Site Visit Frequency Policies for Mobile Family Planning Services

Harwin De Vries*, Lisa E. Swinkels, Luk N. Van Wassenhove

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Improving access to family planning services is key to achieving many of the United Nations sustainable development goals. To scale up access in remote areas and urban slums, many developing countries deploy mobile family planning teams that visit “outreach sites” several times per year. Visit frequencies have a significant effect on the total number of clients served and hence the impact of the outreach program. Using a large dataset of visits in Madagascar, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, our study models the relationship between the number of clients seen during a visit and the time since the last visit and uses this model to analyze the characteristics of optimal frequencies. We use the latter to develop simple frequency policies for practical use, prove bounds on the worst-case optimality gap, and test the impact of the policies with a simulation model. Our main finding is that despite the complexity of the frequency optimization problem, simple policies yield near-optimal results. This holds even when few data are available and when the relationship between client volume and the time since the last visit is misspecified or substantially biased. The simulation for Uganda shows a potential increase in client numbers of between 7% and 10%, which corresponds to more than 12,000 additional families to whom family planning services could be provided. Our results can assist policymakers in determining when to start data-driven frequency determination and which policies to implement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4522-4540
Number of pages19
JournalProduction and Operations Management
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from Sorbonne Université, Kurt Björklund MBA’96J Research Fund, and The Patrick Cescau/Unilever Endowed Fund. The authors thank all staff from Marie Stopes for their support and close cooperation on this research. The authors also thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for the helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Production and Operations Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Production and Operations Management Society


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