MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAMS

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Health promotion works best when it’s done in partnership. Every individual and organisation has unique skills, reach and expertise. While this is important for any health promotion initiative, we think that it’s vital in health software development and evaluation.

The best outcomes happen when developers, designers and other technical professionals are included in a multidisciplinary team as early as possible in the project development process. Developers are often brought in too late in the process when important decisions about functionality, scope and design have already been made, without the benefit of expertise or experience, and these decisions may be difficult to reverse. Furthermore, grant funding may have been obtained on the basis of a speculative budget that may be entirely inappropriate for the project envisaged.

Multidisciplinary teams, including developers, also help health apps to avoid the common pitfall of stagnation. The app development process should be cyclic, moving through multiple stages of development, testing, release and feedback. This is especially important for mobile applications, where devices and mobile operating systems change extraordinarily quickly. Too often health applications are built by contracted developers, with no long-term plan for maintenance, updates or development in response to user feedback. Stagnation can spell the death of a good app in a surprisingly short time.

Of course, setting projects up like this can be difficult, as traditional grant programs are often not designed to accommodate these kinds of teams or long-term plans. That’s why we’re happy to see mental health initiative Beyond Blue setting up a grants program which invests in multidisciplinary partnership teams including local community, evaluators, academics and digital designers. This is an opportunity to produce effective, targeted projects that will both add to the evidence base, and provide direct outcomes for users.