Staff Blog

Staff Blog

New CommCare Feature: Lookup Table Question Type

by Dimagi

20 May 2015

CommCare-Logo-(New) copy

We’re happy to announce a new feature available on CommCare’s Standard plan: the Lookup Tables question type.

Lookup Tables allow your mobile applications to “look up” information from a spreadsheet that is uploaded to your project space. The new question type links to any Lookup Tables you’ve created, making it easier to reference this information in your app. Lookup tables are great when you want to reference large amounts of information, such as Weight-for-Age Z Score tables for nutrition projects or extensive geographical locations like state, district, cluster, village.


image2015-5-14 13-27-17


You can read more about Lookup Tables, common uses, and the new question type on the CommCare Help Site. If you still have questions, feel free to reach out to CommCare Users.


Dimagineering: What Stops Us From Working

by Jonathan Jackson

27 April 2015




Recently, I was working on a CommCare Excel dashboard for an Ebola project in Sierra Leone. Not being an expert at Excel, I found myself looking up lots of complex formulas and spending time trying to wrap my head around the right approach to take (array formulas). As one would expect, trying to make progress learning something complex while also multi-tasking with skype, email, or other activities didn’t work well. I generally know and understand this. Whether I act appropriately with this knowledge is a different question. I soon realized that trying to do a learning or design task while multi-tasking with normal activities was not only non-productive; it was also harmful. Every time I got distracted from the dashboard, I lost focus and stopped progressing. I became less inclined to attempt to focus on the dashboard again later due to my frustration by my lack of progress the time before.

Eventually, it became apparent to me that the problem was more than inefficiency and distractions. The real problem was that my inefficiency caused frustration and dissatisfaction with the project in general. I’m surprised I never fully realized this much more negative consequence quite as clearly before. The less I progressed, the more I began to tell myself that I was being too slow. Feeling like I was progressing too slowly caused me to avoid the task. The very act of knowingly avoiding a task caused me to feel unbalanced in my work.

I’ve been giving several people advice to make sure to explicitly schedule a block of time in their calendar to do larger tasks that they are finding hard to make progress on. Sometimes with larger tasks, a component of the work is learning or figuring out the appropriate solution.  Allowing yourself the time to focus specifically on that task gives you time to figure things out, and as you allow yourself time to progress and learn, you become more and more satisfied with the work and the progress you are making.

I had a two hour block on a Saturday where I could work on the dashboard completely uninterrupted, and finally had time to read enough examples on the web to wrap my head around what to do.  This got me over the hump. I started to feel productive and happy working on the dashboard and eventually it became fun, as I felt like I was learning some useful excel skills.  I then spent another 4 hours on Sunday over-engineering polishing the dashboard with lots of new features I read about because the task had become fun rather than something to avoid.

Not only do I believe that scheduling dedicated time is a good time management trick, but I also think that for some people on some tasks, scheduling dedicated, uninterrupted tasks is critical to increasing satisfaction with the task. I often tell our team that if they are feeling discouraged on certain tasks that are important to them, this might be something to consider.  If it feels like a downward trend of interest in the activity due to lack of progress, it might be beneficial to schedule some dedicated time and explicitly not try to make progress on it until then. It worked for me.


jjacksonJonathan Jackson is the CEO of Dimagi, a leading ICT4D company and makers of CommCare – the most widely adopted, technically advanced, evidence based mobile platform for low-resource settings. In his new blog series, “Dimagineering”, he shares his experiences while leading a social enterprise that values “Impact, Team Satisfaction, and Profit – in that order!” Follow Jon on Twitter @jonathanleej and learn more about Dimagi and CommCare at www.dimagi.com.

How CommCare is Improving the Work of a Salesman in Senegal

by Kelly Adediha

21 April 2015
Alpha holding his mobile phone, in a street in Ouakam

Alpha holding his mobile phone, in a street in Ouakam


This post was written by Kelly Adediha, a Dimagi Technical Field Manager based in Dakar, Senegal.  His original version, written in French, can be found below.  


