DHIS2 Academies going digital, reaching a bigger and diverse audience

On 31st December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported a few cases of ‘viral pneumonia’. This was later followed by a WHO tweet on 4th January 2020, citing cluster of pneumonia cases – with no deaths in Wuhan. Few imagined that in a few months to come, lives would be transformed potentially for good, including how we work and communicate. The emergence of COVID-19 pandemic has changed how communities interact and provide services. The Health Information System Programme (HISP) network with its rich history of being adaptive and flexible was no exception. The network had to innovate and adapt in these difficult times of COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past decade, the HISP network has provided several ‘onsite’ District Health Information Software-2 (DHIS 2) regional and in-country academies through the HISP groups. HISP Tanzania, based in Tanzania, has worked with other regional HISP groups to host regional DHIS2 Level 1 academies such as DHIS2 Analytics Tools, DHIS2 Tracker Academy and DHIS2 Design & Customization. In addition, HISP Tanzania hosts the material developed for Design and Customization academy. With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in health concerns and travel restrictions, it was difficult to continue with the onsite regional academies. Taking the bull by its horn, HISP Tanzania with the regional HISP groups transformed the onsite academies into ‘online’ leading to the first-ever DHIS2 digital academy in the East and Central Africa region.

The first-ever digital DHIS2 academy in the East and Central Africa region took place from 10th August to 24th August 2020. The academy was named DHIS2 Design for Analytics and attempted to combine two previous Level 1 academies, i.e. Design and Customization & DHIS2 Analytics Tools academy based on feedback from previous academies. More than 35 participants managed to attend the academy coming from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Sudan, Cameroon, Comoro, Afghanistan, Botswana, Taiwan, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Myanmar, Yemen and Tanzania as the host country.

95% of all registered participants managed to attend the academy, indicating a low turn around rate compared to previous ‘onsite’ academies where participants turn around was one of the major hurdles. The digital academy focused on DHIS2 designing principles and customizing the system for information use, allowing participants to learn how DHIS2 as a platform can be used not just as a data management and monitoring tool but also as a platform to support planning and decision making through easy to use analytical tools such as data visualization and dashboards.

The digital academy was composed of a series of three hours sessions for 10 days consecutively (minus weekends) involving live facilitation sessions, Q&A, exercises, feedback and examination. Participants coming from public and private organizations such as Ministries of health, local government authorities, NGOs, International Organizations and Self employed managed to keep pace with the intensive academy program despite their routine office schedules. The diverse representation of participants was also another unique characteristic as participants came from a diverse background including health practitioners, Monitoring & Evaluation officers, IT (System developers & Analyst) and System Administrators. It was evident that customizing DHIS2 for effective use was not only for software developers and those who would be tasked to configure the systems.

Live sessions (with session recording) were preferred by the facilitators than pre-recorded content delivery. Facilitators had to adapt to this approach from earlier pre-recording sessions to ensure participants experience a near “onsite” academy with as much interaction between facilitators & participants. While the approach was prone to connectivity and sound challenges, participants were able to be more engaged in the sessions leading to seamless interactive experience between facilitators & participants. Online platforms such as Zoom, openedX & DHIS 2 community facilitated the interactions and communication between facilitators & participants and among participants themselves. The openedX hosted the academy materials & links to the live sessions. Questions and topic discussions were preferred on the DHIS2 Community, allowing for future reference for the participants and the community at large. The orientation of these online platforms on day 0 of the academy and their documentation came in handy, especially to the 14% of the participants who had never done a similar online training before.

Although this was the first DHIS2 academy, most of the participants (86%) reported having attended online courses before. The tools used for facilitation including the Zoom platform proved to be helpful. Facilitators provided additional orientation on how participants could use these platforms during and after the training session. This orientation came in handy especially to the 14% of the participants who had never done a similar online training before. They all manage to follow the training sessions effectively. The Zoom platform was mainly used for live one-on-one and group training sessions, completed by sharing of materials via email and openedX to allow participants to familiarize themselves with them before training and have reference after the training and during the end of module exercises that were accessed and submitted via openedX.

"As most of the academy was working from home, it was a wonderful experience to learn more about DHIS2 apart from managing my daily tasks"

In the final day of the academy, participants took the final exam after submitting a series of quizzes and assignments. The 94% pass rate of the final exam demonstrated that not only that all participants were able to follow what was trained, but they were also able to access and use the training facilitation tools effectively. For example, one participant reflecting on the academy experience noted that the academy has helped him “learn a lot of new knowledge to help make a change back in [his] community”.

The experience of hosting DHIS2 Design for analytics academy has influence HISP Tanzania & the DHIS2 community at large to endorse Digital DHIS2 academies as they way to go. Having managed to attract participants from different continents in its first instance in East and Central Africa, the DHIS2 community should look forward to conducting more academies with even wider participation and potentially covering more DHIS2 concepts beyond the previous level 1 academies. Conducting onsite academies had scaling & financial barriers, something the digital academies can overcome. However, more efforts are needed to transform materials into digital content as well as ensuring good connectivity and build capacity on digital content delivery. The knowledge & skills developed by the DHIS2 community will be crucial in providing technical assistance to countries during these difficult times of the pandemic.

COVID-19 is here to stay, and we (DHIS2 Community) have to innovate and adapt to digital ‘ways’ reaching a bigger and diverse audience!

"I’m intending to use the knowledge I got from “DHIS2 Online Design for Analytics ACADEMY LEVEL 1” to improve customization and maintenance of the National Health Data Warehouse in a more skilled and advanced way"