Design thinking during a health emergency: building a national data collection and reporting system

Kara N. Durski, Shalini Singaravelu, Dhamari Naidoo, Mamoudou Harouna Djingarey, Ibrahima Soce Fall, Ali Ahmed Yahaya, Bruce Aylward, Michael Osterholm, Pierre Formenty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Design thinking allows challenging problems to be redefined in order to identify alternative user-center strategies and solutions. To address the many challenges associated with collecting and reporting data during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, we used a design thinking approach to build the Global Ebola Laboratory Data collection and reporting system. Main text: We used the five-stage Design Thinking model proposed by Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This approach offers a flexible model which focuses on empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. A strong focus of the methodology includes end-users’ feedback from the beginning to the end of the process. This is an iterative methodology that continues to adapt according to the needs of the system. The stages do not need to be sequential and can be run in parallel, out of order, and repeated as necessary. Design thinking was used to develop a data collection and reporting system, which contains all laboratory data from the three countries during one of the most complicated multi-country outbreaks to date. The data collection and reporting system was used to orient the response interventions at the district, national, and international levels within the three countries including generating situation reports, monitoring the epidemiological and operational situations, providing forecasts of the epidemic, and supporting Ebola-related research and the Ebola National Survivors programs within each country. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates the numerous benefits that arise when using a design thinking methodology during an outbreak to solve acute challenges within the national health information system and the authors recommend it’s use during future complex outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1896
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 9 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Data systems
  • Design thinking
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Information Management System


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