Building Local Skills to Support the Open Source iHRIS Software

Over 20 countries are implementing the open source iHRIS software to manage and plan their health workforce. CapacityPlus, along with other USAID projects led by IntraHealth International, is assisting several of these countries to install, customize, and roll out the human resources information systems (HRIS) software.

But as more countries come on board, there’s an increasing need to build local skills to support iHRIS sustainability. Recently, a new “iHRIS Academy” did just that.

Hosted by the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the first annual iHRIS Academy brought together iHRIS developers and implementers from seven African countries to share their experiences using the software and come up with solutions to common challenges.

iHRIS in Tanzania

iHRIS Academy

Dr. Juma Lungo (top left) poses with iHRIS users after a training in 2009. Photo courtesy of Carl Leitner.

Click for slideshow with captions.

Dr. Juma Lungo, a professor of computer science at the University of Dar es Salaam, knows the importance of building local capacity. “We are proud of the local things, Swahili, and everything,” he explains. “For us, outsourcing just doesn’t sound well,” he jokes.

Dr. Lungo is an iHRIS expert and champion. For the last few years he has been working with the Tanzania Human Resource Capacity Project to build enough local talent to support Tanzania’s iHRIS. He also led the effort to translate the system into Swahili, the national language. Tanzania’s iHRIS is used by local governments to track civil service employees, the Zanzibar Ministry of Health, and the Christian Social Services Commission, a faith-based organization that employs over 40% of the country’s health workers.

Building on an eLearning course
Just two years ago, CapacityPlus created the iHRIS Administrator: Level 1 eLearning course to teach system administrators how to install, modify, and maintain the software. The self-paced course is part of the HRH Global Resource Center’s free eLearning program and, so far, 699 people from over 90 countries have enrolled in the course.

Dr. Juma Lungo soon had an idea. Along with others in his department, he had already trained Ministry of Health staff and other iHRIS users but, he says, “We are very few, and we have classes!” So he started offering iHRIS Administrator courses for his third-year students, combining the eLearning course with face-to-face learning and field work. Now, he boasts, “some of the greatest [iHRIS] programmers are former students.”

The iHRIS Academy

After sharing information about the university’s iHRIS Administrator course via the iHRIS Community Google Group, Dr. Lungo began receiving inquiries from iHRIS developers working in other countries, like Botswana and Lesotho. “We realized, because of the growing demand among our computer science students to become iHRIS software developers, that there is an opportunity to reach many people,” he explains.
So, Dr. Lungo decided to open the doors to participants from other countries and offer the first iHRIS Academy. Twenty-eight participants attended; CapacityPlus provided support for 12 participants. CapacityPlus’s Dykki Settle served as one of the facilitators. “Open source technology succeeds through entrepreneurial innovation and community engagement,” Settle says. “The iHRIS Academy is a great example of both.”

The Academy included separate tracks for developers and implementers. Developers learned to further customize iHRIS for their country’s needs. Implementers presented how their countries are using iHRIS and pointed out specific challenges, then worked in groups to resolve issues and improve iHRIS use. Implementers also visited sites using Tanzania’s iHRIS, including Kinondoni, the largest local government authority in the country, which has entered more than 8,000 civil worker records. All participants received certificates from the university.

Influencing policy

Dr. Lungo is optimistic about how the iHRIS Academy can make a difference in the health sector: “The most significant contribution of this Academy is the potential for an accelerated transition from classroom learning to influencing policy.”

Here’s an example: Before Tanzania adopted iHRIS, Dr. Lungo says that health sector leaders did not even know how many facilities there were in the country, or how many health workers were posted at each. With iHRIS data, they can know the exact number of health workers in each facility and identify gaps. The Deputy Minister of the Zanzibar Ministry of Health has presented iHRIS data to support requests for additional funding for more health workers. The Ministry had been used to hiring a standard 30 new employees each year. However, in response to its ability to use data to justify the numbers actually required, the Ministry secured an additional 315 health workers in 2011, 239 in 2012, and 174 in 2013.

Dr. Lungo also sees the Academy engaging private enterprise. “My vision is to see iHRIS customization go to small-scale companies. Instead of iHRIS being implemented by government institutions, local private companies should lead the development of the software,” he says.

As Dr. Lungo reviews the results of the first Academy at Dar es Salaam, a similar iHRIS training is being planned across the continent. The West African Health Organization will host an “iHRIS Basic Training” course from September 24-26 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Learn what participants had to say about the iHRIS Academy by reading their blog posts that are published on the iHRIS website:

CapacityPlus collaborates with the Tanzania Human Resource Capacity Project to strengthen the understanding and use of the country’s Tanzania Human Resources Information System (THRIS) through human resources management training of health facility leaders and other stakeholders.

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