Step Up Trains Ugandan CSOs on Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Step Up’s strategy advisor, Michael Canares, was contracted by Common Ground Consulting to train civil society organizations (CSOs) on monitoring, evaluation, and learning. The training, which was held on 15-18 February 2022 via Zoom, is part of the various training programs conducted for Ugandan CSOs by the Civil Society Strengthening Activity (CSSA) training program funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Twenty-two CSOs attended the training. The cohort included representatives from the Uganda Women’s Network, the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders, White Ribbon Alliance, Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, ICT Policy Center for Eastern and Southern Africa, among others.

Synchronous sessions took place from 1 to 5 pm Uganda time (5 to 10 pm Philippine time). Asynchronous sessions, on the other hand, took place every morning of each day through organization-based assignments that are required to be presented during the synchronous sessions each day.

The participants appreciated the training design and delivery. At the end of the training, most of them were excited to use their knowledge to improve the M&E systems of their organizations.

Step Up Wins International Research Competition

Step Up Consulting is one of the 15 research teams across the world awarded by the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations to undertake research on how to accelerate digital inclusion during the COVID-19 recovery globally.

The research competition, dubbed as Connect2Recover aims to “reinforce and
strengthen the digital infrastructure and digital ecosystems of beneficiary countries as they
adjust in the wake of COVID-19 and remain resilient in times of disasters”. The research competition is one of the preliminary activities of the initiative aimed at “identifying the
gaps and bottlenecks in the effective use of digital networks and technologies”.

Step Up Consulting team will consist of Michael Canares and frequent collaborator Francois Van Schalkwyk of Stellenbosch University based in South Africa. The project will focus on the connection of marginalized university students during and after the covid-19 pandemic to new modes of higher education delivery to ensure greater inclusion and unlock the socio-economic development potential of higher education. The issue of emergency remote teaching and learning in higher education and the consequences of this shift on marginalized students given the challenges of unevenly distributed ICT infrastructure and internet affordability has received some attention in the media and, to a lesser extent, in the academic literature.

However, little has been done to synthesise the observations and information on the issue, especially across multiple contexts. Nor have efforts been made to connect the covid-19 experience to the broader literature on infrastructure, access and inclusion. This research project will provide new knowledge related to digital inclusion and will build on previous research undertaken in this area, specifically previous research undertaking by the research team that showed how data activation, intermediaries and the distribution of power are key determinants of digital inclusion (Van Schalkwyk & Canares 2020). The proposed research project will bring into the constellation of determinants the role of ICT infrastructure in fostering sustainable digital inclusion, especially in the context of education.

Step Up Strategy Advisor Facilitates ASEAN Workshop on LMIS

Step Up’s strategy advisor, Mr. Michael Canares, facilitated the ASEAN kick-off workshop on strengthening Labour Market Information Systems (LMIS) as a basis for better skills and employment policies. The workshop, attended by 9 countries across the ASEAN region, was held online last 9 December 2021.

The workshop is part of the project aimed at strengthening the capacities of ASEAN member states to anticipate and match future skills needs through effective labour market information systems, develop a set of evidence-based recommendations in selected thematic areas with the objective to facilitate policy dialogue; and develop national action plans for improvement of the labour market information systems.

The workshop was organized to level-off expectations and understanding from among key stakeholders and agree on the principles, guidelines, and procedures for the conduct of project. This also includes, among others, an agreement of the desired goals of the project, an agreed set of indicators to gauge progress, and the roles and contributions of each stakeholder.

The workshop was sponsored by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) of the Government of Vietnam. GIZ and ILO lead the implementation of the project.

Step Up Strategy Advisor Speaks at Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs Forum

Mr. Michael Canares, Step Up Consulting’s strategy advisor was invited by the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs to speak at their workshop on “Leading Innovation in a Digital World”. The workshop was held online, attended by more than 200 participants – leaders of MOHA across Indonesia, last 24 November 2021.

Mr. Canares spoke about data-driven governance. He was invited through the Ford Foundation, once a partner of the Open Data Lab Jakarta where he was the Senior Research Manager for digital citizenship for almost three years. Mr. Canares spoke about concrete examples were governments across the world use data to improve public service delivery, strengthen effective public management, increase accountability mechanisms for public officials, and enhance citizen participation in governance.

