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Statistics made simpler: Learning to use health statistics software without writing code

published 24 April 2018

“Currently there are so many different statistical programmes for the analysis of health data. The “R” software is free and robust, being able to use it is a skill which will be beneficial for my future research career and in advising and mentoring students.” Dr Kassahun Alemu PhD supervisor from Gonder University summarises his experience of a recent Dagu organised workshop.

On a daily basis researchers, students and data analysts are faced with daunting tasks of analysing, visualising and interpreting vast amounts of data. To make this a little easier the IDEAS sister project Dagu, based in Ethiopia, together with the Associate Professor Katarina Selling and Senior Statistician Jonas Selling working on International Maternal and Child Health at Uppsala University, Sweden worked with Dagu PhD students, staff from the Ethiopian Health Institute (EPHI) and partner organizations to learn how to use “R” software in data analysis and visualisation.

Participants following a presentation given by Associate Professor Katarina Selling

This specialized software is a powerful and comprehensive tool to manage complex tasks, however is not without its challenges for users. “R” is a programming language, which means users have to learn to write code, a substantial threshold for many. The workshop therefore introduced participants to the use of R-commander, which comes with a simpler user interface bridging the gap for users wanting to use “R”, but without the time to learn to write code.

The main objectives of the workshop were for participants to learn how to use R-commander for data management, visualisation, descriptive statistics, basic statistical tests and their assumptions, and as an introduction to statistical models including their assumptions. For participants currently doing their PhD the workshop came just at the right time. “I have not just learned how to use R-commander, but have also learned more about statistics and interpretation of data. The training will have a lot of impact on my PhD.” says Atkure Defar,  Dagu PhD student and EPHI staff.

Participants included PhD students, researchers, EPHI staff

The course consisted of a series of interactive lectures combined with computer labs. The teaching was conducted in an interactive manner, encouraging participants to reflect by sharing their own experience. Participants showed a lot of enthusiasm pointing out the benefits of using R-commander for certain tasks. Girum, Senior Researcher remarked: “I will try to shift from “SPSS” to “R-commander” for data visualisation.” The usefulness of the workshop and learning to work with this software was moreover highlighted by Dr Dejene Hailu from Hawassa University explaining how this would improve his ability to teach his students: “This workshop will allow me to guide students, as well as improving my own data analysis skills for my research.” Learning to master R-commander was clearly a benefit for students and PhD supervisors alike, but also professionals working on data management, such as Hanna Hailu from JaRcoo consulting PLC. “The most useful part of the training was to learn how to analyse data sets through the software. Knowing this makes our data management better.”

Find out more about the Dagu project.