Enabling Environment to Foster Open Source Health Innovation
What is the innovation and how does it address a pressing problem?
InSTEDD iLabs are physical spaces for innovation, research and consultancy with a focus on collaborative technologies for social good.
Often, social programs are implemented in isolation, resulting in short term solutions that come and go, are expensive, require remote support, and create dependencies on external organizations.
Located in Cambodia and Argentina, iLabs are open collaboration spaces staffed with a multidisciplinary team focused on the use of appropriate technology for social needs. Led and staffed by local community members, the iLab flips traditional models of designing technological tools for social projects by starting with users in their own context. It designs projects with partners starting from the field, bringing mobile operator relationships, and minimizing long-term costs to ensure a potential to scale from the very beginning. The iLab’s success rests on a culture that celebrates thoughtful experimentation, iteration and collaboration, allowing promising ideas to be tried and when found effective, scaled and replicated elsewhere.
In both Southeast Asia and Latin America, the iLabs become regional catalysts of innovation. This happens passively--as the iLab demonstrates successes, practitioners in other countries seek to replicate those successes. It also happens actively, with iLab members engaging communities in neighboring countries to work together in applying and designing technologies to improve the world around them.
What existing practices inspired the innovation and how does it represent something new?
InSTEDD’s work in Southeast Asia began in 2007, to design technologies for better surveillance and response to disease outbreaks in the Mekong Sub-region of Southeast Asia. The early field analyses revealed deep gaps between the needs of different stakeholders, depending on their locations and work functions. It became clear that there was no single skill-set or technology that could solve these fundamentally human problems. The iLabs were created to bring all relevant actors into a single space to collaboratively design solutions to intractable cross-sectoral problems.
In the places where InSTEDD works, this represents a new way of working.
The iLabs host leaders from the technology and health fields. Local designers work with individuals, organizations and governments to design social programs starting from their goals and the needs of users. The iLab work culture allows practitioners to take key elements of success from both health and technology and combine them into one unified practice.
The iLabs also foster innovation by relying on human-centered design principles. Human-centered design starts in the field. Rather than evaluating projects after they’ve been implemented, iLab technologies are developed with the end user, relying on constant evaluation and iteration. This creates real-time “feedback loops” from users on how tools can be strengthened. Working on open source technologies, iLabs reuse, adapt and create the best available tools worldwide, ensuring scale.
Please describe the social impact to date, as well as potential impact in the future.
The iLab’s work on projects has directly impacted populations through improved health and development. The iLab has worked in partnerships with government, mobile operators, and NGOs, on over 15 projects and tools that benefit thousands of workers and volunteers every day for uses such as:
- Helping the national elimination of malaria through real-time reports for 100% of cases from all malaria-prone provinces, bridging public and private providers;
- Supporting rapid response to disease outbreaks nationwide with mobile coordination tools covering around 30 yearly outbreaks;
- Services for improving 400,000 garment workers’ conditions through mobile content and abuse hotlines,
- Improving treatment of HIV patients through reminders and medical record deployment and analysis tools to provide continuity of care to more than 50,000 patients including 6000 children.
In addition to their impacts in Southeast Asia, these open source technologies have been adapted and implemented in Africa and elsewhere.
The iLabs also have indirect impact by seeding their lessons-learned in other organizations and regions. iLab mentors leaders in the iLab itself and supports regional open events such as BarCamps, Startup Weekends, and Hackerspaces.
The iLab working model is also influential. InSTEDD is opening labs in other regions and the iLab concept has also spread outside of InSTEDD, as such labs become more common as a model of community-led development.