I was going through the BBC this morning, and after reading all about the new Pope (who believes that condoms may be morally acceptable but only to stop the spread of disease), I came across this far more interesting article about how public health researchers in Tanzania are retrofitting iPhones to act as field microscopes.
So cool! So why did I title the post “This is not a mHealth Project”? It stems from a conversation that we often have at the TechChange office with Joel Selanikio from Datadyne (makers of Magpi, née EpiSurveyor), where we often all end up agreeing with one another that there are no successful “ICT4D projects”. What there are instead are projects that creatively use various types of computing and communication technology as part of their overall process. They don’t lead with the technology; instead it’s a supplement and is leveraged where appropriate. Thus, back to the title: this is not an “mHealth project”, it’s an ongoing effort to deal with and mitigate the effects of intestinal parasites in Tanzania, and the researchers and doctors involved have found a novel way to cheaply modify an iPhone to make the work they already do easier.
Thus, we have Thursday’s tech tip. If you’re involved in international development, public health, peacebuilding, or what have you, don’t lead with the technology! Rebuilding entire processes around new technology is a futile exercise; technology changes and evolves much faster than social science or social research processes do. In many cases the way we do research and program implementation are already fairly well-founded, and the technology should make what we are already doing easier or more efficient – if that’s not the case, it’s an opportunity to re-think how technology fits into your research process, not vice versa!