Open Source Platforms As A Path To Innovation

The DLRP/Broadleaf team with all of our files, wrapped in newspaper and stacked above our desks. Thank you Palak Dudani for taking this photo!

All data collection in DLRP/Broadleaf office is done on paper. Thousands of documents are wrapped in newspaper, labeled in sharpie and stacked on a tall shelf that one has to climb on top of the desk to reach. Google drive, calendar and the project management app Asana are well integrated into Broadleaf’s work but all of our data is collected on paper. Hours are spent inputting that data and then of course its wrapped up and stored around the office. I’ve never been particularly tech-y but this environment has created an opportunity for me to explore how I could help digitize the office. I have really enjoyed seeking out open source software, teaching myself to use them and then sharing that information with my team and then the larger office.

My first project with Broadleaf was a qualitative impact assessment. In order to analysis the data gathered from interviews and focus groups we conducted for the assessment I tried out several open source analysis programs. I decided to go with  CATMA, an open source, web-based qualitative analysis software. Once I felt comfortable using the program I created a basic manual, as the existing manual was more complex than what was necessary for our purposes. Then I created and conducted a 4-hour office wide training on how to analyze qualitative data using CATMA. The training gave everyone the opportunity to read through the focus group guide we used for the impact assessment along with an actual transcript so they could create a coding structure and then build that into the website and actual code the data. It was really exciting to be able to share a tangible skill beyond the team I directly work with to the larger office.

Training my colleague Sanjeeta on how to create digital forms in Commcare

I really wanted to conduct the non communicable disease (NCD) survey digitally as there would not be much time to complete the data entry and analysis before the fellowship ends. A colleague told me about Commcare, an open source software that was created for data collection low resourced settings. It is easy to use and health data can be collected offline in a number of languages. The technology does not even require a smart phone, something that all of our health workers do not own. I’m happy to report that using Commcare we successfully conducted our first completely digital survey!

Sanjeeta training our SHAs on how to use the newly digitized form in Commcare


To give you a sense of how quickly this happened, I first logged into Commcare on a Thursday, we conducted the survey in Nepali the following Tuesday-Thursday. Then, on Friday morning I trained my co-workers on how to set up a survey in Commcare and they each digitized a different form. By that afternoon we downloaded the Commcare app onto our School Health Advocates’ (SHAs’) cell phones and showed them how to use the digital surveys. Monday morning the SHAs will conduct our growth monitoring intervention on their cell phones. They are bringing their paper copies as backup just incase they run into any issues.

It is so exciting to see the speed and relative ease with which capacity building and technological upgrades can happen. These upgrades will save money on printing costs, the hours of data entry and were completely free to set up. Before the end of my fellowship I hope to work with my coworkers to create digital versions of the data collection forms we use in both Nepali and English. I never expected that my fellowship would include these sorts of tech innovations but I am thrilled to be leaving the organization with efficient systems!


Yasin is excited to explore, live and work in West Bengal. Her goals are to gain a practical understanding of how to overcome structural inequality and provide sustainable public health services. Prior to AIF and after completing her MPH, she participated in an Urdu fellowship in Lucknow, India. She is excited to combine her Urdu/Hindi with Public Health.

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One thought on “Open Source Platforms As A Path To Innovation

  1. This is such exciting work you’ve been able to do! The capacity building you’ve managed to do, and will leave this organization with through all your hard work is really significant. Great job!

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