or her from other advocates. The “champions advocacy model” is meant to increase the likelihood that a new or underutilized strategy will become standard practice.

Conversion rate: The percentage of potential end users in the target population who take a desired action (e.g., signing up for a service), as a result of direct marketing and distribution campaigns. Successful conversions are defined differently by individual marketers, advertisers, and content creators. For example, to an advertiser, a successful conversion may be defined as the sale of a product to a consumer whose interest in the item was initially sparked by clicking an online advertisement. To content creators, a successful conversion may refer to a software download.

Core competency: A defining capability or advantage that distinguishes an enterprise, organization, or initiative from its competitors. Core competencies are particular strengths relative to other organizations in an industry, which provide the basis of added value. In management theory, a core competency fulfills three criteria: (1) it is not easy for competitors to imitate, (2) it can be applied to many products and markets, and (3) it contributes to the end consumer's experience and perceived benefits regarding the good or service.

Data analytics: The process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions and findings, and supporting decision making. Data analytics is used in many industries to allow companies and organizations to make better business and strategy decisions.

Data dashboard: A dashboard is a user interface that, somewhat resembling an automobile's dashboard, organizes and presents information and data in a way that is easy to read. In software or technology, a dashboard is often a single page, real-time user interface, showing a graphical presentation of the current status and historical trends of an organization’s or program’s key performance indicators to enable instantaneous system tracking and informed decision-making.

Enabling environment: Attitudes, actions, policies, and practices that stimulate and support effective and efficient functioning of organizations, individuals, and programs or projects. The enabling environment includes legal, regulatory and policy frameworks, and political, socio-cultural, institutional, and economic factors.

End user: The person who actually uses a particular product or service. The term “end user” distinguishes the person who will actually interact with the mHealth application or service from individuals who are involved in other stages of its development, production, and distribution.

Flashback calls: Also known as recall, or “please call me,” flashback calls are a type of service that allows you to send a message requesting somebody to call you back. Some mobile network operators allow customers to send free “please call me” messages to friends and family across their network. The capability is designed to help people get in touch with others, especially in times of emergency, when they do not have enough airtime to make calls or send SMS.

Formative research: Formative research is generally conducted as part of project planning and/or over the course of project implementation. It is used as a basis for developing effective strategies and identifying appropriate communication channels. For example, in social and behavior change communication, formative research helps researchers and program managers identify and understand characteristics—such as interests, behaviors, and needs—of target populations that influence their decisions and actions. Formative research is integral to the sound planning of programs and to the improvement of existing programs. 

Gateway provider: Mobile, or SMS, gateway software providers are often referred to as aggregators. The aggregators have multiple agreements with the large mobile network providers, such as Verizon and AT&T, to send and receive text messages through these networks' SMS centers. These gateway providers will send and receive SMS traffic to and from the mobile phone networks' SMS centers, which are responsible for relaying those messages to the intended mobile phone.

General packet radio service (GPRS): General Packet Radio Service is a packet-switching technology that enables data transfers through cellular networks. It is used for mobile internet, MMS and other data communications. In theory the speed limit of GPRS is 115 kbps, but in most networks it is around 35 kbps. Informally, GPRS is also called 2.5G.

Hardware: In the context of mHealth and information technology generally, “hardware” is any physical device—something a person is able to touch. A computer monitor and mobile handset are examples of hardware.

Hosting:  Hosting (or “Web hosting”) is a service provided by a vendor that offers a physical location for the storage of webpages and files. Hosting companies are like a landlord: they rent physical space on their servers for storage. Hosting services are most often used for websites, and can also be used for files, images, source code, and similar content. For website hosting, there are three main types of hosting available: 1) shared web hosting, where a large number of websites are typically housed on the same server; 2) dedicated web hosting, where an entire server is leased and reserved for a single website; and 3) virtual private server hosting, a hybrid of the first two options in which a website is hosted on its own virtual server so that it will not be affected by the websites of other customers.

Human-centered design: Human-centered design (also known as user-centered design) is a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. It is a multi-stage problem solving process that requires designers to analyze and foresee how users are likely to use a product, and also tests the validity of their assumptions with regard to user behavior in real world tests with actual users. The primary difference from other product design philosophies is that human-centered design tries to optimize the product around how users can, want, or need to use the product, rather than forcing the users to change their behavior to accommodate the product.

Implementers: Those involved in developing and delivering the mHealth solution,  including project managers, program managers, technology partners, cliniclans, and other health workers.

Interactive voice response (IVR): Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony system that interacts with callers, gathers information and routes calls to the appropriate recipient or information. An IVR system accepts a combination of voice and touch-tone keypad inputs, and provides appropriate responses based on the customer’s prompts in the form of voice, fax, callback, e-mail and perhaps other media. Historically, IVR solutions have used pre-recorded voice prompts and menus to present information and options to callers, and touch-tone telephone keypad entry to gather responses. Modern IVR solutions also enable input and responses to be gathered via spoken words with voice recognition. IVR solutions enable users to retrieve information including bank balances, flight schedules, product details, order status, movie show times, and more from any telephone. Additionally, IVR solutions are increasingly used to place outbound calls to deliver or gather information for appointments, past due bills, and other time critical events and activities.