Back in January, I walked into the Apple Store on Boylston Street in Boston, MA to buy myself a new iPod. The transaction was very fast, but I noticed that all vendors in the store were equipped with mobile phones (iPhones, actually), that were actually their main work tool. From checking the availability of the required item in stock, registering the purchase, to preparing and sending me the bill and receipt, everything was done on the saleswoman’s phone. While leaving the store, I could not help but realizing how, in just a few years, mobile phones have evolved from being basic communication devices,  to become day to day work tools in a store.

A few weeks ago, I spent half a day in the streets of Ouakam, in Dakar (Senegal) with Alpha, a salesman of La Laiterie du Berger, a social enterprise that produces dairy products from milk collected among local farmers. Alpha is one of the sales agents who are responsible for provisioning thousands of outlets in Dakar and other regions in Senegal. For four years now, he has been refueling between 20 and 30 shops in the Ouakam area every week. His green t-shirt and cap are now famous in the streets of this suburb.

Since last year, Dimagi has been working with La Laiterie du Berger on a CommCare’s Sales mobile application. The application is currently in the pilot phase and Alpha is one of the first sales people at Laiterie du Berger to use it. He now owns an Android mobile phone, on which the CommCare application is installed. When he arrives in one of the outlets he is responsible for, he finds the store’s record on his phone. The mobile application automatically allows him to get information on the previous deliveries, the number of sales and the number of expired products. The app provides him a delivery simulation to optimize sales and reduce returns, based on sales and previous orders. At the end of each working day, data collected on the phones by all salespeople are synchronized with the CommCare HQ server, and then used by the marketing and sales department to make decisions and take actions.

Alpha admits that switching to the application was not glitch-free. But since he has been using it, he noticed a significant improvement in his performance and in the quality of his work. There are less expired products on the shelves, less stock-outs in stores, and he is very excited to be able to have this app as an everyday companion. In the coming months, Dimagi and La Laiterie Du Berger plan to gradually scale to more sales agents in Dakar as well as in other regions of Sénégal.

From Boston to Dakar, in an Apple store on a fancy avenue, as well as in a grocery store in a sandy alley, mobile technologies have now become common work tools. With CommCare, Dimagi aims to make opportunities offered by mobile technologies accessible to organizations like Laiterie du Berger, that are working in complex contexts to make an impact and social change.


Comment CommCare améliore la performance d’un agent commercial au Sénégal

En Janvier dernier, je suis rentré dans un Apple Store, sur Boylston Street à Boston, pour m’acheter un iPod. L’opération d’achat a été très rapide, mais j’ai remarqué que tous les vendeurs dans le store étaient munis de téléphones mobiles (des iPhone en l’occurrence), qui étaient tout simplement leur principal outil de travail. La vérification de la disponibilité de l’article recherché en stock, la commande, l’enregistrement de l’achat, la préparation et l’envoi du reçu,  tout, du début à la fin, s’est effectué sur le téléphone mobile de la vendeuse qui s’est occupé de mon achat. En sortant du store, je n’ai pu m’empêcher de constater comment, en quelques années seulement, le mobile est passé du rôle de moyen de communication à celui d’instrument de travail dans un store..

Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai passé une matinée dans les rues de Ouakam, à Dakar (Sénégal) avec Alpha, un agent commercial de La Laiterie du Berger, une entreprise sociale qui produit et commercialise des produits alimentaires à base de lait collecté auprès des éleveurs locaux sénégalais. Alpha est l’un des agents commerciaux de la Laiterie du Berger qui sont chargés de l’approvisionnement régulier de plusieurs milliers de points de vente à Dakar et dans le reste du Sénégal. Depuis quatre ans maintenant, il ravitaille quotidiennement entre 20 et 30 points de vente dans la zone de Ouakam. On le reconnaît désormais dans la rue, avec son  t-shirt vert,et son couvre-chef.

