HMIS and decision-making in Zambia: re-thinking information solutions for district health management in decentralized health systems

Health Policy Plan. 2006 Jan;21(1):40-52. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czj003. Epub 2005 Nov 30.


At the onset of health system decentralization as a primary health care strategy, which constituted a key feature of health sector reforms across the developing world, efficient and effective health management information systems (HMIS) were widely acknowledged and adopted as a critical element of district health management strengthening programmes. The focal concern was about the performance and long-term sustainability of decentralized district health systems. The underlying logic was that effective and efficient HMIS would provide district health managers with the information required to make effective strategic decisions that are the vehicle for district performance and sustainability in these decentralized health systems. However, this argument is rooted in normative management and decision theory without significant unequivocal empirical corroboration. Indeed, extensive empirical evidence continues to indicate that managers' decision-making behaviour and the existence of other forms of information outside the HMIS, within the organizational environment, suggest a far more tenuous relationship between the presence of organizational management information systems (such as HMIS) and effective strategic decision-making. This qualitative comparative case-study conducted in two districts of Zambia focused on investigating the presence and behaviour of five formally identified, different information forms, including that from HMIS, in the strategic decision-making process. The aim was to determine the validity of current arguments for HMIS, and establish implications for current HMIS policies. Evidence from the eight strategic decision-making processes traced in the study confirmed the existence of different forms of information in the organizational environment, including that provided by the conventional HMIS. These information forms attach themselves to various organizational management processes and key aspects of organizational routine. The study results point to the need for a radical re-think of district health management information solutions in ways that account for the existence of other information forms outside the formal HMIS in the district health system.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Management Information Systems*
  • Politics*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Zambia