Interoperability: The ability of diverse systems to work together. The term was initially defined for information technology or systems engineering services to allow for information exchange. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by a user.

Key performance indicator (KPI): A key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement. An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged.

Keywords: A mobile keyword is a unique word that can contain letters or numbers within a text message, intended as a prompt for response. Keywords allow an end user (i.e., the receiver of the message) to interact with a service.  In the example ‘Reply PIZZA to receive weekly specials’, ‘PIZZA’ is the keyword.

Landscape analysis: A type of research conducted to provide a deep and broad exploration of a particular topic or industry. The analysis usually takes place to inform project or strategy planning. It is used as a means to identify current gaps, constraints, and opportunities, in order to validate the need for innovations, new activities, or strategy shifts.

Logic model: A tool used to lay out how an effort or initiative is supposed to work. Logic models—most often used by program managers and evaluators—are usually a graphical depiction of the logical relationships (“if-then” causal relationships) between the resources, activities, outputs, and outcomes of a program. For example, if certain resources are available for a program, then certain activities can be implemented, and if the activities are implemented successfully, then certain outputs and outcomes can be expected. A logic model keeps participants in the effort moving in the same direction by providing a common language and point of reference.

Market penetration: A measure of the amount of sales or adoption of a product or service compared to the total theoretical market for that product or service. The amount of sales or adoption can be an individual company's sale, or can be industry-wide, while the theoretical market can be the total population or an estimate of total potential consumers for the product. In mHealth, mobile phone penetration is an important metric to inform a landscape analysis. Mobile phone penetration rate is a term generally used to describe the number of active mobile phone numbers (usually as a percentage) within a specific population.

Mobile aggregator: (See also, gateway provider). A company that acts as a middleman between application/content providers and mobile carriers. An aggregator primarily provides message traffic throughput to multiple wireless operators or other aggregators, and often rents virtual numbers and short codes to application/content providers. An aggregator may also provide mobile initiative campaign oversight, administration, and billing services.

Mobile literacy: The range of ability to use applications and functions on a mobile phone, often directly associated with a mobile phone user’s literacy level (or rather, his or her ability to read and write).

Mobile money: A cash management service available on the mobile phone or internet that facilitates money transfer. With mobile money, customers can convert cash to and from electronic value (“e-money”), and they can use mobile money to perform transfers or make payments. In many countries, especially low-resource settings, mobile operators already have large airtime distribution networks which can be leveraged to provide customers with a network of mobile money agents where they can perform cash-in and cash-out transactions. Large mobile operators in developing countries typically have 100 to 500 times more airtime reseller outlets than all of the banks’ branches put together.

Mobile network operator (MNOs): A mobile network operator (MNO) (also known as mobile phone operator (or simply mobile operator), carrier service provider (CSP), wireless service provider, wireless carrier, telecom, or cellular company) is a telephone company that provides services for mobile phone subscribers. An MNO is a provider of wireless communications services that owns or controls all the elements necessary to sell and deliver services to an end user, such as radio spectrum allocation, wireless network infrastructure, billing, and customer care. A key defining characteristic of an MNO is that it must own or control access to a radio spectrum license from a regulatory or government entity.

Multi-channel campaign: A multi-channel campaign, often used in marketing, refers to the delivery of a brand/campaign message via more than one touch point ’experience’ to influence a target audience’s behavior or intent to purchase a product or service.

Multimedia messaging service (MMS): Abbreviated as MMS, the Multimedia Messaging Service is a store and forward messaging service that allows subscribers to exchange multimedia files as messages. MMS supports the transmission of various media types: text, picture, audio, video, or a combination of all four. The originator can easily create a Multimedia Message, by snapping a photo with the phone camera, or by using images and sounds stored previously in the phone (or downloaded from a web site). In order to send or receive a MMS, the user must have a compatible phone that is running over a GPRS or 3G network. Most current mobile phones and operator networks support MMS.

Naming convention: An agreed-upon method for naming things. The intent is to allow useful information to be deduced from a set of names based on a specific pattern. For instance, in Manhattan, streets are numbered; those that run east-west are named “Street”, and those that run north-south are named “Avenue." In IT and knowledge management, naming conventions are often used to name files in a consistent way, to simplify archiving and retrieval.

Open source: Generally, open source refers to a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which developers improve upon the code and share changes and improvements with each other. Supporters of the open source model believe that by allowing anyone to modify the source code, the application will become more useful and error-free over the long term. To be considered as open source software, certain criteria must be met:

  • The program must be freely distributed.
  • Source code must be included.
  • Anyone must be allowed to modify the source code.
  • Modified versions can be redistributed.
  • The license must not require the exclusion of other software or interfere with the operation of other software.

Opportunity cost: The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the "cost" incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would be had by taking the second best choice available. The notion of opportunity cost plays a crucial part in ensuring that scarce resources are used efficiently. Therefore, opportunity costs are not restricted to monetary or financial costs, and can include the real cost of any output forgone, such as lost time, pleasure, or any other benefit that provides utility.

