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/.

Step Up Strategy Adviser Leads Data-Driven Governance Training for Philippine Public Servants

Step Up’s strategy adviser, Michael Canares, was the resource person in the recently-conducted Data-Driven Governance training for the Philippine government held online last 18-20 May 2021.

Mr. Canares was contracted by the the United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development. The training was co-sponsored by the Department of Information and Communications Technology of the Philippine government, and the Chief Information Officers Forum.

A total of 62 participants attended the training from different national government agencies as well as electric cooperatives. Among those who attended were representatives from the Department of Budget and Management, Civil Service Commission, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Insurance Commission of the Department of Finance. Officials from electric cooperatives of Zambales, Cagayan, La Union, Palawan, Pampanga, San Jose, and Sorsogon were also present.

Topics discussed include data revolution and data justice, data governance and management, analytics and algorithmic bias, as well as data culture. The training was delivered by Mr. Canares using a mix of lectures, case studies, as well as tech-enabled audience engagement strategies.

Step Up Undertakes Research Project in 4 Asian Cities

Manila, Image Courtesy of https://pxhere.com/en/photo/472223

Step Up Consulting works with Goethe Institute in a research project that looks into environmental data in four key cities in Southeast Asia, namely, Manila, Hanoi, Bangkok, and Jakarta.

The research project is part of the “Visual Unearthing Project” implemeted by Goethe Institut, the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The regional project “visual unearthing”, will use Open Access Data (AQI, etc.) 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).  The purpose of this research is to assess available data based and initiate the process of undertaking data visualization on available data based on the results of the mapping process. 

Step Up strategy advisor Michael Canares leads the regional team of researchers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand to accomplish the project. Results will be made available by June this year.

Step Up Signs Evaluation Contract with SWCF

Step Up Consulting signed a contract with Soil and Water Conservation to conduct the end-of-project evaluation of its project implemented in Bohol, Philippines.

The project entitled the project “Strengthening the Capacity of a Farmers Federation and their Communities to Address Climate Change in Bohol, Philippines”, was implemented in the Province of Bohol with funding support from Misereor.  The project aimed to continue to address the institutional strengthening of a farmer’s federation by providing (1) organizational management and technical training/workshops, monitoring, and evaluation; (2) further capacity building for members of the federation; (3) assistance for sustainable management and conservation of the environment including climate change adaptation, DRRM, biodiversity conservation and protection while strengthening environmental ethics in the local community, especially the youth; and (4) facilitation in formulating implementable Disaster Risk Reduction Management and Contingency Plan of the barangays.

The project is implemented benefitting the farmers federation composed of more than 10 cooperatives and farmers associations located in several towns in central Bohol, 15 Barangay Local Government Units (BLGUs) in the municipality of Batuan, selected elementary or secondary school students and teachers in the project municipalities, and community residents in barangay Bahi, Albuquerque, where the SWCF office is located.

Project evaluation is part of Step Up Consulting’s primary expertise. The team at Step Up will be lead by its Research Lead, Ms. Jean Celeste Paredes.

Step Up Facilitates GAD Planning and Budgeting for the Municipality of Catigbian

Michael Canares, strategy advisor of Step Up Consulting was invited by the Municipality of Catigbian to facilitate the Gender and Development (GAD) planning and budgeting workshop for 2022. The activity was held at the Bohol Bee Farm Resort in Dauis, Bohol last March 3-5, 2021, and was attended by department heads and key officials of the municipality as well as representatives from civil society groups.

The workshop was held after a series of sessions on gender sensitivity, the Magna Carta of Women, Gender Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, and Gender Analysis Tools facilitated by several resource persons, including Step Up’s gender expert, Ester Espinosa.

In the workshop, Mr. Canares emphasized the essential elements of GAD Planning and Budgeting, namely, GAD focal point system (GPFS), GAD capacity development, gender audit, and GAD database and sex-disaggregated data. He advised the municipality stakeholders that if these elements are not yet present, they should invest considerable resources to have these in place. For example, he emphasized that without a GAD database, the identification and analysis of gender issues will be difficult.

Vice Mayor Esteban Angilan Jr. in his closing remarks, encouraged the stakeholders present to consciously monitor the plans and programs they were able to identify during the workshop to ensure that this will result to concrete benefits to the people of the municipality.

Step Up Completes Evaluation of DRRM Project

Step Up Consulting conducted the midterm evaluation of a disaster risk reduction and management project implemented by the Bohol Integrated Development Foundation in three municipalities in Bohol. The project, Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives in Vulnerable Areas Toward Effective Governance and Resilient Communities in the Municipalities of Loay, Loboc and Sevilla, Bohol Province, Philippines, is now on its third year and is funded by MISEREOR.

The project aims to increase the knowledge and capacities of the individuals and to comprehensively formulate a plan and budget for disaster risk reduction and management. The project intends to capacitate local communities especially those located in high-risk areas, to become more aware and active in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

The evaluation involved triangulation of approaches: a combination of survey, focus group discussion, key informant interview and evaluation of program traces or documentation.

A review and analysis of documents specifically on project documentations, minutes of meetings, photographs, progress reports, ordinances and other relevant data were made to evaluate the extent of effectiveness in the other variables identified.

A survey was conducted to gather relevant data more particularly on two aspects included in the evaluation framework.  This investigated areas of interventions versus need and results versus objectives. The survey included the barangay officials and members of the volunteer groups. The questionnaire was developed, validated and pilot tested prior to the actual conduct. 

Jean Celeste Paredes, Step Up’s research chief, led the team that conducted the evaluation. The final report was submitted to BIDEF in February 2021.