Interview with Professor Kirstin Kohler – University of Mannheim /

July 22, 2020 in HITA Radio, Partner, Projekte by guenther_michels

Co-innovation by students of the University of Mannheim with the non-profit organization HITA e. V. in the context of Digital Health – A win-win situation for the participants

Digital innovation is often driven by technical issues. This is also reflected in the curricula of the corresponding courses of study such as computer science or communications engineering. However, developments in recent years have clearly shown that software systems can have a major impact on societal changes and that their design must be considered in a socio-cultural context in order to assess their sustainable significance. Note, for example. the impact of social media or recent discussions about using a Corona app as a prominent representative of digital innovation. Universities therefore have to consider teaching concepts that sensitize students to their social responsibility and enable them to design technology from a social, social or social perspective. to operate from a human-centred perspective. Successful digital innovation can only emerge if user-centricity and technical progress are in harmony and integrated into the cultural context.


In the User Centered Innovation course, 8 students of the Master’s program Software Engineering at the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with HITA e. V. demonstrated how it can be possible to jointly create added value for a non-profit institution and at the same time to develop the above-mentioned competencies within the framework of a course. HITA e. V. is a non-profit non-governmental organisation whose vision is to contribute to the optimisation of health systems in Africa through eHealth and mHealth technologies. During the project-based course, the students worked out a solution to a challenge from everyday life at HITA over a period of 15 weeks. Right at the beginning of the project, HITA confronted the students with the following question: “How can digital innovation support clinical management and the organisation of a local community clinic in Ghana?” This question was motivated by the experiences of the two HITA representatives Thomas Erkert and Daniel Gerlach, who have extensive background knowledge of the Ghanaian health system through their voluntary work.


The university pursues a user-centric innovation approach, in which creative methods, prototyping and user interviews are applied, for example according to the Design Thinking methodology. The students work with so-called “assignments. ” These are weekly tasks, with which the students gradually learn methods to work on the complex question that is presented to them. The question initially leads to uncertainty among students, as it is much more open than the questions of other course formats. The associated degrees of freedom of the solution space are unusual and overwhelming at first. Under the methodical guidance of the supervising teacher, the students explored the problem area in the first weeks. This included exploring the specifics and processes of the Ghanaian health system and understanding the country’s social framework. This illustrated to the students the large differences in terms of hygiene, bed capacity, treatment methods, procedures and the establishment of the medical centers compared to their own health system. Based on these insights, different personas were created that document the findings on the target group and their daily challenges (in this case, midwives, nurses and patients were considered). The example of the nurse is shown in the figure below.


With regard to the target groups, the students were then asked to devise and roughly outline different solutions based on their comprehensive knowledge of digital technology. The work took place in small groups and initially led to more than 40 different ideas. From these, the students developed five ideas for so-called low-fidelity prototypes. These are preliminary stages of the product, which are created from simple materials such as paper and cardboard in a short time. The ideas are not first implemented in code, but in concept presentations, which serve only for communication and discussion. The two most promising concepts were selected from the very different concepts in dialogue with the HITA representatives. In the following weeks, the students developed these into clickable demonstrators on the target device through several iterations. Repeated methods were used, which illuminated the quality of the elaboration from different perspectives (e. g. User Experience, Feasibility, Costs).

handy3Throughout the course, the HITA experts were in dialogue with the students with a great deal of dedication in order to answer questions about Ghana or to provide feedback on the concept ideas. Through the intensive study of the Ghanaian context, the students were able to experience how closely the use of an application in a concrete context is interwoven with its design and implementation. The highlight of the course was a guided user test with the Ghanaian hospital, in which the students had the chance to guide various representatives of a clinic in Ghana through their digital solution during a one-hour video conference, in order to explore their acceptance and to accept concerns. This was possible mainly because the HITA representatives were able to organise the video conference on site during their trip to Ghana. To the pride of all those involved, the feedback from potential users was extremely positive and provided additional, valuable impulses. The official conclusion of the project was a comprehensive presentation of the overall result by the students in front of Thomas Erkert and Daniel Gerlach from HITA e. V. on the university campus.


The cooperation with HITA e. From the point of view of the supervising professor, V. was a great asset for teaching. It provided students with a learning experience in which they had to reflect on the consequences of their technological decisions in a social context. In this way, the students were able to become aware of their responsibility, but also of their creative possibilities. At the same time, they were sensitized to the realities of a different culture and society, which is characterized by far more limitations than their own reality of life.


The course took place at inno. space (, the creative and makerspace of Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, which is part of the global Design Factory Global network ( There, students work exclusively on real issues in a creative learning environment based on the principle of action-based learning. In contrast to the cooperation with HITA e. V. many other inno. space projects deal with the challenges of companies and are thus strongly influenced by economic interests. By working with a non-profit company such as HITA e. V. succeeds in putting sustainability and the common good more into the focus of a course. This is a task that universities, as institutions with social responsibility, are increasingly fulfilling. All in all, the project was a happy win-win situation, which rarely arises and hopefully finds a repetition from the point of view of the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences.

In an informative interview in English, Professor Kirstin Kohler reports on the origin and development of the project. Also in discussion is Daniel Gerlach from HITA:

University of Mannheim

Prof. Kirstin Kohler - Coordinator – Design Factory Mannheim – Professorship for User Experience Design

Email: – Website:

Health Care Information Technologies for Africa e.V. (HITA e.V.)

Thomas ErkertChariman of HITA e.V. –

Daniel Gerlach – Expert on the board of HITA e.V. –

Podcast about the project:

Article about the videoconference:

Co-innovation by students of the University of Mannheim with the non-profit organization HITA e. V. in the context of Digital Health – A win-win situation for the participants