The DHIS2 Design Lab explores how we within the DHIS2 software ecosystem can facilitate and promote the design and innovation of tools that are usable and provide value to the work of end-users. The knowledge generated through our work is also relevant to research on design and innovation within generic enterprise software ecosystems more generally.
About the lab
DHIS2 is a global generic software platform used by many organizations in different health and non-health contexts across more than 70 countries. What's considered usable and relevant to the many end-users across different implementations of the software tends to vary, thus it's challenging to build a ‘one size fits all’ solution on the generic level of design. The design lab sees DHIS2 and the surrounding resources, people, and practices as a design infrastructure, rather than a standard software solution. The aim of the design infrastructure is to support the design of usable and relevant systems during implementation into concrete user organizations.
Our main focus is on strengthening the implementation-level design and innovation capacity of the design infrastructure so that it better supports designers in locally building the software that is right for particular contexts of use.
The design lab consists of researchers and post-graduate students at the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo, working in collaboration with DHIS2 core developers and implementation specialists around the world including India, Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania.
Key aspects of focus
1. How can we support and promote the use of socio-technical methods that aid the design of usable and relevant software on the level of implementation?
Our work related to this question involves exploration and development of resources that can support implementation-level designers in conducting socio-technical design and innovation (i.e., user and practice-oriented design). This includes specific design methods, processes, and guidelines. To be relevant, these need to be sensitive to how implementation of DHIS2 currently unfold, and the practices and concerns of the implementation specialists that drive and take part in these processes. This area of focus also relates to knowledge and guidance on how to negotiate project scopes and mandates that allow for socio-technical design processes to take place. The aim is to facilitate the design and innovation of technology beyond ‘digital copies’ of paper-based systems, and rather develop useful tools that provide novel value to the end-users work.
2. How can we strengthen the technical implementation-level design capacity to adapt and develop novel functionality and user interfaces based on the particular practices and needs of user organizations?
Our work related to this question involves exploration and development of resources that support cost-effective development of custom applications for the DHIS2 software. This is important to our overarching aim as technical flexibility to adapt and develop new functionality and user interfaces is a key determinant of the implementation-level design capacity. Examples of the resources we are involved in exploring are an online DHIS2 web app development tutorial site, the DHIS2 app development platform, the Core UI design system, and a shared web component library.
New master students
There are several interesting projects related to our overall aim. The master students can conduct traditional case studies to understand current practices and challenges, or interventionist research in collaboration with DHIS2 practitioners. The latter may involve building novel apps, design methods, guidelines, or other relevant resources. The lab also provides an excellent collaborative environment for students to work together to solve real-life challenges and write relevant and interesting theses. Examples of projects include:
- Collaborate with implementation specialists in real implementation projects (e.g., in India, Mozambique, Tanzania or Malawi), to study the development, adaption, and use of socio-technical design methods to foster design and innovation of digital tools useful to various end-users.
- Study the existing design and innovation practices within the DHIS2 ecosystem and, potentially, identify and explore measures to strengthen the end-user focus during generic or implementation-level design.
- Explore how the DHIS2 (and/or other similar generic enterprise software ecosystem(s)) as design infrastructure is able to support user organizations with highly different practices and needs, and potential remaining organizational or technical obstacles to this.
- Study the practices related to app development, and potentially explore and develop resources that can make the development of generic or implementation-specific apps less resource-intensive. Could, for instance, involve collaborating with developers in building new apps based on end-user needs in concrete implementations of DHIS2 (potentially in combination with someone studying socio-technical methods for design and innovation).
Contact Magnus Li if you find our research focus and projects interesting to discuss a potential master thesis project within the lab.