Global Health Envisioning: Data for Impact

for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

We worked with the foundation and their partners to envision a not-so-distant future where better data and data practices would contribute to improved health outcomes around the globe.


Envisioning the future can be a powerful way to inspire people to take action. The Global Health team at the Gates Foundation wanted to emphasize the great potential for improved data to transform global health and development. Together, we set out to develop a narrative that could illustrate a viable future state where new and emerging technologies, combined with a shift in data sharing behavior, bring better information to global health decision-makers everywhere.
The goal of this work was to help make data quality and stewardship a more prominent topic for policy-makers, product developers, researchers, and other actors throughout the global health community. The 2015 Global Partners Forum, an international convening of more than 1,200 prominent representatives from the global health sector, emerged as the perfect venue to present materials and to actively work with the foundation’s many partners to craft a unified vision for the future. Trevor Mundel, BMGF President of Global Health, presented the Data for Impact video alongside data-themed activities including moderated panel discussions, workshops and an envisioning booth where we engaged directly with forum attendees to gather feedback and ideas.
The video below, narrated by Trevor Mundel, BMGF President of Global Health, illustrates how improving the quality, timeliness, and sharing of data can inform better decision-making and strengthen health systems at all levels.

A Collaborative Process of Discovery

Envisioning a future state requires a deep understanding of the present. Our first priority was learning. We pushed our own thinking about global health data with intense research that included interviewing experts in epidemiology, surveillance, data architecture, and health systems. We drew from the Gates Foundation and its partners to assemble a team of individuals with diverse backgrounds to workshop our ideas from multiple angles. We uncovered data initiatives that were having a positive impact on health outcomes and explored how this complex space was likely to evolve.
At the end of our investigation phase, we produced a landscape analysis that catalogued today’s challenges and presented stepping stones towards a favorable future state. This document became the foundation for the scriptwriting process when it came time to craft a narrative and explore design concepts.

Crafting the Narrative

Ultimately we wanted the work to cultivate a shared envisioning experience, rather than presenting a fully baked vision representing only the Gates Foundation’s perspective. It was important to adequately showcase improvements made in the last fifteen years while still presenting today’s imperative for change. Glimpses of the future state would inspire the audience – at the Global Partners Forum and beyond – to contemplate their own visions for improved data and data practices.
The real story was not about technology and IT systems, it was about families everywhere getting better access to information and informed health services. By looking at three generations of women, past, present, and future, we created an “arc of life” narrative that showed how data could transform the way mothers interacted with their health systems and cared for their families.
It was important for the story to traverse a time continuum that stretched from the recent past to the near future while shifting scale to address the impact of data at individual, community, and global levels.

A Visual System for Data, People and Connections

In a sense, data was the real protagonist in this story and we needed a visual convention for portraying health data in a range of settings and situations. We wanted to focus both on the interactions of data between people and health workers in their communities and on the flows of data that moved amongst providers, governments, researchers, and the myriad other players that contribute to and influenced healthcare systems.
We did not want to overstate the role of technology. After exploring imagery that emphasized the digital qualities of data, we chose to combine these visualizations with photography to underscore the real people who were generating and consuming data within this ecosystem.
Initial sketches explored the relationships that different players had within a healthcare system and helped us characterize where data flowed freely and where it was impeded. A crucial element of the vision was the way that data interacted with our characters. We wanted data to be ubiquitous throughout the narrative but we also wanted to show variance in how effectively it contributed to the lives of the people being portrayed.

Modeling Real World Data

Trevor had a unique vision for how data of many types could be combined to inform product development, policy, and healthcare delivery. This “model” emerged as a central visual component of the work and fueled great discussion about how better data could be used to inform better decisions across the global health and development space.

The Work in Action

We set the stage at the Global Partners Forum with a series of provocative posters designed to help attendees push their own thinking about possible futures. Many participants shared their own ideas at an envisioning booth that we set up within the convention space, contributing to a collective vision for the future. The focus on data permeated numerous presentations, breakout sessions, and side meetings.

Taking the Work Forward

The Global Health envisioning work was always intended to be part of an ongoing effort by the foundation and its partners to promote better data and data practices. The Global Partners Forum helped to invigorate discussion on this topic but our collaboration with the Global Health team in this area continued beyond the May 2015 event. In a TED-like presentation at Zurich Minds in November 2015, Trevor Mundel focused on the power of data to drive smart investment in global health.

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