Opt-in: The property of having to choose explicitly to join or permit something. For example, a customer usually has to opt-in to receive email communication from a company or service. In mobile technology, an end user may have to opt in via text message to join a service. This is the method generally used by direct marketing firms, subscription, or non-subscription periodicals, information suppliers, etc. After the opt-in, a company or service will keep sending the material or messages until the recipient chooses to opt out.

Pilot testing: A small-scale study conducted to assess feasibility, time, cost, acceptability, and effectiveness of a program to determine whether it should be scaled up or replicated, and, if so, to improve upon the original design. A pilot study is a standard scientific tool for “soft” research, allowing scientists to conduct a preliminary analysis before committing to a full-blown study, experiment, or program.

Prototyping: A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. Prototyping is the process of building an initial working model of a system. Once a working prototype is available, practical feedback can be solicited from users who can touch and see the model and suggest revisions. 

Qualitative research: Qualitative research methods were developed in the social sciences to enable researchers to study social and cultural phenomena. Qualitative research is an inductive approach, and its goal is to gain a deeper understanding of a person's or group's experience. It is data that is usually not in the form of numbers. Qualitative research asks broad questions and collects word data from participants (the data is usually not in the form of numbers). The researcher looks for themes and describes the information in themes and patterns exclusive to that set of participants.

Quantitative research: Quantitative research refers to the systematic empirical investigation of social phenomena via statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques. Quantitative data is any data that is in numerical form such as statistics, percentages, etc. Quantitative researchers ask specific, narrow questions and collect a sample of numerical data from participants to answer questions. The researcher analyzes the data with the help of statistics. The findings are supposed to yield an unbiased result that can be generalized to some larger population.

Server: A server, also known as a network service, is a computer system, which is used as the central repository of data and various programs that are shared by users in a network. A server is a computer designed to process requests and deliver data to other computers and their users over a local network or the Internet. Network servers typically are configured with additional processing, memory and storage capacity to handle the load of servicing other computers. Common types of network servers include: web servers, proxy servers, and FTP servers.

Short codes: Short codes (also known as short numbers) are special telephone numbers, significantly shorter than full telephone numbers that can be used to address SMS and MMS messages from mobile phones or fixed phones. Short codes are designed to be easier to read and remember than normal telephone numbers. Short codes are widely used for value-added services, such as television program voting, ordering ringtones, charity donations, and mobile services. Often, messages sent to a short code can be billed at a higher rate than a standard SMS and may even subscribe a customer to a recurring monthly service that will be added to the customer's mobile phone bill until the user choses to terminate the service.

Short messaging service (SMS): SMS or the Short Messaging Service allows users to send and receive personal text messages directly between mobile phones. Each message can be up to 160 characters long and can be sent to and from users of different operator networks. All mobile phones support SMS.

Social cost: Social cost is a term that is sometimes used in economic discussions to refer to the costs that are experienced by others when specific types of goods and services are purchased. Social cost is about assessing the potential liabilities of a given action or operation on the community at large, rather than simply considering the costs that an individual assumes by taking a specific action or buying a certain product. For example, the social costs of a manufacturing company that makes a range of goods may include pollution, loss of wildlife, or decrease in real estate values for nearby homes.

Software: A collection of instructions and code installed into a piece of hardware. An Internet browser, a mobile app, and a computer’s operating system are all examples of software.

Target beneficiaries: The people whose health knowledge and behaviors, and, ultimately, whose health outcomes, are improved as a direct result of the mHealth solution. 

Think aloud: A method used to gather data in usability testing in product design and development, (also used in psychology and a range of social sciences). Think-aloud protocols involve participants speaking their thoughts, actions, and emotions as they are performing a set of specified tasks. Users are asked to say whatever they are looking at, noticing, thinking, doing, and feeling as they go about their task. This enables observers to see first-hand the process of task completion (rather than only its final product). Observers take notes of everything that users say, without attempting to interpret their actions and words. Test sessions are often audio- and video-recorded so that developers can go back and refer to what participants did and how they reacted.

Total cost of ownership: A type of calculation to help consumers and project managers assess the long-term direct and indirect costs and benefits related to the purchase of a product or service. The intention is to arrive at a final figure that will reflect the effective cost of the purchase over the life of the product or service. For example, calculating the total cost of ownership of a computer workstation would include the initial purchase price of the computer, monitor, and printer; likely repair and service costs; replacement schedule (e.g., a “free with purchase” inkjet printer will likely need to be replaced more quickly than a more expensive laser printer); and the cost of supplies/consumables (such as ink cartridges, toner, and replaceable parts).

Use case: A use case describes "who" can do "what" with the system or software in question. In software and systems engineering, a use case is a list of steps, typically defining interactions between a role (or "actor") and a system, to achieve a goal. The actor can be a human or an external system.

Version control: A method to ensure that electronic files, shared among multiple users, are named and saved appropriately in order to keep track of the latest version. Version control allows team members to track each change as it is made, and to reverse changes when necessary.

Virtual number: A virtual number is a telephone number without a directly-associated telephone line. Usually these numbers are programmed to forward incoming calls to one of the pre-set telephone numbers chosen by the client; either fixed, mobile or voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP).