The new year provides a great opportunity to think about priorities for year ahead. Last week we wrote a post highlighting the top posts of 2017. The most-read articles covered a lot of ground—from reflections on specific projects, to advances in our thinking on best practices for human-centered design (HCD), to technology reviews. So, what’s on our minds for the year to come?

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Lean HCD

As DAI’s Frontier (née Digital) Insights has shown, the growth in mobile technology adoption in marginalized communities around the globe has been astronomical in recent years. This presents major opportunities for social impact through technology via HCD and design thinking. At the same time, with donor budgets tightening, the appetite for full-fledged HCD processes, particularly those that involve travel-heavy field implementation is waning.

Lean HCD is DAI’s approach to balancing the need for best practices (empathy derived from significant face-to-face experience with users/citizens/patients) with the realities of international development in 2018. At its core, the approach seeks to put data collection and decision-making into the hands of local actors, with DAI guiding the process and connecting the pieces along the way. DAI tested the Lean HCD approach in Guatemala by developing and launching a mobile application for local transparency and accountability. We recently shared a report describing how we did it, called Lean HCD: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design in the Highlands of Guatemala.

Advancing our Health Tech Partnerships

Over the past year, we have greatly expanded our global health technology portfolio. With active projects in Haiti and Indonesia, and new partnerships formed with IntraHealth and Health Partners International, we have increased our focus on the intersection of technology and health projects in lower- and middle-income countries. And with active partnerships with startups such as ClickMedix, MobileODT, and ThinkMD, we will be rolling out innovations in patient diagnostics, human resource management, and health records management to create more efficient health systems.

Locally Sourced Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The past year was an important one for our work in Ghana with the Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC). Not only did that experience generate some cool stories about young agritech entrepreneurs, it also helped formed the foundation for our thinking about where tech entrepreneurship fits into our overall approach to doing good digital-enabled development work.

Fundamentally, we view tech-driven entrepreneurship as both (a) the natural evolution to ICT capacity building that DAI and others have done around the world, and (b) a critical way to ensure that our investments are sustainable in the long-term. So, in addition to continuing our work in Ghana, we’re also looking to expand to new countries and new clients in early 2018. Stay tuned for more details!

The Rise of Machine Learning

As machine-learning packages in programming languages R and Python improve at a rapid pace and software as a service (SAAS) solutions offered by IBM Bluemix and Microsoft Azure become increasingly powerful, we see great potential for international development applications. Last year we wrote about our machine-learning efforts for economic growth in Afghanistan. Expanding on this approach, we recently partnered with IBM Watson to further this initiative. Our IBM-powered solution currently supports our Promote Women in Economy (WIE) project in Afghanistan by classifying thousands of resumes into potential job categories, and matching them with available job openings, saving time and money. And as DAI continues to collect structured and unstructured datasets at ever-increasing volumes, we will be looking to how some of these emerging data analysis methods can be used to add efficiencies to our work.

Distributed Ledger Technology

Blockchain, possibly the most talked about technology of 2017, has created excitement within the international development community. In December, our team moderated a panel at the Global Digital Health Forum to discuss the potential uses of blockchain for global health projects. Our panelists offered diverse perspectives on the subject, ranging from optimism about the potential of the technology, to concerns around data security and appreciation of traditional databases. And, unlike many innovations before this one, the international development community has engaged with the technology early, shaping the direction of its use. Our team has been investigating distributed ledger technology (DLT) tools such as Ethereum and those within the Hyperledger ecosystem, and will create pilot projects that manage assets digitally. We recommend signing up for the upcoming TechChange Course, Blockchain for International Development, to learn more about the potential of this rapidly expanding technology.

The Norming of Spatial Data

DAI has a rich history of using GIS and spatial data for its projects, and our team is always looking to improve. Part of this is in normalizing spatial data collection across DAI’s field projects, ensuring that our teams have access to the best tools, and supporting projects through analysis papers, online dashboards, or carefully crafted cartographic products. We are excited about the many firms that focus exclusively on expanding access to and analysis of spatial data, drone and satellite imagery, and regularly seek partnerships when conducting spatial analysis or developing web mapping products.

Building Dashboards that Matter

Related to the need for high-quality cartographic projects is our desire to continually explore ways to generate and make use of meaningful project data. We recently wrote a post on how dashboards allow project managers to navigate the thick forest of project data with ease. We highlighted how they force staff to focus on planning for data collection to create an accurate picture of project accomplishments, allow users to more quickly glean insights, streamline the reporting process, and raise new questions that allow for project course correction when necessary. We are daily users of tools such as PowerBI and Tableau, regularly write web applications that leverage the R Shiny framework, GoogleCharts, and D3, and remain excited about using those tools and others to find new ways to generate value from data.