Step Up Consulting has recently published the results of its research on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education in South Africa, Australia, and the Philippines. The research was funded by the International Telecommunications Union through the Connect2Recover global competition.
Connect2Recover is a global initiative that aims to reinforce the digital infrastructure and digital ecosystems of beneficiary countries.
In 2021, the International Telecommunications Union launched the “Connect2Recover Research Competition” to identify promising research proposals that will accelerate digital inclusion during the COVID-19 recovery globally.
The objectives of the competition were to improve research focus on digital resiliency and digital inclusion to build back better with broadband for pandemic recovery; to build a global research community of think tanks and academic institutions around digital inclusion; and to promote knowledge sharing that informs targeted practices to build back better with broadband.
The proposal submitted by Step Up Consulting titled ‘Making Higher Education Truly Inclusive’ was selected as one of fifteen successful applications. You can find on this project website the findings, insights and recommendations that have emerged from the ‘Making Higher Education Truly Inclusive’ research project.
Step Up completes almost 3 months of strategy sessions with Sinar Project of Malaysia to finalize the organization’s five-year strategic plan. The final Strategy Session with Sinar was conducted on 28 April 2022 online, with key officers of the organization.
Sinar Project was formally established in 2014 as a limited liability partnership in Malaysia. From its very inception, the organization aimed to promote transparency, accountability, and openness in government by improving people’s access to public information and data that impact people’s lives. Sinar Project believes that when citizens have greater access to data and information they are able to demand accountability from the government, better participate in decision-making processes involving public welfare, and contribute to the overall well-being of society.
Step Up’s strategy advisor, Michael P. Canares, was the lead consultant hired by East West Management Institute to undertake the strategy planning process.
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’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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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”.
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 Consulting just recently completed a research project entitled “Analysing Social Media Use and Preferences of Young People in Mindanao” that sought to better understand social media use and preference amongst young people in the region as input into the design of initiatives that use technology and social media in engaging with young people. The research was commissioned by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
The research, implemented from December 2020 to January 2021, was designed to collect basic information about the target users in four regions in Mindanao to test assumptions onuser attitudes regarding social media use. It underwent three phases as illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Phase 1 – Exploring was about getting a preliminary understanding of the users that the program would like to reach out to, generating necessary demographics to have a better sense of who target users are, where they live, what their preferences, are how they use technology, and what their experiences in using internet and social media have been like. This phase of the research is largely quantitative made possible through an online survey.
Phase 2 – Focusing was about initiating conversations with key personal, or fictional character types that represent user needs, feelings, and behaviors, that arose from the exploring phase. This phase sought to have a deeper understanding of key users to inform the design of the use of technology in engaging with young people. Because of limitations in mobility due to COVID-19, the conversations were held online.
Phase 3 – The Harvesting phase was about generating insights from both quantitative and qualitative data to inform the GIZ, as it embarks on the process of using technology to reach out to young people, and the designers of the proposed initiatives on how to best approach the systems development process.
The project team was led by Step Up’s strategy advisor, Mr. Michael Canares. Frei Sangil and Ica Fernandez are team members. The team is also supported by Hedz Paredes and Tet Pepito.
Michael Canares, Step Up’s Strategy Adviser, speaks at the annual Datafest Tbilisi on the topic “Data Empowerment”. As can be recalled, Canares is one of the authors of the blog Data Empowerment hosted at Medium (see https://medium.com/data-empowerment).
DataFest Tbilisi 2020 is the 4th edition of the annual conference in Georgia about data, science, communications and technology. Due to the pandemic, the conference is moved online and was held on 15 to 17 December 2020. The goal of the conference is to connect professionals working with data from different industries in order to encourage cross-sector collaboration. Conference attendees usually come from the media, civil society, business, and public agencies from around the world.
The conference has 5 parallel tracks: (1) Communication (Journalism, Design, Art); (2) Activism (Human Rights, Politics, Elections, Open data); (3) Technology (Data Science, AI, Tools); (4) Business (Analytics, Finance, Products, Policies); and (5) Life (Healthcare, Mobility, Education, etc.). Mr. Canares spoke at the main stage on 15 December 2020.