April 21, 2016 |

Friday Think: when gaming the system can have lifesaving impact

Some innovators are looking at games to help develop skills needed to accurately read and interpret data.
A man operates his mobile phone while three other men look on.
Looking at data, and learning from it, is not always fun. So some innovators are employing game-based training methods. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

A recent article in the Atlantic by writer Ed Yong describes how Guess the Correlation, a hot new game for smartphones that rivals Angry Birds, has attracted all kinds of science and non-science types to guess the correlation in scatterplots, testing their ability to recognize relationships between two factors.

However, the stakes are high, as Yong points out in his article “The 8-Bit Game That Makes Statistics Addictive”:

“You lose lives for inaccurate guesses and regain them for accurate ones.”

I’m reminded of this in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I’m working on a project supporting the government to identify strategic investments to strengthen their health system performance through better use of data.

At PATH, our ability to accurately interpret and act on different representations of information is an important, yet very difficult, task we all regularly face. Our interpretations could have grave consequences. PATH’s Digital Health Solutions team has been thinking about how to find more creative and impactful ways to increase knowledge and skills in data interpretation and use.

We need the right tools and training to make strong decisions

Though some of us have very wise instincts, I think we can all agree that we usually make better decisions faster when we are equipped with relevant, accurate information. For instance, in Guess the Correlation, players compete at guessing the R (correlation) of different scatterplots of data, and they are scored based on the accuracy of their guesses. Says the game’s creator Omar Waigh, “Contrary to what people believe, they’re not very good at this. And I have the data to prove that.”

In health systems around the world people are being asked to make decisions like they are playing Guess the Correlation—that is without the right information—the difference is that these are health decisions that impact people’s lives.  In places like Tanzania, systems are in place to report and access health data. Now, the issue is ensuring the quality and use of that data to improve decision-making—not just in delivering routine services or responding to a disease outbreak (such as Ebola or Zika), but in allocating human and financial resources and setting policies.

But it takes training and experience to become good at interpreting data and converting it into information you can use for decisions.

Games: the next game-changer in global health?

Looking at data, and learning from it, is not always fun. As such, some innovators, including our Digital Health Solutions team at PATH, are exploring how to employ game-based training methods to make capacity-building and behavior change more accessible and engaging.

What’s brilliant about Guess the Correlation is that reading scatterplots is turned into a game. Fun + competition = motivation to learn and improve. It also gives immediate feedback, so you can learn from your mistakes and track your progress. Being able to instantly see your progress becomes satisfying and further motivating.

In global health, lives depend on the decisions made not just by the doctor or nurse dealing directly with a patient, but throughout the health system. Decisions at all levels affect how the system performs, which affects the health of the population, and this is why it is so important to make an evidence-based decision.

To read more about Guess the Correlation, read the full article online at the Atlantic.friday-think-2015-wideDuring the week we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our feature, Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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  • Breese Arenth is a program officer in the Digital Health Solutions group at PATH.