Depuis l’année dernière, Dimagi travaille avec la Laiterie du Berger pour développer une application mobile basée sur CommCare afin d’automatiser le suivi de la distribution et du stock. L’application est en ce moment en phase pilote et Alpha est l’un des premiers agents commerciaux de la Laiterie du Berger à pouvoir l’utiliser. Il possède désormais un téléphone mobile Android, sur lequel l’application CommCare est installée, qu’il utilise comme outil de travail. Lorsqu’ il arrive dans un des points de vente dont il est en charge, il l’identifie sur son téléphone. L’application mobile CommCare lui permet aussitôt d’avoir des informations sur les précédentes livraisons, le nombre de ventes, et le nombre de produits déclassés, pour ce point de vente. Elle lui propose une simulation de livraison pour optimiser les ventes et réduire les retours,  en se basant sur les ventes et livraisons précédentes. A la fin de chaque journée de travail, les données collectées sur les mobiles par tous les agents commerciaux sont synchronisées avec le serveur CommCare HQ, et sont ensuite analysées régulièrement par l’équipe de supervision et la direction commerciale pour prendre des décisions.

Alpha m’a confié avoir eu quelques difficultés au début pour prendre en main l’application. Mais depuis qu’il l’utilise, il a remarqué une amélioration sensible de sa performance et de la qualité de son travail. Il rencontre moins de retours et de ruptures de stocks dans les points de vente, et est très enthousiaste de pouvoir faire de cette application mobile un compagnon de tous les jours. Dans les mois à venir, Dimagi et la Laiterie du Berger comptent étendre progressivement l’utilisation de l’application mobile CommCare à plus d’agents commerciaux aussi bien à Dakar que dans les autres régions.

De Boston à Dakar, dans un Apple store sur une grande avenue, aussi bien que dans une épicerie de proximité dans une ruelle sablonneuse, le téléphone et les applications mobiles sont devenus aujourd’hui des outils de travail de tous les jours. Avec CommCare, Dimagi fournit les opportunités et innovations offertes par les technologies mobiles  et les met à la disposition et au service d’organisations telles que la Laiterie du Berger, qui interviennent dans des contextes complexes pour  apporter un impact et un changement social.


Life in the Clouds—Boosting Haitian Health Care Through Technology

by Therese Cafaro

1 April 2015


Ketcia Orvillus (PHoto Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Ketcia Orvillus (PHoto Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

This was originally published in the March/April online edition of USAID Frontlines

Robin, a small rural Haitian community, is only one and a half hours outside of Port-au-Prince, but may as well be a world away. The usual congestion, chaos and dust that coats the capital city gives way to open vistas of greenery, the occasional sounds of cows or goats, and clean, crisp air. Here, 37-year-old community health worker Ketcia Ovillus does her work, walking on unpaved mountain roads that sometimes seem to touch the sky to reach patients in distant villages.

Born and raised in Robin, Ovillus has been delivering the Government of Haiti’s primary package of health care services to her neighbors for the last four years. She is one of only five community health workers serving Robin’s 9,000 residents. She spends hours traversing the rough terrain to visit her patients in the mornings and returns to the dispensary by afternoon to assist medical staff there.

“Since I started this work, I’ve never had a bad day,” Ovillus says. “My days have all been good. I’m helping people.”

Ketcia Orvillus enters data into her handheld device between home visits. (Photo Credit:  Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Ketcia Orvillus enters data into her handheld device between home visits. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Ovillus was trained by Pathfinder International, a USAID-funded partner, to work within a network of health care facilities under a program called Services de Santé de Qualité pour Haiti in Haiti’s Central and South departments (SSQH-CS).

