Mobilizing and Managing Open Source Software Development Networks in Different Social, Cultural, Political, and Economic Environments: An Examination of how the Health Information Systems Programme (HISP) Coordinates and Controls Distant Communities.
The assertion that many developing countries possess under-funded and underdeveloped public health services is widely acknowledged. A study by Elmendorf (1994), for example, concluded that in most developing countries the total per capita spending on health is less than $15 per year. Moreover, a key issue identified in the literature concerns problems with the availability of reliable health information about these populations. Edeier (2000) posits that developing countries have generally not invested in access to information as much as they should, even within their available means. He argues that information systems (IS) have not been harnessed systematically to improve the health of populations in developing countries. Donner (2004) observes that public health information systems in developing countries have changed only gradually in the last 30 years, while Braa et al (2004) identify the lack of sustainable working IS in developing countries as “striking”. They propose that poor health status, rampant diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS and inadequate health services are seriously hampering human, social and economic development in the developing world. Braa and Blobel (2003) tell us that where such IS exist there is no guarantee that they will be used effectively. They describe an IS characterized by excessive and un-coordinated data collection, and conclude that instead of being of overall benefit the IS places a huge additional burden on health facilities.
It is within this context that we must understand the variety of public health projects currently underway in developing countries. In particular, a number of these projects are attempting to improve healthcare practice by the implementation and use of IS to support new and innovative modes of planning, administration and service delivery. One key project is the Health Information Systems Programme (HISP). The HISP project represents an innovative attempt to use IS to transform aspects of public healthcare in developing countries by developing and implementing Health Management Information Systems (HMIS). HISP also plays a central role in a global network dedicated to using Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for public healthcare provision and practice. FOSS development is characterised by groups of highly skilled and motivated developers working either individually or as part of a team. Weber (2003) states, “These projects typically depend on intensive communication and the persuasiveness of the de-facto project leader to coordinate the work of the group”. This paper attempts a detailed examination of the HISP software development network, and the unique problems and challenges it faces. Specifically, I intend to explore how the software development network has evolved since inception, and how the network is controlled, coordinated and organised. This will include an examination of the difficulties involved with managing and organizing software development networks across different cultures, time zones, economies, social and political environments, technologies, and languages.