Connecting health workers to information and tools – what does it take?

It’s estimated that more than a billion people will never see a health worker in their entire lives. In developing countries, most of those who do will head directly to frontline health workers. Given the exceptional importance of these workers in communities across the world, why are so many still profoundly under-trained and how can we tackle this critical issue?

mPowering is developing a digital content platform to provide maternal and child health resources for frontline  health workers and the people who train and support them. These resources will be open source, with a strong emphasis on quality. They will include multi-media training materials focusing on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, toolkits for trainers, and guidance for content developers on how to adapt content to mobile.

To date, we have launched a prototype site, collected feedback, and established a robust quality review process. More than 80 organizations have expressed interest in sharing their content on the mPowering platform.

In 2015, we’re focusing on growing the platform from its current prototype and launching a more comprehensive site. To gather ideas on what the site should look like, and what functions it should have, we organized a Content Platform Workshop with the US Global Development Lab.

On December 8 2014, colleagues with expertise in technology, content development and health program implementation came together to share their ideas.  We discussed the key design features and functionality that the content platform needs to become a global resource for high quality content for frontline health workers; and the potential for digital content platforms more broadly across development (e.g. for agriculture and for education).

From the long and varied list of critical elements of a successful platform, several key points emerged:

  • Create a user-focused and  a customized experience: A great, simple design is essential.  Users should be able to navigate the site easily, and the site should intuitively recommend content they may be interested in, based on previous choices. The site should help trainers like NGOs, Ministries, and other training institutions to package materials for their trainees.
  • Facilitate content adaptation and localization: The content platform should make it easy for users to find high-quality content. It should provide tools that will enable users to adapt the resources to meet local needs, potentially saving implementers weeks or months they would otherwise spend creating new content.
  • Quality of Content: The content on the site must be high quality, and relevant to frontline health workers in low resource settings. This will make users confident that they have access to the best, most up-to-date, information.
  • The site needs to fit within an end- to- end system, enabling users to download content into learning management systems, create modules and courses, and include assess and accredit learning. A platform’s ability to communicate with other sites and learning systems is critical to its long term use. As one participant said “In order for the system to work, we have to get the platform right.”

A trained health worker with the right knowledge, skills and support can promote healthy pregnancies, save lives at birth, and identify childhood illnesses.  “Getting it right” to help her reach the tools she needs is a complex process, but digital libraries like the mPowering Content Platform have the potential to connect millions of health workers with critical information that is reliable, relevant, and easy to access.

Do you have other ideas for what the platform needs to include? We’d love to hear from you- leave your ideas in the comments below!

We thank our colleagues at the US Global Development Lab, the United Nations Foundation, the Maternal and Child Survival Program, MAMA, Accenture Development Partnerships, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, TechChange, Jhpiego , and Digital Campus for their participation in the Content Platform Workshop!