Since April 2014, her ability to track the myriad details about her patients’ lives got easier with new technology adopted by her employer. CommCare, an application developed by Dimagi in partnership with SSQH, is deployed on Android smartphones or on locally produced tablets called Surtabs. The app enables health workers to improve referrals between the community and medical facilities where more highly trained medical staff reside. In addition, the app is a job aid that reinforces counseling through Creole audio messages, supports health best practices, and improves the speed of data transmission when compared to a paper-based system.

Smart phone applications used in field work are not new to Haiti. However, the intuitiveness and dexterity of the CommCare app is. Instead of old-fashioned, multiple choice surveys that offer a snapshot of a person’s health at any given point, Ovillus’ tablet has “smart forms” that link to earlier health histories provided by patients, avoiding asking the same question twice, and giving a more in-depth view of someone’s health over time.

Another feature performs immediate calculations. For example, when Ovillus enters a child’s age and weight, malnutrition markers show up. On this day, all the infants checked were healthy, but responses from one of the mothers triggered a reminder that a certain vaccination was available for a child at the dispensary.

A new mother in Robin, Haiti, watches her 4-month-old daughter resting peacefully under a mosquito net during a home health care visit. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

A new mother in Robin, Haiti, watches her 4-month-old daughter resting peacefully under a mosquito net during a home health care visit. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

The CommCare app also helps monitor whether patients attend scheduled medical appointments. “I see you missed your appointment with the doctor in Robin,” Ovillus tells a patient.

“I am making another one for you right now for tomorrow, and you will go this time,” she says in a firm but gentle voice. Then she holds up her phone and plays an audio message about the importance of getting all of the available vaccinations.


“These are easily damaged,” Ovillus says, while recording a child’s weight in a large paper registry, “But with this [an Android smartphone-sized device], the information is always there when you need it.”

The ability to track patients between the community and facility becomes critical when dealing with at-risk patients, including patients with HIV or tuberculosis.

Because data doesn’t need to be uploaded to the CommCare cloud on an ongoing basis, Ovillus can continue visiting patients and collecting information with little or no Internet connectivity. Then, when possible, she can upload her data to the CommCare registry.

Ketcia Orvillus weighs a 2-year-old during a home visit. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Ketcia Orvillus weighs a 2-year-old during a home visit. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Although the information she collects mirrors the reporting she must do for the Ministry of Health’s Haitian Health Information System (DHIS2), at present, all data have to be written into paper registries and then reentered into a computer at the central level. The hope is to integrate DHIS2 and CommCare so that their information is compatible, not duplicative and available the moment it is recorded. If it works, health workers could immediately access information for all kinds of uses, such as to inform a doctor before making a referral, give an implementing partner a community or facility level health snapshot or indicate to the Ministry of Health where funds need to be directed.

CommCare is like a notebook, and the modules of information it contains are like subject tabs that can be modified according to the needs of each rural or urban community it serves. At present, there are approximately 300 community health workers who have been trained to use the CommCare app nationwide. The goal is to have 2,000 such workers trained by 2016 with the CommCare app integrated into their training program, which means that the innovative technology could touch as many as 2 million people.

“Not everyone has the money for health care, but these people know that now there is someone looking after them and it gives comfort,” says Orvillus. “Plus, I’m so pleased to have this [the handheld device] because it improves the quality of the services I can bring.”

Ketcia Orvillus moves onto her last home visit—she does 10 to 15 a day—carrying vaccinations for children in a gray thermal box. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Ketcia Orvillus moves onto her last home visit—she does 10 to 15 a day—carrying vaccinations for children in a gray thermal box. (Photo Credit: Therese Cafaro, USAID)

Dr. Jean Max Leilo Joseph, SSQH-CS’s technical director and community health worker trainer, added, “And her presence is even more appreciated by the people, as they now have more faith in a system that appears to be making positive, durable changes.”

As he watches Orvillus depart on her final visit of the day, Joseph says, “I’m proud we’re doing a job that meets the real needs of the community. But I’m even more proud to be a part of the solution to deliver better health care to all Haitians.”

