At the Ideas to Impact Lab (i2i Lab), we are a team of scientists, health care providers, designers, engineers, artists and entrepreneurs united for a single purpose: to make health care better for people who need it most. Our i2i fellows are tackling emerging and evolving health challenges, locally and globally. Jessica Gallant is a rising star in the field of health equity and is currently leading an innovation project within the Lab in partnership with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The Big Data. Local Impact. Healthy Lives project, funded by the Connaught Global Challenge Award, is developing tools and systems to increase health worker motivation in Malawi through the use of local data analysis and feedback. We sat down with her recently to hear more about her amazing work within Dignitas’ i2i Lab.
- You come from an economics background. How did you find yourself in the world of public health?
I’m really interested in focusing on the quality of public services in my own research. There are so many big questions yet to be answered about uptake or demand for health care as well as the functioning of markets and organizations in public health. My i2i lab mentor, Professor Laura Derksen, introduced me to the growing field of health economics.
- What does innovation mean to you? How do you hope to use data to drive innovation in healthcare?
Trying out programs in ways that allow us to test whether they work and how they affect people is a great way to move forward with practical innovations that are effective and get the results that we hope for. Using data to evaluate these programs is very important.
- Your project focuses on the use of local health data. Why is it important to use local data for health innovation?
It’s important to make policy recommendations that make sense in context. We want to make sure that local data is put to good use in understanding both the problems and potential solutions, which are different everywhere and for everyone.
- What has been your most interesting experience so far being a fellow in the i2i Lab?
I have loved meeting the other i2i Fellows who come from other disciplines. Speaking to innovators outside your own field is a great way to generate new ideas and think creatively about big issues. When I hiked the Zomba Plateau in Malawi with my i2i colleague Victor – that’s a good way to clear your head for sure! – we got to talk about exciting applications of machine learning to health care while taking in the beautiful views and nature.
- What has been your biggest frustration working on such an expansive project?
I think the excitement about the opportunity to test a new innovative policy on such a large-scale outweighs any frustrations. It can take a while to roll out a big program, but we want to make sure we do it right, that everyone is respected and included in the process, and that we are making the best initial prediction possible as to what will have the biggest impact on the high quality delivery of health care in low resource settings.
- Where do you see yourself after you’ve completed your i2i Lab fellowship?
I will continue working on my doctorate and career in academia. With my research I hope to be able to identify more ways that we can improve the quality of public services while working within the resource constraints that many vulnerable populations face.
Jessica Gallant is pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Toronto, having obtained her M.A. from Queen’s University and a B.A. Hons. From Carleton University in Economics and Mathematics. Jessica’s field of research is in development and applied microeconomics with a focus on Africa institutions. She uses economic theories of choice and incentives, combined with data-driven analysis, to study the bureaucracy, public service delivery, and public sector employment.