Bounties: A New Approach for iHRIS Development, Implementation, and Sustainability

Carol BalesThe CapacityPlus iHRIS software developers based in Chapel Hill, NC, have initiated an exciting new approach to expanding the global iHRIS community. They are utilizing “code bounties” as a way to get more developers, implementers, and other open source enthusiasts involved in supporting and improving the iHRIS, which will help foster its sustainability beyond the life of the CapacityPlus project.

iHRIS is a suite of open source tools for managing and supporting health workers. Even though I’ve worked with the iHRIS team for years, I didn’t quite understand what code bounties were, so I asked one of the lead developers, Carl Leitner, a few questions.

What is a code bounty?
Think of a code bounty as the "microfinance" of the software development world. To get more people involved with iHRIS, we are breaking up the work into manageable pieces and offering small monetary awards, or bounties, to the global iHRIS community. Bounties are short-term development projects with very narrow scopes of work.

Why is CapacityPlus introducing code bounties?
One issue Carl Leitnerwe have been facing is that it can be difficult to find in-country developers that have the background and skills to implement, customize, and support the iHRIS software. Even if we can find people with a background in the LAMP architecture (the combination of supporting software required for open source applications), we often still need to spend time training them on the specific iHRIS data structures. As ministries are often very excited to start an implementation, we want to reduce any delays. At the same time, we have been trying to identify ways to expand the iHRIS development community so that most of the software development or customization work is not completed in our headquarters, but is done by local developers or implementers in the field, where iHRIS is being deployed.

As I said during my presentation at the OsCon2010, I am trying to put myself out of a job. Part of this strategy is using open source and open standards, which put the ability to customize, develop, and even document iHRIS in the hands of local people. However, having the ability is not enough. In-country and regional developers need to be incentivized to contribute. Often they have many competing demands, and more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.

Code bounties are unique in that they address all of these issues simultaneously.

How can code bounties encourage sustainability of the iHRIS software?
A country’s health information system is continually evolving. There is no solution that we can offer now that is "future-proof," as there will always be new requirements, new systems, and new technologies. The iHRIS software is adaptable to these eventualities. For instance, we’ve taken steps to ensure data from iHRIS can be shared with other national health information systems by utilizing the SDMX-HD standard, a data exchange format developed by the World Health Organization and partners to facilitate the sharing of data. What we now need to do is make sure that there are the people that can make these needed adaptations going forward, locally.

Over the last few months, CapacityPlus has posted three code bounties aimed at improving the iHRIS software documentation, translating the software into Arabic, and ensuring iHRIS data can be shared with other health information systems.

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 Photo 1 by Andrea Connolly. Photo 2 courtesy of Carl Leitner.