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Dive into Skills-Based Volunteering’s Pilot Project with DHIS2

Dive into Skills-Based Volunteering’s Pilot Project with DHIS2
Cynthia Lo image

Cynthia Lo @csmlo

Program Manager, Skills-Based Volunteering, GitHub Social Impact

September 21, 2021 // DevelopersEmployeesHumanitarian ResponseSkills-Based Volunteering

Published on: September 21, 2021

Dive into Skills-Based Volunteering’s pilot project with DHIS2

GitHub’s Social Impact team launched the Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV) Program in late 2020 with a focus on connecting GitHub employees to social sector organizations. Before the official launch of SBV, we tested it as a pilot project with the District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2). DHIS2 is the world’s largest health management information system (HMIS) platform and is used in 72 low- and middle-income countries. DHIS2 is not only open source software, it’s also a digital public good that supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3), to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”.

This pilot project helped us understand more about the overall design of SBV and answer important questions like:

  • Is the project adequately scoped out for volunteers?
  • Is the training provided to volunteers sufficient?
  • Do the volunteers feel like they are making a social impact?
  • Are the solutions volunteers create with partner organizations appropriate?

Pilot project methodology

The project began as a consultation to determine DHIS2’s highest priority opportunities. The outcome of which was identifying documentation challenges as the area of greatest need and potential impact—specifically, the documentation for their community of external application developers. This documentation came in the form of a guide for developing custom apps and was created collaboratively with the DHIS2 core team. While of high importance, DHIS2 had minimal documentation for third-party web application developers, and this piece was critical in helping them grow their ecosystem of community-developed extensions.

With the scope focused, the next step was connecting DHIS2 and our Skills-Based Volunteer and Technical Program Manager at GitHub, Aaron Rosenberg (@veganpolice). First was to review where DHIS2 had gaps in its documentation: identifying points of confusion for developers, and structural gaps. With the additional subject matter expertise of Austin McGee, Deputy Tech Lead with DHIS2, they used GitHub to address these challenges via pull requests, iterating and merging updates into the DHIS2 repositories.

Project outcome

Over the course of three months, Aaron worked closely with DHIS2 to create a quick-start guide for new developers building DHIS2 apps. The guide provides a step-by-step walkthrough of installing prerequisites, starting a local DHIS2 instance, and creating a DHIS2 app. It’s been a huge help for developers in the field and is currently on the front page of DHIS2’s developer guide.

Quick Start Guide

Lessons learned

Our goal with the SBV pilot was to test assumptions on project scoping, volunteer training, and impact to understand if the program fits the social sector’s needs. We learned that although the DHIS2 project was well-scoped and there was a strong mutual commitment, we needed to schedule better, establish regular checkpoints, and ensure the volunteers felt they had full autonomy to complete the task. Volunteer feedback from the training was positive overall and has encouraged our team to expand sessions into other social sector issues. Importantly, we also captured how the SBV project supported SDG3 in terms of the number of volunteer hours completed.

What’s next

Based on what we learned from this documentation pilot project, DHIS2 and GitHub eagerly launched a follow-on project to provide additional recommendations on some of the other gaps in DHIS2’s documentation structure. This work will consist of providing feedback on the new documentation website and curating a list of documentations that will provide additional support to DHIS2 and open source developers that contribute to the platform. We are excited to continue building the SBV program with a growing list of social sector partner organizations. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved with this program, please reach out to or submit an inquiry here.

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