At the end of May, @grace and I joined 130 professionals representing Digital Square’s 36 Global Goods, funders, and entrepreneurs from software companies based in Africa who convened at the Global Goods Innovators Summit in Tanzania. This meeting offered OpenMRS the opportunity to connect and learn from other Global Goods and dive into three core themes: interoperability, security, and sustainability.
Here are a few highlights, observations, and outstanding questions about Global Goods, sustainability, and OpenMRS that I walked away with:
Local Adoption What opportunities do Global Goods offer African entrepreneurs? Ministries and donors are putting increasing emphasis on local ownership and capacity, which is often achieved by contracting with local organizations and entrepreneurs. Local organizations see incredible value in using Global Goods - they don’t need to rebuild the wheel! But what can OpenMRS and other Global Goods do to help them adopt & adapt our tech - and also become great contributors to our community? The secret may be in what they are looking for: good documentation, ways to onboard their teams, and partnerships and/or certifications that they can use to promote their business.
Tech How do we bust the myth that open source is free? How can we as Global Goods position ourselves collectively as an alternative to proprietary software solutions that do the same thing? For several years, OpenMRS has been closely collaborating with OCL to make it easier to manage concepts, work that OpenELIS decided to adapt and re-use. We’ve also collaborated with OpenELIS on EMR-LIS interoperability workflow. When we communicate about OpenMRS and what we offer countries and their health facilities, we need to shine a spotlight on these collaborations, show that OpenMRS can interoperate with other Global Goods using the same standards.
Community While we had chances to get to know Global Goods through “Community Speed Dating,” most conversations about creating and maintaining vibrant communities happened outside of formal sessions. Some Global Goods are still “housed” with their founding organization, wear both Global Good maintainer and implementer hats, and are starting to grow their communities. Others, like OpenMRS, have established communities that evolve and grow. Change is coming for all of us as countries seek greater ownership over the systems used within their borders.
As Global Good communities grow, will we see new community fiscal hosts emerge while founding organizations join other orgs and companies who make Global Goods their core business? For communities like OpenMRS that already function as a consortium of individuals and organizations, will organizations and companies begin to specialize in different aspects of our tech (ie: frontend, APIs, security, implementation tooling, deployment, data exchange, quality assurance, etc)?
Sustainable Funding This was a major focus of the sustainability sessions, from a Donor Panel to office hours about Digital Square’s Total Cost of Ownership Tool to panel discussions with local entrepreneurs and another about revenue models. Here are a few points and challenges for us to consider: 1) Local entrepreneurs are starting to realize the value of Global Goods - and are not always sure how to get started and engage with our communities. What can we do to make contributing to OpenMRS a part of their business model? 2) “Big Aid” agencies have been taking steps to put the Principles of Donor Alignment for Digital Health into action by meeting every other week for the last four years; 2) The group as a whole starting talking about Global Goods collectively making the case with countries and funders for choosing Global Goods over proprietary solutions.
Global Goods all continue to grapple with the same issues from the same angle: how to maintain foundational, core tech and keep technical debt down in an environment where donors and clients are focused on user-facing features. When we come together to talk about sustainability, we tend to focus our conversations on funding and revenue models.
Yet sustainable open source communities are about more than money: it’s about adoption of our tech and our communities. Even as Global Goods explore sustainable funding solutions - which is critical! - it’s equally essential to pay attention to making our shared OpenMRS product and our community a great place where technical professionals and organizations work together to make the impact we all seek. As Global Goods, it’s time we started talking about what we can and are doing to make it easy for devs to pick up our core tech & how we engage with all kinds of organizations and entrepreneurs, designers and developers, to contribute back upstream and go the distance. It would be great to see these topics become a part of our conversations.
Speaking of which, did you know that there are now Community Office Hours? This is an open space & time where you can talk with a real person about our community, brainstorm ideas, talk over the challenges we face as a community - anything that’s on your mind! Join me any Monday and Wednesday at 9pm IST | 6:30pm EAT | 3:30pm UTC | 11:30am ET | 8:30am PT.