August 30, 2012

Stories from the Field: A Local Perspective on the iLab Southeast Asia

A History of Social Service
I’ve always been drawn to work that gives me the opportunity to help people improve their lives and well being.  One of my first experiences working with a non profit was back in 1999.  I began working as a volunteer at the Khmer Youth Association (KYA) which focuses mostly on working with Cambodian youth in order to empower them to create positive social change in Cambodia.

After 3 years with KYA, I transitioned to a new role as Team Leader of Commune Election Council Investigation with the Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (COMFREL) in 2002.
 Once I finished my bachelor degree in early 2003, I was hired as a full time staff at Pour un Sourrir d’Enfant (PSE) which is a French non-profit organization dedicated to providing food, medical care, general education and vocational training to impoverished children in Cambodia.  After 7 years of working with the poor children who lived around one of Cambodia’s many dump sites, I learned that InSTEDD was looking for a field support officer to work at the iLab Southeast Asia in Phnom Penh.  The position seemed like a good opportunity for me to get more experience working for my country.

Coming to the iLab Southeast Asia

Due to InSTEDD’s heavy focus on human-centered design, my role as the field support officer is extremely important.  I am constantly learning new information and terminology that I haven’t encountered before, such as medical terms and disease information.  A large part of my role at the iLab Southeast Asia is to support users by providing helpful resources, such as the help cards below,  that guide them on how to use the tools.

this card is a help card showing the user how to register with GeoChat 

this image shows how to create and send a new message

Human-Centered Design Comes from Users
Working directly with users to understand their workflow and listening to their feedback on the tools is what lets me know which techniques should be used to transfer the knowledge to them. For example, when I first attempted to create the instruction and help cards, I designed them with step by step directions with lots of text.  But after just one training session, I learned that most users would much prefer pictures instead of text.  I quickly learned that the more pictures we used, the higher our success rate was.

Working with the end users is my favorite part of the job since it’s where I learn the most. InSTEDD’s focus on human-centered design and agile software development gives me the opportunity to interact with people directly so that we can magnify the positive social impact of our work.  I’ve been able to learn about their behaviors, capacity and unique perspectives which is very important to know before we develop software or suggest a change in their process.
These are just some of my new experiences working with InSTEDD at the iLab Southeast Asia.  I’ve been able to learn from the team each step of the way which makes me feel increasingly confident in my current job and my ability to help develop software that solves critical problems that our clients have.

The Impact of the iLab Southeast Asia
I’ve seen first hand how important the tools we’ve developed have been.  Here’s just a few examples:
Malaria Day Zero Alert System: The Malaria Day Zero Alert System is a web-based application that can receive malaria case reports through SMS, visualize the collective results on a map, identify reporting errors as well as send SMS notifications to remote field workers.  The system enables health center staff and village malaria workers in provincial villages to report malaria cases via SMS text alerts to a centralized system. Once centralized, malaria case reports can be resent to areas where outbreaks are probable, as well as elevated up to the national level where emergency action can be taken if necessary. (read more in my previous blog post)

TB Lab Result Alert System: The TB Lab Result Alert System is a web based application with SMS capabilities that enables a user at health center send TB suspect patient's information to the system as well as providing a way for the lab technician to send lab results.  Our work is improving the efficiency of reporting TB lab results to patients living in rural villages of the Kampong Cham province of Cambodia. In the SMS-based TB Lab Results Alert System, once the TB tests are analyzed, the results can be reported immediately to the health centers in real time using text messages on mobile phones. Real-time reporting means that patients with positive TB test results can be given medical treatment right away, as well as receive important education by village volunteers with specialized training about how to prevent spreading the disease to others.

Infectious Disease Reporting: Using a combination of GeoChat and the Reporting Wheel, 18 health centers in the Kien Svay Operational District (OD) are now able to use SMS to easily and rapidly send in their weekly disease reports to their respective headquarters. In addition to bottom up disease reporting described above, GeoChat is also being used for top down information sharing. The Operational District lead uses GeoChat to send information that they receive at the national level about upcoming meetings, events or critical information to the health centers, all through SMS. Now that InSTEDD’s tools are used to support public health communications, the health care workers are better able to see emerging outbreaks, share information about prevention and treatment as well as coordinate responses with their teams, which enhances their ability to save more lives.

Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I see the iLab Southeast Asia continuing to provide much needed support the the health care system.  If we continue to get support from the government and other partners who can help us implement these tools on a larger scale, then I see us being able to support improved communications in a variety of ways.  We can help make information more manageable and actionable as well as faster and more accurate.  This is so important for planning the future of our community, country and beyond.
You can learn more about our work on our newly launched website here:

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