Digital approaches to managing staff absenteeism

Examples from African and Asian countries


Examples of digital approaches to monitoring staff absenteeism were difficult to find in the literature within the scope of this review. There was a sense from experts consulted that monitoring attendance may well be going on alongside other mhealth and ehealth interventions. Research looking at the use of smartphones to monitor doctor attendance in Pakistan found many other factors affecting attendance other than the monitoring (Callen et al 2013). Health systems inspectors uploaded results to an aggregating website. Smartphone monitoring doubled inspection rates and relatively few phones were used to cover a large population. Because politicians provide public jobs, doctors were found to be considerably more likely to be present at work in competitive constituencies. A system in India which electronically transmits time and date stamps to monitor nurse absence found that incentives were required alongside the monitoring for effective change (Banerjee et al 2008). There were problems with staff being excused for meetings which could not be proven (Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, 2009). Machines were also found to be deliberately broken. One example from the field of education is widely cited in the literature. An experiment was conducted in a remote rural area in India where regular monitoring is difficult. Children were instructed to take photos of teachers with cameras (Duflo & Hanna, 2005). The cameras had tamperproof date and time functions. The program was found to be effective compared to a control with 22 percent absence in treatment schools and 42 percent absence in comparison schools. Test scores were also higher in the treatments schools. An article on digital crowdsourcing in the agricultural sector is included in section 3 (Rezaee et al, 2015). It is not an example of monitoring for absenteeism but shows the potential of digital approaches to crowdsource information. Crowdsourcing can be used to monitor absenteeism (Deussom et al., 2012). Labrique et al (2013) emphasises that mhealth solutions should have multiple functions. Mobiles for Quality Improvement in Uganda is an example of technology use for health management which could be used as a platform for also monitoring absenteeism. Process and software tools were established to improve provider performance improving adherence to clinical protocols (Riley & BonTempo, 2011). User feedback platforms could also be used for monitoring absence (see MeTA 2014 as an example of a feedback platform). Research on teacher absence (without the use of technology) does caution that the presence of teachers does not necessarily mean teachers are working (Chaudhury et al 2006). Digital solutions should measure performance also.

K4D helpdesk reports provide summaries of current research, evidence and lessons learned. This report was commissioned by the UK Department for International Development.


Bolton, L. (2016). Digital approaches to Managing Staff Absenteeism. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies

Digital approaches to managing staff absenteeism

Published 20 October 2017