Her work now keeps Orvillus close to a greater expanse of clouds—in the sky, as she makes her rounds on Haiti’s rough and dusty mountain roads, and in the digital cloud, where high-tech is redefining health care for the island nation.

Recognizing International Women’s Day at Dimagi

by Kyla Johnson

8 March 2015



International Women’s Day, which takes place annually on March 8th, is a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.  To help commemorate this day, a few of the women of Dimagi were asked to write a response to the prompt “How does Dimagi have an impact on the lives of women?”   Their answers, featured below, demonstrate how Dimagi’s mobile technology solutions, our project implementation services, and even our work culture all have a positive effect on women worldwide.


“What makes Dimagi stand out is not just the software we deliver to women as a job aid, but the fact that we count them, train them, and eventually empower them with information that make them stronger in everyday life.”

-Mengji Chen, Senior Program Analyst

 “Some of my favorite moments at Dimagi have been watching community health workers’ reactions after the first few days of using CommCare. They often exhibit a newfound sense of empowerment, and tell stories about how using CommCare in their communities makes them feel more respected and valued. While this excitement is universal, it’s particularly palpable and powerful for female frontline workers. Women will describe feeling much more confident in the services that they are delivering thanks to CommCare. For them, CommCare becomes very personal in that it can help reduce doubts clients have in their service delivery, doubts that often exist because they happen to be women. By equipping women with mobile phones that run CommCare, clients can often abandon these doubts. CommCare enables them to see beyond stereotypes and, for the first time, fully see how smart and valuable female frontline workers are in their entirety.” 

-Gillian Javetski, Director of Communications

 “Women make up a large portion of health workers using our CommCare applications. So we put women at the center of our design process, understanding that through our mHealth deployments this may be the first time they have access to technology and ownership of their own phone. Though our software has been designed for low-literate, less tech savvy users, it’s true that they have to learn how to type on a phone to register cases. A major focus of our trainings is teaching women to learn how to type.

This example demonstrates what I find most incredible about our work – seeing how women discover new technology and the world of possibilities it can open up for them in this increasingly mobilized world. In our small ways, it might be that our work with women is disrupting one of many structural barriers women face in accessing technology and information.”

-Mohini Bhavsar, Senior Regional Manager – West Africa

“Dimagi impacts the lives of women all around the world, including the lives of the women that work here. It has created a space where my fellow Dimagi women and I are taking on active roles that include managing teams and projects, coding, research coordination, and working as member of the communication team in a company that sits within the male-dominated field of technology. And while Dimagi has provided these opportunities and the ability to begin closing the gender divide in tech, I would like to think that the women working here are also having a positive impact on Dimagi!”

-Meryn Robinson, Research Coordinator

“The women and men who work at Dimagi are engineers, public health and development specialists, business and partnership strategists. One thing they have in common is that they are among the most supportive coworkers I’ve met. In the few months I’ve worked here, Dimagi has shown itself to be as committed to creating a culture of inclusiveness and equality within the company as it is driven to creating impact in the world. This culture helps me be a happier employee- and woman!”

-Gayatri Jayal, Field Manager

“I can’t speak for Dimagi’s impact on “women” broadly, but I will say that Dimagi’s work has affected me deeply as a woman. Whenever I have had the chance to observe female frontline workers use CommCare — whether it’s at a maternity hospital, a gender-based violence clinic, or a micropharmacy — I have felt inspired by and connected to their obvious enthusiasm to make a difference. Dimagi’s emphasis on empowering frontline workers is just the beginning of a chain reaction in women’s leadership.”

-Arya Shekar, Director of Legal Affairs

As International Women’s Day comes to a close, Dimagi recognizes that through our mobile solutions, women around the world have become more empowered. Our entire team, (which bolsters close to a 50/50 male/female ratio) works tirelessly to ensure our projects create the most impact in the lives of the people that need it most. For more information on International Women’s Day, please visit www.un.org/en/events/womensday/