Global Health Envisioning

Envisioning better global health systems
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
"Through this work, Intentional Futures helped us push and refine our thinking about how to move global health decision-makers to action." –Trevor Mundel, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


The Global Health team at the Gates Foundation wanted to emphasize the great potential for improved data to transform global health and development. Together, we developed a narrative that could illustrate a viable future state where new and emerging technologies, combined with a shift in data sharing behavior, bring better information to global health decision-makers everywhere.

The goal of this work was to help make data quality and stewardship a more prominent topic for policy-makers, product developers, researchers, and other actors throughout the global health community. The 2015 Global Partners Forum, an international convening of more than 1,200 prominent representatives from the global health sector, emerged as the perfect venue to present materials.

The video below, narrated by Trevor Mundel, BMGF President of Global Health, illustrates how improving the quality, timeliness, and sharing of data can inform better decision-making and strengthen health systems at all levels.

A collaborative process of discovery

Envisioning a future state requires a deep understanding of the present. Our research included interviewing experts in epidemiology, surveillance, data architecture, and health systems. We workshopped ideas and uncovered data initiatives that were having a positive impact on health outcomes and explored how this complex space was likely to evolve.

The resulting landscape analysis catalogued today’s challenges and presented stepping stones towards a favorable future state.

Crafting the narrative

The real story was not about technology and IT systems, it was about families everywhere getting better access to information and informed health services. By looking at three generations of women, past, present, and future, we created a time-traveling “arc of life” narrative that showed how data could transform the way mothers interacted with their health systems and cared for their families.

We developed personas to illustrate a woman's journey through health care.

A visual system for data, people and connections

Data was the real protagonist in this story and we needed a visual convention for portraying health data in a range of settings and situations. We wanted to focus both on the interactions of data between people and health workers in their communities and on the flows of data that moved amongst providers, governments, researchers, and the myriad other players that contribute to and influenced healthcare systems.

We combined visualizations with photography to underscore the real people who were generating and consuming data within this ecosystem.

Data visualization frameworks for use in the video.
We mocked up several models of people interacting with data.

Global Partners Forum

We set the stage at the event with provocative posters designed to help attendees push their own thinking about possible futures. Many participants shared their own ideas at an envisioning booth that we set up within the convention space, contributing to a collective vision for the future. The focus on data permeated numerous presentations, breakout sessions, and side meetings.

Visitors to the Global Partners Forum added new ideas to the mix.

Taking the work forward

The Global Health envisioning work was always intended to be part of an ongoing effort by the foundation and its partners to promote better data and data practices. The Global Partners Forum helped to invigorate discussion on this topic but our collaboration with the Global Health team in this area continued beyond the May 2015 event. In a TED-like presentation at Zurich Minds in November 2015, Trevor Mundel focused on the power of data to drive smart investment in global health.

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