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The following post is by guest author,  Zach Andersson, who is a LIFT II Leland Fellow in Malawi. In the post, Zach writes about LIFT II’s experience using CommCare to conduct and track client referrals in Balaka, Malawi. This post first appeared on LIFT II’s website, www.theliftproject.org.

In Malawi, LIFT II continues to forge ahead in the development of a community-based mobile referral system. On February 18-19, 2014, LIFT II staff demonstrated a pared-down version of a CommCare referral system on Android devices for 31 participants from 26 distinct health, nutrition, economic strengthening, livelihoods and food security service providers active in Balaka District. Identical sessions were held on both days in order for LIFT II to present an overview of the system components and to gather valuable feedback on a number of key decision points needing clarification and stakeholder input before final CommCare programming and the launch of the official system. 

image0011LIFT II began each session by reviewing progress in referral system development in Balaka over the course of the past year, reiterating that being part of a referral network can allow service providers to: help more clients; use new technologies; access LIFT II capacity upgrades; improve publicity; work on a systems level; and define their image. Once that framework was understood, LIFT II introduced a series of client data collection forms that will be used by service providers as part of the CommCare application during the referral process—registering clients into the system, counseling clients on available services, acknowledging receipt of a client who has been referred for a service, and periodic follow-up with clients. LIFT II then facilitated a discussion around program targeting that highlighted the importance of specific and measurable eligibility criteria for an appropriate referral that responsibly addresses a client’s unique needs. Demonstration participants reviewed the eligibility criteria of their colleagues, suggested improvements, and documented any updates to the Balaka Service Directory – a key referral system tool. After providing essential background on using CommCare as a mobile data collection platform, phones were distributed for hands-on practice. Participants role-played as clients and service providers, following the referral process from initial client registration, to counseling on available services and eligibility criteria, and on to the referral itself. The sessions were particularly important for local stakeholders in Balaka to gain a true sense of the process that LIFT II has been describing, to experience the CommCare system, and to provide their honest appraisals to maximize this platform’s potential.

 Participants appreciated the opportunity, expressing strong understanding of the referral model and “…looking forward with great anticipation to the next steps in this commendable effort.” LIFT II will build on the momentum from the demonstration sessions as CommCare programming is finalized and preparations are made for a more in-depth training with referral focal points at each service provider before system launch in April. Stay tuned!