The rapid pace of digitalisation opens many doors for improved access to essential services like education and healthcare. And the demand for digital solutions that achieve this is often best met and managed by the government ministries who oversee service provision. But when government leaders are reliant on external providers to manage their information, they are often left with fragmented systems and unable to realise the full transformative impact of digital tools.
Decision-makers may not feel empowered to use the data they have, local technical capacity goes untapped, and gaps in service delivery persist where simple digital solutions could resolve them. As these agencies’ digital systems mature, using the building blocks of their existing systems, tools, and information is a powerful way to meet the increased demand for better services.
When it comes to digital solutions, it is crucial to consider the existing ecosystem and the conditions unique to local contexts. Undertaking a collaborative development process and establishing strong communication channels with local partners and communities leads to digital solutions that are enhanced by supportive, trusting relationships, and grounded in a shared vision of success.
With smart phone adoption on the rise, mobile digital solutions are a flexible and accessible option for wide distribution. Simple mobile applications that build upon existing systems and information can be especially impactful in connecting populations to necessary services. “Collaborating with local actors ensures that mobile applications are relevant and effective,” says Andres Bravo, Palladium’s Guatemala-based Digital Manager. Bravo shares two examples of mobile apps in Guatemala.
EscuelApp is a mobile application that leverages existing national-level information on education services. “Co-developed by Palladium and the Ministry of Education, the location-based services app uses information on different schools across the country to be accessed by students, parents, and educators, leveraging the official national data routinely collected, stored, and processed by the Ministry,” explains Bravo.
Providing school-specific details like the number of students and teachers, educational outcome indicators, the condition of the infrastructure, and information on key personnel allows for knowledge sharing, action, and advocacy. Using existing resources meant the app eliminated the need for cumbersome information collection. “By making use of the available official information from the Ministry of Education, EscuelApp streamlines processes and secure access to information for students, parents, and educators, increasing awareness of public education services for decision-making and advocacy, thereby improving learning and education outcomes,” Bravo adds.
Another example is the OSAR app, a mobile app developed by Palladium and the Observatory of Reproductive Health in Guatemala.
This app was designed with sustainability in mind from the outset, Bravo explains. “The Observatory generates and processes crucial reproductive health information, such as disaggregated data around contraception use, prenatal services coverage, pregnancies, and maternal mortality.” In addition, the Observatory’s web application provides relevant information and news to the public. When designing the application, the team carefully considered available health information and how the app could seamlessly integrate with them. The OSAR app exclusively uses institution-generated information, providing the public with crucial reproductive health services information, raising awareness, and empowering individuals to make informed decisions.
The app also includes a special section for OSAR personnel which allows them to report information directly to the Observatory. These transactional features of the application were made possible by considering the existing information channels within the Observatory, which seamlessly connect to the mobile application. Bravo oversaw the OSAR app development and explains the tool’s usefulness stems from its reliance on local data. “The OSAR app has created a tool based on the data that users manage and one that has been successfully adapted to the working dynamics of local teams.”
“These teams gather all the information, centralise it, and see updated results in a short time - improving data use in their work. The app allows the public and Observatory staff to better access and make the most of important health services data,” he adds. Rather than reinventing the wheel, often a commitment to build upon what exists is the most sustainable and impactful approach for successful digital solutions.
By leveraging infrastructure, tools, and data sources that already exist and collaborating with local partners, these mobile applications have made a tangible impact on Guatemala’s development efforts by increasing awareness of and access to social services.