20 Years of Designing Under the Mango Tree
Dimagi’s vision is a world where all people have access to the services they need to thrive. We work towards realizing this vision through our mission: to build and scale sustainable, high-impact digital solutions that amplify frontline work.
Clearly, Frontline Workers are the primary stakeholder in our mission and it has to be so. The Frontline Workers across sectors have an unprecedented critical impact on the populations they serve. For example, evidence shows that Community Health Worker (CHW) programs can improve health outcomes, be cost-effective and improve client behavior. We have witnessed this happening over Dimagi’s 20 years of experience working directly with partner organizations and Frontline Workers, as well as visiting and spending time in communities, health facilities and community health centers.
It goes all the way back to 2008 when CommCare was still in its nascent stages and we were doing the research to understand the needs and challenges of the Community Health Workers at the Kibada Health Facility in Tanzania. There was a Mango Tree right outside the facility where we would often sit and gather feedback from the Health Workers. This feedback laid the foundation of the design and roadmap of CommCare.
In addition to helping us design CommCare, this experience became the cornerstone of how our team at Dimagi approaches all problem statements. We call this approach “Design Under the Mango Tree” with an aim to build an organizational culture that puts its users at the center of all its solutions. What this user-centric approach focuses on is that while we may have experience from having worked on thousands of projects across the world–which absolutely aids us in building the most efficient solution for our users–when we sit with our users, we go with a clean slate to understand their program and challenges from their perspective, and we do it intentionally “under the mango tree” — that is, in their context. This helps ensure that we do not let our assumptions and preconceptions come in the way of truly listening to our users, which is the bare minimum that we owe to them.
On the event of Dimagi’s 20th anniversary, with support from one of our partners in Tanzania, Gayo Mhila, we took on an endeavor to revisit the original Mango Tree that inspired our design philosophy. Gayo made the visit to Dar es Salaam, where the Kibada Health facility is situated, and met some of the Community Health Workers whose feedback played a crucial role in making CommCare what it is today. In their interactions with Gayo, the initial CHWs recalled their memories of CommCare as it looked back in 2008, running on Nokia phones with J2ME00; shared their increase in comfort with phones, and technology more broadly; reflected on how technology itself has evolved over the years; and expanded on the benefits and challenges of using technology for work in community health.
The Dimagi team also took the opportunity on the event of the 20th anniversary to reflect on some of the initial conversations amongst Dr. Neal Lesh, Chief Strategy Officer at Dimagi, Dr. Brian DeRenzi, Global Director of Research Strategy at Dimagi and other early collaborators, that drove the CommCare development in the beginning and were overwhelmed to recall the basic principles that we got right and are guiding principles in our approach while working with the Community Health Workers even today. For example: Having worked with groups across geographies including Tanzania and Pakistan, one of the things that our team converged on was that the Community Health Workers often have a very personal relationship with their clients and their interactions go well beyond the simplified job expectations. This builds a trust based relationship between the client and the CHW and goes a long way in improving health outcomes. It was decided in those early days that we must build flexibility into the User Interface in those early days to leave room for the open-ended social aspects of these interactions.
Similarly, thanks to the feedback from the CHWs in Tanzania and from feedback across regions, the non-negotiable importance of translating applications into regional languages became absolutely clear to our team. Since then, CommCare applications have been translated into multiple languages across a wide range of geographies. In fact, owing to our commitment to prioritize our users’ needs, in the course of working with Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) program, the world’s largest and most unique community based program for early childhood development, we set-up a dedicated team to seamlessly translate the ICDS-CAS (Common Application Software) application and all its media including images and videos, in 16 languages as the application reached 28 diverse states of the country. The reward and significance of these efforts continue to echo in the recollection of these features by the ICDS-CAS users.
CommCare stands on the shoulders of the feedback provided by hundreds of Community Health Workers and our partners and we are very grateful to be working with the community of stakeholders who collaborate with us in continuously improving CommCare and other Dimagi Products.
Dimagi has come a long way since collecting user feedback under that Mango Tree back in 2008 to making Improving Jobs to Improve Outcomes our topmost Strategic Priority in our Five-Year Strategy. Even as we commit ourselves to Improving Jobs to Improve Outcomes, we want to be very cognizant of how we go about achieving it – always remembering that every context is unique and equally matters, never assuming anything, that there’s often more than what’s visible to the eye and hence, always asking all the questions that we are not experts of. In a recent blog by Dimagi’s CEO, Jonathan Jackson, on the event of Dimagi’s 20th anniversary celebration, he too reflected on the role that the people, partners and users have played in the last 20 years and whose feedback and inputs are absolutely essential for the next 20 years of Dimagi’s High Impact Growth.
In the spirit of Designing Under the Mango Tree, we promise our commitment to reaching wherever our users are and designing under their “Mango Tree”!
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