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I spent the past few days at the mHealth Summit where James BonTempo and I (supported by Plan International USA and MCHIP via USAID) co-hosted the “mHealth Reality Booth,” which we hoped would bring some mHealth practitioner reality to the Summit and offer an opportunity to capture some learning from folks working on the ground and implementing mHealth programs in some of the less cushy environments.

As people came by the booth, we asked them if they’d be willing to do a short video that completed the idea:

“We thought that…. but in reality….” or “Most people think…. but in reality….”

We ended up with some great advice on mHealth design and implementation. Watch below or on YouTube! If you have an mHealth Reality you want to add in the comments or as a ‘video response’ please do!

Here’s our talk-show host intro (why does self-filming always make me look so weird?) and our list of mHealth Realities underneath. Enjoy!

1) Phones do get stolen, so you should involve health workers in determining what the consequences are when it happens.

2) When hospitals are gutted, cell towers are gone and there’s no electricity, for example during the Great Floods in Pakistan, you have to go back to the basics.

3) The technology should be the last thing to think about in the design process. You need to know the what first, and then think about the how.

4) Mobile operators are very interested in exclusivity. This is a challenge if you want your project to reach the entire population.

5) Even if your macro level research tells you that 80% of households have mobile phone access, it doesn’t mean that 80% of women have mobile phone access.

6) There’s literacy, and then there’s ‘mobile phone literacy’. Both are important.

7) If your paper form is crap, your mobile data collection form will also be crap.

8 ) You need policies on lost, damaged, stolen phones, and emergency mobile phone resuscitation training.

9) You will be beholden to traditional funding cycles regardless of how innovative you are, or how sustainable your own business plan is.

10) NGOs just want to come in and do one year pilots, pack up and leave, and come back to do another one year pilot. This is not sustainable. Governments need to be involved. (in French translation pending…)

11) You really need someone who’s available locally to provide technology support and someone who’s good at helping others use and be comfortable with tech.

12) Power is always a consideration. Having it figured out in one place doesn’t mean you have it solved for another place.

13) Things take a really long time. Much longer than you initially think.

14) You might love designing for iPhones and Androids, but if your users don’t have iPhones and Androids, well, that’s not very useful, is it?

15) There are very talented software development firms in places outside of the US and Europe.

16) Every assumption you have about an area or a population is probably wrong.

17) Every country has a different set of mHealth issues and there’s no way of anticipating until you have hands on the ground there.

18) User testing will help you understand what users really want. And NGOs need to ask themselves the hard question: why do we really want to use new technologies?

19) People in low resource settings and with no previous experience really can learn to use smart phones and like it.

Watch all 20 on YouTube.

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Some of the top organizations and corporations working in the mobile technology and health space will gather December 5–7 at the  mHealth Summit near Washington, D.C. The summit program offers several tracks and a wide range of sessions and  exhibits  for  just  about  anyone interested in mobile technology and health.

A few months back, James Bon Tempo and I came up with the idea to co-host a “Reality Booth” at the Summit.

Innovative business models are great. New behavior change communication technologies open huge opportunities. Mobile tools to help health professionals build capacity to improve healthcare systems sound like a dream come true. But what happens during implementation? What are the real life barriers and challenges that practitioners face when implementing programs with an mHealth component? Where can you get some honest answers?

The Reality Booth is a place for practitioners working in rural settings or implementing programs in ‘developing’ countries to connect with others working in similar situations and facing comparable challenges. It offers a space to share and learn from peers who implement mHealth programs on the ground and to get advice on resolving the kinds of difficulties that probably won’t be highlighted during the official presentations.

We’ve invited some of the most respected mHealth practitioners to attend the booth for an hour or 2, and are pleased to mention that we’ll have some fantastic folks joining us. (We’re filling our last few remaining slots, so stop by booth number 131 for the full schedule on Monday!)

Come and share your mHealth reality stories, ask your implementation questions and get some practical or strategic advice from:

Monday, Dec 5

11:15-12                Isaac Holeman

12-1                        Heather La Garde

1-2                          David Isaak

2-3.15                      David Cantor

4.30-5.30              Pamela Riley

Tuesday, Dec 6

2-3.30                   David Cantor

3.30-5                   Neal Lesh

Wednesday, Dec 7

10-11                     David Isaak

We’re also planning to make a short video on ‘mHealth Realities,’ so stop on by if you have a ‘reality story’ to share.

The Reality Booth is co-hosted by MCHIP, USAID’s flagship maternal, newborn and child health program, and Plan International USA, one of the oldest and largest children’s development organizations in the world, and co-coordinated by James BonTempo of Jhpiego and Linda Raftree of Plan International USA. Contact James (JBonTempo@jhpiego.net) or Linda (Linda.Raftree@planusa.org) for more information.

In addition to the Reality Booth, we’re hosting ICT4Drinks at Thai  Pavilion from 5.30-7.30 on Tuesday, December 6. Meet and mingle with your fellow mHealth practitioners! Free drinks for the first folks in the door and fantastic Thai munchies for everyone!

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