Thanks for writing, Kate. We just uploaded our responses to the expert feedback we received. It's wonderful to have the feedback and to think about ways to improve the user experience. This week, one of our implementation partners in Zimbabwe started a Whats Ap group for health workers using the Solar Suitcase. I got a WhatsAp text this morning from a health worker who was so excited that she had just saved a woman with pre-eclampsia and hemorrhage. She said the overhead lights, headlamps, and fetal Doppler monitor were life-saving, and allowed her to conduct the necessary procedures to treat every complication! We loved receiving this feedback, and appreciated the fact that our partner at Zim Energy Eco-Foundation came up with the idea of a Solar Suitcase users group and implemented this on his own. This kind of group is a great way for users to share their experiences and continue to learn from each other! Laura Stachel, MD MPH Executive Director, We Care Solar
Dear Bridgebuilder Team, Thanks for your feedback. Here are our responses to your questions about product life-cycle, quality assurance, and front-end time/intensity.
Front-end labor intensity: We are anticipating that improving the educational materials and remote training aspect of the program will reduce our need to conduct resource-intensive training programs in each country requesting our programs. This will reduce our front-end labor, time and costs. Ideally, it will allow us to respond to the demand for Solar Suitcases in communities beyond our current geographies.
Product Lifecycle: The Solar Suitcase is designed to be a durable rugged solar electric system, functional for years with routine battery replacement. We originally used sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries for our systems. These required replacement every two years, and while it is possible to recycle SLA batteries, the countries in which we work rarely have facilities to do so.
In the last two years, we’ve moved to lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are non-toxic and safer for the environment. They have a longer service life, and will last at least five years. This means the Solar Suitcase will continue working for years with a simple battery replacement every five years. The lithium batteries we use are quite small and are safe for disposal, but recycling is not available yet in Africa. if recycling becomes an option in our geographies, we will incorporate this into our programs.
Another way we are lowering our environmental footprint is by developing remote monitoring of the Solar Suitcase performance. If our pilot testing of this technology is successful, it will both allow us to ensure that our products are being used appropriately, and will reduce the need for human travel to routinely check suitcases in remote locations.
Feasibility/Quality Assurance: We have enjoyed rich partnerships with many organizations around the world, and continue to learn from our partners.
We want to ensure that our training materials are well understood and that the Solar Suitcase installations will meet certain quality standards. We have been testing ways to provide remote technical support, especially important when for trainees that plan to do many Solar Suitcase installations.
We created videos for version 2.0 of the Solar Suitcase that demonstrate how to install the Solar Suitcase, how to use it properly and how to use the electronic appliances that come with the Solar Suitcase, such as the fetal Doppler. We aim to do the same thing for Version 3.0.
To assess comprehension, we want to devise a series of tests to accompany each video. We would ask beneficiaries to take the tests after they have watched the videos and reviewed the educational materials and then see whether there are weaknesses in comprehension. We could provide feedback on the actual test questions and review key concepts in a remote technical support session by Skype.
We piloted this concept in Ethiopia with a group at the Hamlin College of Midwives. They watched our videos for version 2, reviewed our written materials, and then took a written test. We were able to see where individuals had gaps in knowledge and where we needed to provide greater clarity. One of our solar trainers (who is based in Uganda) provided technical support to the Ethiopian team via Skype and was able to reinforce key concepts before the installations began. The installers were very positive about this experience.
We would like to refine and simplify our protocol for ensuring user comprehension, perhaps using smart-phone based testing. This could provide immediate feedback to our trainees, and would be another way to strengthen understanding before installations are conducted.
One more idea that we have used for quality assurance of Solar Suitcase installations uses photographs. We provide feedback to new installers based upon photographs they take of their own work. We request photos of specific elements of the Solar Suitcase installations to assess quality workmanship (for example, how the solar panels are attached to the roof, how the lighting wires are tethered to the wall) and provide specific feedback based on these photos. In some cases, we have provided real-time feedback for trainees who share photos via WhatsAp. By incorporating some or all of these techniques into our standard protocols, we can support beneficiaries in new geographies and ensure that our quality standards are met.
Feasibility: As for other organization to emulate, we truly would love to learn from Ikea. Not only do they make pictorial instruction guides to enable non-technicians to make their furniture, they are also finding ways to make their furniture easier to assemble with a minimum of parts. They recently announced furniture that snaps together, without needing screws. They are modeling the type of user-centered design that will help our product to be more accessible.