February 18, 2011

Global Health Discussion on Innovation and Scale Up

During the first ever Global Health Faculty Symposium at Yale, expert faculty explored global health research puzzles in depth. Elizabeth Bradley, Linda Arnold, Mark Saltzman, Mushfiq Mobarak, and Nancy Reynolds were some of the faculty who participated in the innovation and scale up discussion group. Faculty, across various disciplines, were able to share more details about their specific research projects and discover additional information about their research endeavors.
The discussion began with Dr. Bradley identifying the different paths that can lead to product design adoption after innovation. The first path is when great technology stops dead in its tracks because of diffusion. An alternative is priming the political and economic environment. For example, lowering the price of complements and increasing the price of substitutes can make the benefits of diffusion outweigh the costs. Finally, the third pathway is engaging social norms and DNA fabrics of a community. This means the product may have to come from the community, rather than from outsiders. Dr. Bradley explained this through an example, “Like a virus moves through the cell, the virus has to embed into a cell to reproduce, this is how the community would reproduce an innovation. That’s how things diffuse.”

Mushfiq Mobarak explained how innovation and scale up is about more than just countries adopting technology to improve their health, but can help a researcher learn additional information about human behavior. For example, his research on a scale up for a government credit program to encourage seasonal migration away from famine in Bangladesh helped Dr. Mobarak learn availability of information, money or employee relationships, are different determining factors of migration.

Most faculty members agreed that Yale University’s involvement and advocacy of researchers are two necessary components for innovation and scale up. Finding a balance between faculty’s interests in global health could create opportunities for student involvement. Dealing with the unintended effects from innovation and scale up were harder to agree upon.

For example, Dr. Bradley explained how the world may adapt a product differently than it was intended, but how this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because communities can still maximize their welfare. Another faculty member thought, as a researcher, you are responsible for how an innovation is presented to the world and how it should be used. The interaction between two different innovations and designs should also be taken into account. Nancy Reynolds discussed how female condoms in Uganda may not be compatible with Mark Saltzman contraceptive design.

The discussion concluded with Lubna Pal asserting a needs assessment is necessary to help address and prioritize problems with vulnerable populations. Dr. Mobarak suggested potential next steps. Yet, no matter what the next steps are for innovation and scale up, the discussion is the main vehicle for faculty collaboration and understanding.

Amanda Sorrentino, GHLI Intern

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