Apps on the Ground, Data in the Cloud -- and Greater Gender Equity
San Diego, Calif., March 28, 2014 — Sometimes, making a positive change is as simple as getting data from the ground to the cloud and back again.
But for many of those researching the equitable treatment of women and girls, including those at the University of California, San Diego’s Center on Gender Equity and Health (GEH), gathering and sharing data is still largely a paper pursuit — a time-consuming and often costly paper pursuit. Technology has yet to saturate many of the world’s populations affected by gender inequity, and even where it has gained a foothold, there’s a paucity of software necessary for collecting social science data.
It’s a problem that GEH Director Dr. Anita Raj aims to solve through a collaboration with the UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute, which is the university’s division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). Raj has led an effort to design an Android-based mobile survey collection and analysis tool known as mShare, which allows any individual with a smartphone to download and answer a survey and then upload the results in real-time to a server, where it can be immediately downloaded.
Raj says that before the mShare app, conducting paper surveys, aggregating the data, and correcting for errors for the GEH-led CHARM intervention — developed to improve family planning among young married couples in rural India -- consumed nine months of research time. With mShare, all of that can be done instantaneously.
“When we approached QI Director Ramesh Rao about designing this app, he said, “If you can dream it we can make it,” says Raj, who is also a professor in the UCSD Department of Medicine, Division of Global and Public Health. “The way our ideas can incubate at QI fosters our thinking in a direction we wouldn’t go if we just limited our collaborations to medicine. It pushes our thinking, our capacities and global reach.”
Added QI Director Rao: “Calit2 isn’t just the people in Atkinson Hall. Anita Raj is Calit2. All the collaborators on this project are Calit2. We don’t just provide technological consulting — we make people like Anita successful by providing the tools they need.”
The mShare app, which was designed by QI Senior Engineer John Zhu, has already been customized for various groups of UCSD social science researchers, including the University’s Policy, Design and Evaluation Lab (which develops collaborative approaches to solving problems in the social sciences) and its Global Justice Center.
The app is just one of the forward-thinking approaches researchers in gender equity are beginning to use to “build their post-2015 agenda” — the theme for GEH’s Symposium on Gender Equity & Global Reproductive Health.” The symposium was held March 20-21 at the Qualcomm Institute and was funded by the University of California Office of the President in collaboration UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and UC San Francisco.
It was the first event of its kind to bring representatives from seven of the 10 UC campuses to talk about issues related to gender equity and reproductive rights, and also featured representatives from government and the non-profit world, including the World Bank, the National Institutes for Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Coalition, USAID, the Packard Foundation and Pathfinder.
The agenda included experts in social science, medicine, economics and public policy from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America and more than 160 people attended, with 260 more watching the event’s livestream.
“Reproductive health and gender equity are among the world’s most pressing issues,” said UC President Janet Napolitano in a video address that was broadcast at the symposium. “We can’t have socially and economically families, communities or nations until women everywhere have access to basic health services. Ending the violence and exploitation of women and girls is not only a human rights issue, but also a public health issue.”
Presentations included a talk on the CHARM Intervention (Counseling Husbands to Achieve Reproductive Health and Marital Equity) by Niranjan Saggurti, an India Associate of the Population Council, as well as two talks on other GEH projects by UCSD Professor of Medicine and GEH Director of Research Jay Silverman, who spoke about “Gender-based Violence and Reproductive Coercion as Drivers of Unintended Pregnancy” and “CHANCE: A Sustainable Program to improve Family Planning via reducing Gender-based Violence and Maltreatment.”
Added Raj: “This was not a purely academic conference, and that was by design. The research presented is applied in nature, with a focus on how research can influence programs and policy. We’re really invested in creating the next generation of scholars and practitioners who are invested in these issues.”
Raj noted that one of the most gratifying outcomes of the Symposium was that the representatives in attendance from the East Coast of the U.S. “said they didn’t know there was so much happening on the West Coast.”
“That was really exciting and important because it means that the opportunities for collaboration are high. Many of us are already meeting as a group to talk about next grant proposal, and funder-donors are telling us they are invested. My hope is we will see a lot more cross-university and cross-organizational collaboration around issues pertaining to gender equity and reproductive health, and we imagine QI will be a part of that.”
Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, firstname.lastname@example.org