Ensuring RHIS data is presented and shared in usable formats is a critical dimension of a strong, well-functioning RHIS. “The major gap to overcome related to knowledge and information management is not about information access, but information use.” (D’Adamo et al., 2012)
As the UN Data Revolution team highlighted, “Too often, existing data remain unused because they are released too late or not at all, not well documented and harmonized, or not available at the level of detail needed for decision-making.” Meeting the information needs of staff across the levels of the RHIS requires understanding those needs, the way in which health workers prefer to access and actually use the information, and cultivating a culture of information use.
There are a number of tools that have been developed to assess and develop action plans for improving data demand and use within RHIS. To effectively strengthen information use, consider the technical (system), organizational, and behavioral dimensions of data use, including how data tables are visualized to promote information use and individual analytical ability to analyze and use data for decision making.
The MEASURE Evaluation project has been a key leader in this domain, including development of a suite of data demand and use tools.
The Performance of Routine Information System Management (PRISM) framework consists of tools to assess Routine Health Information System (RHIS) performance, identify technical, behavioral and organizational factors that affect RHIS, aid in designing priority interventions to improve performance, and improve quality and use of routine health data. The tools were revised in 2015, and are still one of the most-used tools for RHIS assessment.
Improving RHIS Data Visualization
With increasing use of technology within RHIS come new opportunities for the development of dashboards and related tools to facilitate decision making. Well-designed dashboards can highlight trends and potential problems within health systems, and provide real time data for decision makers.
The design and development of dashboards must consider the needs of the decision makers, the available data, and the capabilities of the system itself. For example, DHIS2 – now in wide use in nearly 50 countries – has a suite of dashboard design tools embedded in the platform. When developing dashboards, consider the principles of user-centered design to ensure the final tool is a valuable resource.
Even for RHIS experts not responsible for more complex dashboard design, there are often opportunities where data needs to be extracted and visualized through simple charts and graphs for use in reports and presentations. By presenting the data in thoughtful ways, following best practices in visualization design, information use can be improved. There are a number of great resources on how to do elegant, simple chart and graph design in ubiquitous tools like Excel and Powerpoint, including Storytelling with Data, Evergreen Data, and Ann K. Emery Data Analysis + Visualization.
Strengthening Analytical Capabilities
As part of the broader tools for assessing information use within an RHIS, assessments of individual skills and capabilities around how to analyze, interpret, and use data for decision making are conducted. Where there is a need for skill building, MEASURE Evaluation has developed a training curriculum to increase the skills of M&E officers and health program staff to conduct basic data analysis and interpretation for health programs.