What is OpenMRS' "North Star"?

I found this lecture which talked about “growth” within for-profit organizations.

While it’s not wholly relevant to us in OpenMRS, one idea in particular stuck with me. He refers to this notion of a “north star”, or a metric that an organization can focus upon in order to organize large groups of participants towards a growth goal. This part of the talk begins at the 11 minute mark.

For example, Facebook’s “north star” is growth of #'s of active users (vs. # of users). Whatsapp’s “north star” is number of sent messages.

I’d like to have a conversation at some point about what OpenMRS’ “north star” should be? I have a number of thoughts on this, but would love to have a larger conversation about it.


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I’ve always used the term ‘farstar’ (taken from Arthur Hailey’s Wheels) instead of north star :slight_smile:

Its a bit hard to translate our aspirations to one star, because we have two areas of interest - increasing community developers and increasing implementations.

How about, “the growth of active communicators per month/quarter”? this is similar to facebook’s, plus the “new persons” can be anyone - experts, n00bs, implementers, etc. etc.


We grow the community to provide the necessary support & development to serve our customers. If our base of customers shrinks, the community can not be growing.

Therefore, IMHO, we need to do all we can to have a good number that represents active OpenMRS installations, or even better, active number of patients served with our tools.

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Not sure how we’d measure it reliably, but number of lives saved/improved would be the ultimate metric. While we want to enable developers and implementers, in the end it’s about helping patients.

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Seems that number of patients served by our software might be the closest we can get … ?

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Thanks to @burke, @chris, @janflowers, @pascal, and @jthomas for your thoughts on the call today regarding the “north star”.

To briefly summarize what I heard from you all:

  1. having tangible ways to measure our progress as a community is a good thing
  2. the spirit behind the community’s alignment towards a single metric is good, but will be challenging for a whole host of reasons and might not recognize and inspire the more discrete participatory activities we want to see
  3. perhaps having a series of process metrics combined into an overall measure?
  4. these could be included in our “annual report” idea

North Stars we talked about:

  1. of implementations

  2. of successful implementations

  3. of lives saved

  4. of patient records supported by OpenMRS

  5. of partnerships

  6. of community members

Everyone thought that the idea was relevant and useful to what we’re doing with OpenMRS, and that I should continue to bring it up for conversation.

Will continue to do so, and would appreciate thoughts from folks in this thread, in the meantime, :smile:


This is a very interesting conversation - the things you measure become the things you optimize.

Interesting that FB and What’s App have a single metric

In the end, I think our single metric should be “# of effective implementations” where effective means that the system is used.

To be used it has to deliver value (value to the provider? to the health care organization? to reporting/funders/surveillance uses? to the patient? doesn’t matter - but it has to deliver value sufficient that it is used.

Used could be measured in turn by # patient records, or # patient records accessed according to some pattern (HIV records accessed q 60 days, or primary care records accessed q year, or something like that).

If it delivers value, then it will be supported. If it is supported, then it will attract community members - commercial or not - who will support it’s use.

So, for me, effective use (dare I say “meaningful use”) is the primary metric. And since our “unit of implementation” is typically the clinic, I’d say “# clinics using OpenMRS effectively” is the core metric

I realize I was a bit ambiguous – by implementations I mean individual clinics. I don’t think networks should count as one implementation, even if the server is centrally hosted. To me, the metric is “places where patients walk in the front door and OpenMRS is being effectively used”

Note that that metric would drive us to go after larger clinic networks, if our goal was to optimize. That might not be a bad thing, though, in terms of impact and value.

Last night as I responded to this post, I too thought about #of lives saved as a metric. The reason that I didn’t suggest that was because there are many other factors that affect health outcome. Having the most strongly supported OpenMRS instance is the world is not going to help you if the clinicians are messing up, or not using it as they should… on the other hand, # of patient records served is more realistic?