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Six takeaways from Tech Salon NYC

3 Empire State Building

August 03, 2017

Author: Jill Shah

Last Thursday, we had the honor of getting together with many of our peers and partners in New York City to discuss opportunities and challenges in delivering technology for global health equity. The discussion was moderated by Linda Raftree of Tech Salon, sponsored by Medic Mobile and Praekelt, and hosted by Thoughtworks. The main discussants - Josh Nesbit from Medic Mobile, Jonathan McKay from Praekelt, and Tiffany Lentz from Thoughtworks - were joined by nearly forty individuals in a variety of sectors and roles, all with an interest in digital tools for health.

Rarely do technology designers working in global health step back and come together to talk collaboratively about our work. Thursday’s discussion was ripe with questions, insights, and laughs as we explored the state of our ecosystem and community.

Here are some key takeaways:

1. There isn’t a single entry point to designing and building technology for global health: Medic Mobile began as a service design organization, Praekelt.org is the offspring of a digital agency, and Thoughtworks is a commercial technology company engaging in global health through corporate social responsibility. Innovation and results in this space can come from a variety of places, and ultimately, a sector-wide commitment to core values is more important than any specific business model or tool.

2. Traditional evidence and “engagement” rates can be slow to build. In the settings where we work, we’re often introducing a tool or workflow where there was none before. A lack of baseline data as well as unique contextual factors mean we have to set, adapt, and learn from our impact and engagement continuously. 

We can commit to impact-oriented and data-driven work without requiring long RCTs to scale something that works. We need to educate our donors and partners to that effect.

3. Common standards, infrastructure, and platforms will usher in the next wave of innovation (and integration and interoperability). Organizations continue to start from scratch in this space and reinvent the wheel rather than building on the success and failures of those that came before them. Vertical solutions have been proven ineffective in global health programs and should not be replicated in global health technology. Funders need to make long-term investments (both in time and money) in this ecosystem to see the gains that come from integrated, interoperable tools for global health.

4. Information systems need to be out and ahead of shifts in delivering care. Innovators, implementing partners, and governments are working hard to design and strengthen health systems that deliver better care. They deserve state of the art and cutting-edge tools every step of the way. Technology designers need to recognize and support the shifts in health systems that result in better health outcomes rather than designing tools based on solely on available technology and static trends. 

5. “Human-centered everything” is important, and so is just making things at work at scale. From design to program planning to scaling, human-centered approaches need to be at the core of what we do. And importantly, as many technology providers achieve long-awaited numbers in scale, we have to quickly get good at solving hard technical challenges that accompany that growth. 

6. All of us need to support and empower governments as system owners. Ultimately, the success of our tools will depend on scale and sustainability, both of which will be achieved through local government ownership. Government stakeholders need to be able to support and advocate for tools to strengthen their health systems, and technology providers have a key role to play in building that capacity.

These were just a handful of many salient points made at the event, and we’re grateful to all the organizations represented as well as Tech Salon for their contributions. Medic Mobile is committed to participating in and growing a collaborative and deliberate community around this work, and we look forward to many more such events.

For more information about the next Tech Salon in New York City, visit http://technologysalon.org/new-york/.


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