Hitting the (Super) Target: Shopping for Tools for Health System Success

Tool [noun]: Anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose1 [emphasis added].
Crystal Ng
At any particular moment, there are likely dozens of international health professionals working on the development or revision of tools, ranging from assessment questions to frameworks and diagrams to software. Think of international health as a Super Target that offers resources for nearly every question you can imagine. When provided the opportunity, we can shop for potential resources manufactured by various organizations, but these resources only become tools when we take the products off the shelf and actually put them into use.

That’s why we found the recent Fall meeting of the Bureau of Global Health Cooperating Agencies’ Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Working Group so valuable. In addition to offering updates on the M&E research and learning agenda in various USAID offices, the meeting featured a tools fair for health systems-related measurement and assessment. Approximately 40 health systems measurement and assessment tools were showcased by a number of implementing organizations, including CapacityPlus’s Human Resources for Health (HRH) Indicator Compendium and iHRIS Suite of open source software. Just like a trip to Super Target, we went into the tools fair looking for one or two new resources and came out with much more than we ever anticipated.  

Certainly, the fair was a great opportunity to share the project’s tools with a wider audience, many of whom were not M&E specialists and were interested in sharing the information with their networks. It provided an opportunity to discuss the unique features of CapacityPlus’s tools and how they can be applied to other settings. We were pleased to see that FHI 360 incorporated some of the indicators listed in the HRH Indicator Compendium in the draft operational guide (not yet available online) for its Health System Rapid Diagnostic Tool.

Yet it waCarie Muntiferings learning about other organizations’ tools and thinking about how we could use them in our work that proved to be the most useful part of the fair. While we were already familiar with HRH tools like the Health Care Improvement Project’s Community Health Worker Program Assessment and Improvement Matrix (CHW-AIM) and Jhpiego’s Pre-Service Education Toolkit, there were other health systems measurement tools of which we were previously unaware that could be leveraged for our own activities. For example, an increasing number of countries are implementing iHRIS Manage to gather data on their health workforces. It is critical to ensure that the data generated from the system are used to make improvements in the distribution and management of the health workforce. At the fair, we collected more information on tools such as MEASURE Evaluation’s Assessment of Data Use Constraints that we can use to support our efforts to build local capacity for evidence-based decision-making.

The international health community needs to keep pushing for this type of forum for information sharing and exchange. Without these opportunities, the shelf life of any tool is severely shortened, leading others to later redesign what has already been done. Creating partnerships and triggering ideas can only be an advantage as we strive to achieve complex goals. In fact, such forums may be the most important tool we have in stock—we just have to use it.

1 Dictionary.com, “Tool,” definition #5 under “noun.” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tool (accessed November 10, 2011).

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Photo 1 courtesy of Crystal Ng. Photo 2 by Carol Bales.