10 Questions: Jeffrey Aubuchon: Helping Doctors Reduce Infant Mortality or HIV Infection Rates in Developing Countries Requires Jeffrey Aubuchon to Practice 'Creative Knowledge Management.' A Keen Understanding of World History Helps, Too
Hales, Stuart, Information Outlook
Providing better (and better access to) information can do almost as much to improve public health as investing in medical technology. But what happens when information is brought to bear on public health problems in remote, undeveloped areas of the world? Can information professionals contribute to health outcomes in areas that lack electricity and Internet access?
Jeffrey Aubuchon thinks they can. He works for Management Sciences for Health (MSH), which seeks to improve the health of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Information Outlook spoke to him about how he adds value to the services MSH delivers.
Q: Tell us about your employer, Management Sciences for Health. What does MSH do?
Management Sciences for Health is approaching its 40th year. We're classified as an international health organization, and we work on a global scale--we have offices in 33 countries and experience in 140 countries around the world. Our staff members are global as well, representing 74 nationalities.
Our goal, as a public health organization, is to improve the health of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. We do that by closing the gap between knowledge and action--what is known about certain public health problems and what can be done to solve those problems. We work a lot of times with ministries of health and local non-governmental organizations to support them and help make their work better and more efficient.
Q: What's your role at MSH?
My job in all of this is to make sure that our more than 2,000 staff people around the world have easy access to the evidence-based knowledge they need to save lives. We don't provide direct health care services--we have several doctors on staff, but they don't give shots or anything like that. Instead, we work to strengthen health care systems. To do that, our people need to know about best practices in HIV/AIDS treatment or cutting-edge therapies to reduce maternal mortality. My job is to get that knowledge to our technical experts in the field.
That's actually just half of my job; the other half is to take unpublished knowledge--say, our experience from a project in Bangladesh--and see what we can learn from it, then apply it to a different project somewhere else. In essence, the challenge is to exchange knowledge on a global scale. I use traditional library techniques, but I'm also doing a lot of creative knowledge management, trying to get necessary and vital pieces of information to really remote places.
Doing this requires overcoming some pretty serious obstacles. When we're working with a rural health clinic in Ethiopia, for example, we can't assume there will be a reliable supply of electricity or Internet access. It makes knowledge management a bit of a creative challenge.
Q: What did you do prior to coming to MSH, and how did your previous jobs prepare you for your current duties?
My first job out of college was teaching world history at a small high school in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was there for four years, and from there I went on to teach history at the college level for a few years.
While I was doing those things, I went back to school. I already had a master's degree in history, and I went back to get an MSLS from Clarion University in Pennsylvania. I got some practical experience in librarianship as a reference librarian at a different college from the one at which I was teaching. This gave me some interesting insights into academic librarianship.
In 2007, my wife and I decided that we wanted a change, so we packed up our belongings and joined the Peace Corps. We served in Morocco, and I used a lot of my library skills there. We built four libraries in the desert for local communities, and the great thing about it was that they never knew I was a librarian by training. They knew I was a teacher, but not a librarian; they were the ones who proposed the library projects, not I. …