Love at first sight: Platform Commons and Project ECHO

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It was love at first sight. Autumn of 2018 in Bangalore. Sanjay Purohit had called earlier in the day. “Prashant, I want you to meet Dr. Sanjeev Arora, can you clear up your calendar?” Now Sanjay seldom makes such last-minute requests, so clear up my calendar I did. 

Dr. Sanjeev Arora, Dr. Sunil Anand, and Kartik Dhar walked into our meeting at around 2:00 pm. Sanjeev spoke about the genesis of Project ECHO. How he started a study circle with 10 doctors around 15 years ago, how junior doctors learned new things via a case-study approach, how waiting time reduced from 9 months to 2 weeks since these junior doctors were able to treat patients locally, how the tribe grew, and how it led the way for the ECHO Healthcare Act in the US in 2016. I was mesmerized as I listened in rapt attention, absorbing every word.

When Sanjeev stopped speaking, I didn’t say a word. Instead, I got up from my seat, grabbed a whiteboard marker and started drawing.

For the next 4 hours we doodled platform models. It started with a crash course for the ECHO team on what modern-day platforms are and ended up becoming a whole range of ideas as to how we could work together to create population-scale impact. Sanjeev told me that he understood platforms much better now than he did in the discussion with Sanjay in the morning – sorry Sanjay! We had a few good laughs and went back to the whiteboard to draw up potential project plans.

As I write this note, it struck me for the first time that we never even discussed collaboration models! We both just assumed we would find a way to work together. And we did. That day, we just dove deep into designing potential use cases that platform models could enable to work at scale as well as create impact. 

We start working together

In the months that followed, we drew up detailed use cases, figured out which parts of the platform would need to be open access, and which ones were private. We saw a system that was more enterprise-driven and needed architectural constructs to support it. We visualised a system that would become more and more open and community-driven with the passage of time, and needed an architecture that could keep pace with such an evolution. Jointly, we took bets on how ECHO itself will grow in maturity, over time, and how Platform Commons architectured and designed for such a future. 

Our very first deep engagement was hosting Kartik at our office for 3 weeks, along with 4 core engineers. Aashish and his team spent day and night with Kartik and his team and we poured in what we knew about platforms, shared our architecture, code templates and the likes. 

Both the teams have since been building systems jointly and leveraging each other’s assets and expertise.

The partnership deepens

Over the next few months, we figured out our formal engagement models. We worked through licensing models so that both parties could work independently on technology while still sharing assets and expertise, all while remaining aligned to Societal Thinking Core Values. The platform became multi-lingual, served large-scale learning needs during Covid, went to other continents, added adjacent use cases where a case-study-/mentor-led learning model could make an impact. We built data interchange standards so that we pave the path for open integrations in the future. We had a fun time while making an impact. Let me rephrase – we ARE having a fun time while making an impact!

Building communities, together 

The next wave of innovation is beginning. The original gang from autumn 2018 met again in Bangalore a few months ago, in 2022. We spoke about platform features to improve operational efficiencies of field personnel at ECHO, building self-service communities, and building a knowledge management system – a Wikipedia-style system of structured data that could be reused by global change leaders. I think phase 2 of the model is starting, as is phase 2 of our collaboration. There is excitement in both organizations. We are working hard. We are happy. 

This article

While writing this article, I asked my wife to interview me – talk about full circles. Being the troublemaker she is, she didn’t ask me directly about our collaboration with ECHO. She started with, “Why platforms?” And then, “Why collaboration?” I loved the conversations. I’ll write about these topics soon. 

But one thing I want to share today – in our conversations I realised how complementary ECHO and Platform Commons are to each other. 

We both bring completely different skill sets and completely different operating models. We are pooling these together, and collectively creating brand new value which neither of us could do just by ourselves.


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About the Author
Prashant Mehra, Platform Commons