Step Up Conducts Training on Local Road Asset Management for Negros Oriental

Step Up Consulting strategy advisor was invited by the Provincial Government of Negros Oriental to conduct a training on Local Road Asset Management for the members of its local road network management committee. The training was conducted online last October 29-November 5, 2021.

The participants comprised of representatives from the provincial offices of engineering, accounting, planning and development, budget, treasury, internal audit, general services, and assessor. The training was based entirely on the Local Road Asset Management Manual (see picture above) prepared by Mr. Michael Canares for the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) with funding and technical support from the United Nations Development Program.

On 16 November 2020, DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano issued DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-155 mandating the adoption of the Local Road Asset Management Manual by local government units. This aims to improve the valuation and recording of local road assets for better local road management.

Step Up Advisor Moderates ASEAN Conference on Climate-Smart Land Use

Mr. Michael Canares, Strategy Advisor of Step Up Consulting will be the moderator of the upcoming ASEAN Conference on Policy and Governance for Climate-Smart Land Use. The conference is organized by the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through the Deutsche Gesellschaft for Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). GIZ collaborates with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and several other partner organisations to hold this conference.

The conference will be held online on 16-18 November 2021. The conference will tackle three themes, namely:

a. Multi-level Governance for Climate-Smart Land Use

b. Inclusive and Participatory Policy Making for Promotion and Adoption of Climate-Smart Land Use

c. Enabling environment for private investments into Climate-Smart Land Use

The conference is expected to attract policy-makers from ASEAN member states working in the fishery, agriculture, and forestry sectors, rural development and environmental activists, development agencies, research institutions and civil society organisations from across the region.

Step Up Publishes Three New Papers on Open Contracting during the time of COVID

Step Up Consulting has recently published three research papers on open contracting and its role during the COVID 19 pandemic. The research conducted in 2020 covers two countries, Guatemala and the Philippines.

Hivos, a non-government organization based in the Netherlands, commissioned the research to provide evidence that can be used by local actors and donors in the design, implementation, and advocacy for inclusive crisis response and recovery.

The research highlights at least four key findings:

  1. During during times of emergencies, it is easy to ignore differences in context, needs, and vulnerabilities.
  2. Poor inclusion outcomes in COVID-19 response are a result of the lack of participation of people outside government in the design, implementation, and monitoring of initiatives to contain the virus and cushion the population against adverse economic impacts.
  3. Data and information is a critical component in a more effective and inclusive emergency response. When information is provided, it opens up spaces for discussion, contestation, and productive collaboration.
  4. The role of intermediaries can not be overemphasised in ensuring that procurement during the times of crisis is transparent and accountable. Without intermediaries, like media, watchdogs, or social accountability advocates and organisations, to scrutinise procurement records including those indicating the receipt of goods and services, as well as its consequent distribution and/or utilisation, a more accountable procurement process can not be achieved.

The full paper for the Philippines is available here while that of Guatemala can be accessed via this link.

Step Up Completes Study on COVID-19 and Air Quality in 4 ASEAN countries

The regional project “visible unearthing”, implemented by Goethe Institut aims to use open data to analyze the interactions of air-water quality and other indicators (groundwater level, etc.) that are important, especially in climate change in very specific environments (cities, regions, ecosystems).  As an important part of the process, a data inventory was undertaken to identify the datasets that can be used to capture a condition of interest and visualize it in ways that could generate meaningful discussions. Step Up Consulting was the lead researcher for the project.

With COVID-19 impacting the Southeast Asian region and globally, the initial plan was to look at environmental data with a certain level of relationship with COVID 19.  Given that restrictions in movement have significantly impacted mobility during lockdowns, and with transportation as one of the identified contributors of air quality (EPA 2019), the main focus of the assessment was the availability of open air quality data. 

The research was implemented in four cities across SouthEast Asia, namely, Hanoi (Vietnam), Manila (Philippines), Bangkok (Thailand) and Jakarta, Indonesia. Despite limitations in data, there are at least emerging findings that came out of the research.

