Human Network International helps organizations use technology in innovative, sustainable and productive ways. While HNI was working with development sectors in Madagascar in 2009, they experienced first-hand the severe problems that poor communications infrastructure there caused other aid agencies.
Access to current and accurate data about what’s going on in the field can be a life or death issue. Aid can’t be directed to the right places when field staff can’t get information about conditions to the right people.
In response, HNI began developing custom mobile phone-based data collection applications for Madagascar agencies. While successful, the projects were expensive. Each took up to six months to complete. HNI wanted to make their technology for solving field communications problems available to many more organizations, outside Madagascar, and they couldn’t do it as one-off projects.
Towards the end of 2010, CEO David McAfee was introduced to ThoughtWorks. Soon a joint HNI-ThoughtWorks team was working on what would become the DataWinners application.
It was written using Django, a Python-based application framework for rapid development. We recommended the Python-based Django framework for rapid development with less overhead. It has a fast learning curve, and some necessary communications components were already available in Python, making integration easier.
“We learned a lot about creating industrial strength, web-based applications. But just as important was ThoughtWorks’ basic philosophy that you don’t have to have a perfect solution, you just have to have a solution that adds value, and then keep working at it over time as you get feedback from your clients.”
The new application is cloud-hosted, with a wizard to guide users in creating their own custom data collection service and workflow. It’s accessible to non-profits anywhere, at low cost, very quickly.
“DataWinners is being used across numerous sectors. One situation where HNI is making a huge difference is with the disaster management agency in Madagascar. The staff in the capital can now pinpoint the places that are hardest hit so relief gets airlifted quickly to the right communities. It’s absolutely a life saver.”