The DHIS2 design lab aims to extend our understanding of how generic enterprise software can be made usable and locally relevant to end-users when implemented in different contexts. We do this through practical interventions where we work to strengthen socio-technical aspects of and around the generic health software DHIS2.
Over the last two decades, the DHIS2 software has moved from a domain and organization-specific routine reporting system for health indicators implemented in a few countries to a generic software platform, designed to be used in any case of health data reporting, analysis, and presentation. In this regard, the software is highly successful with implementations in over 80 countries in domains such as disease surveillance, patient follow-ups, health commodity ordering, and logistics management. While the software has shown remarkable flexibility in supporting highly varying use-cases, addressing usability and ensuring locally relevant functionality to end-users of various kinds remains a persistent challenge in many of the implementations. This is especially prominent when the software is implemented to be used in radically different situations from what was initially intended, which is increasingly the case. For instance, in new sub-domains of health with different domain-specific procedures, terminologies, and conceptual logics. As experienced by end-users, problems typically take the shape of complicated UIs with abstract and unfamiliar terminology, structured in a way that provides little similarity to existing practices.
Interestingly, usability is not universal, but rather dependent on a variety of contextual factors. As what makes sense to users may vary significantly across domains, countries and organizations, design to ensure usability cannot only happen at the global level of development, during what we term generic-level design. It must be addressed also on the level of implementation, through the process of implementation-level design. That is, during the design process unfolding when the generic software is implemented in a concrete use-case.
Our design lab focus on strengthening the process of implementation-level design related to usability. Both by creating technical features and tools in and around DHIS2 that allows implementers to shape the software according to local needs, and by exploring and developing methods for design.
UPHMIS - Uttar Pradesh, India
In Uttar Pradesh, India, we are working with HISP India and a local implementing organization to strengthen the usability of DHIS2, which is implemented as a routine reporting information system throughout the state (population of approx. 220 million). Our involvement includes the design and development of apps and widgets, strengthening consistency in design, exploration of appropriate design methods, and the establishment of a state-level 'living lab', where local developers and end-users can frequently interact to improve and further develop the system. The enormous scale, limited time and resources, and the use of a generic software package imply many interesting challenges in terms of design.
AMR - India
Together with HISP India and ICMR, we are involved in the process of implementing DHIS2 as a reporting system for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in India. As we are quickly moving towards a situation where antibiotics no longer work against common infections all over the world, AMR is one of the most important issues of our time. To find solutions, one important part is to design and develop good and usable systems to report, analyze and monitor resistance in humans, animals, and the environment.
Our goal is to contribute with expertise on the design and development of robust and usable software and user interfaces. It is a particularly interesting case for our lab, as the AMR-domain differs radically from the typical use-cases for DHIS2. How to ensure usability in our generic software in such a radically different use context is still an open question which we try to understand better.
DHIS2 UI design system
One of the main concerns of the lab is how to technically facilitate implementation-level designers in creating usable user interfaces for DHIS2. During implementation in projects such as the UPHMIS and AMR, time and resources may be limited, and usability often suffers. To address this, the lab is involved in the design and development of a design system for DHIS2. The system contains a variety of commonly used components with the aim of making the development of local apps for the DHIS2 platform more easy and efficient.