As indicated in the graph above on Bangkok, three patterns are emerging from the visualization. First, during hard lockdown periods, mobility within Bangkok significantly decreased when compared to baseline figures. Second, during hard lockdown periods, air quality data is consistently below the baseline figures, except for December to January.  Finally, lockdown impacts mobility significantly within the period immediately following its imposition and gradually increases towards baseline over time. The same effect can be said of air quality, where lockdown periods result to better air quality but the effect wanes in succeeding periods.

The same can also be said of the Jakarta dataset that can be seen in the graph below:

 

The above visualization compares the air quality index in 5 data collection points across three years.  A specific date was chosen using the lockdown scenario as the primary determinant. Jakarta, in this case, implemented its first hard lockdown in the second half of March 2021, imposing work from home arrangements and restricting religious worship.  The choice of the specific date (March 29) is conditioned by data availability within the three-year period from 2019 across the different data collection points where researchers gathered the average. 

Figure 1 indicates a significant improvement in air quality index when we compare 2019 with 2020 data when successive lockdowns were imposed in the city by the government.   Towards the end of March 2021, lesser restrictions were imposed by the city government. 

In the next three months, Step Up researchers will be publishing three papers as a result of the research. These are as follows:

  1. Openness of environmental data and its implications on data governance.  The paper will utilize the findings of the inventory conducted by the researchers and its implications on measuring environmental health, as well as on monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals
  2. A review of alternative data sources to capture air quality data, with particular reference to the use of satellite data that can potentially reveal anomalies in the relationship between lockdown, mobility, and air quality.  This is particularly true in Hanoi, where there seems to be only a slight improvement despite mobility restrictions. It has been argued that pollutants for the city are outside the city itself, particularly those coming from the powerplants and the industrial clusters.
  3. A deeper investigation of lockdown, mobility, and air quality, using the results of this study and other analyses conducted by other researchers in the last six months. 

Step Up Studies FOE Organizations in Malaysia

Protesters marching peacefully on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
(Photo by Hafiz Noor Shams, Available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bersih_2_protest.jpg)

Michael Canares, strategy advisor of Step Up Consulting, was contracted by East West Management Institute to study freedom of expression (FOE) organizations in Malaysia. The research, which began in June 2021, will be completed towards the end of the year, with the aim of arriving at concrete recommendations to strengthen FOE organizations in the country.

The research project is part of EWMI’s activities in the “Promoting Freedom of Expression in Malaysia (ProFoEM)” project. The project seeks to support the development of a more vibrant, effective civil society in Malaysia.  The long-term goal is to enable FOE organizations to participate in the freedom of expression (FoE) reform movement in Malaysia, and to strengthen civil society organizations (CSOs), the media, and public interest legal counsel in their efforts to strengthen FOE, promote right to information, strengthen independent media, and combat censorship. 

East West Management Institute is an organization headquartered in the US, whose aim is “to strengthen democratic societies by bringing together government, civil society, and the private sector – to build accountable, capable and transparent institutions”.

Step Up Strategy Adviser Designs and Facilitates Workshops for North Macedonia

(image courtesy of Open Society Foundation-Macedonia)

Michael Canares, strategy advisor of Step Up Consulting designed and facilitated a series of workshops for the Republic of North Macedonia as part of his consulting contract with the Open Government Partnership. The workshops aimed to assist the government in finalizing its national action plan on open government partnership. The workshops were held last 4 and 14 June, albeit online, to tackle issues on access to justice, public services, open data, and public procurement.

The Republic of North Macedonia, a country that gained its independence in 1991, is one of the early joiners of the Open Government Partnership, a global network of governments committed to promoting transparency, accountability and inclusive participation in governance. It has already developed and implemented four cycles of action plans. Currently, it is working on its fifth plan to cover the years 2021 to 2023.

The pandemic has significantly impacted the planning processes. Despite limitations in mobility, the country was able to conduct consultations and discussions in order to finish the commitments that it will incorporate in the new action plan. The workshops that Mr. Canares facilitated are one of the final activities towards the finalization of the plan.

For more details, please consult the website of the Open Society Foundation-Macedonia that you can find here. https://fosm.mk/en/current-project/e-workshop-governance-based-on-citizens-interests-and-needs/.