Step Up Designs and Facilitates First South Cotabato Open Contracting Challenge

Transparency in the procurement process and in the implementation of procurement contracts is one of the principles enshrined in Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act)  alongside the principles of competitiveness, public monitoring, accountability, and streamlined procurement process. In promoting transparency in government procurement activities, government agencies are mandated to publish all bid opportunities and post all awards and contracts in the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS).  

However, public access to contracting information from planning up to implementation is limited. Most contracting documents are not published online and are being kept internally by agencies. The current version of the PhilGEPS does not have information on the planning and implementation stage. This situation makes tracking and monitoring of government projects difficult, which in turn makes government procurement activities susceptible to fraud, collusion, and corruption. 

With support from HIVOS, the https://southcotabato.gov.ph/Provincial Government of South Cotabato in partnership with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines implemented an open contracting program in order strengthen transparency and accountability in local procurement systems in the province of South Cotabato.  This culminated with the publication of local procurement activities in a centralized portal in compliance with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). 

To cultivate use of open contracting data, ECCP desires to build capacity of prospective users in understanding public procurement as well in using contracting data for various purposes, including research.  ECCP partnered with the Notre Dame of Marbel University (NDMU) to cultivate awareness and appreciation of teachers and students on the importance of public procurement and in using contracting data in academic research.

Two training programs were conducted to prepare proponents for the open contracting research  thinking through research topics.  The first one conducted last 2 February 2020 and focused on the discussion of open contracting and its value in promoting transparency and accountability, as well as improving public service delivery.  The second training, conducted on 15 February 2020, focused on cultivating use cases and enabling the participants to start thinking about potential research projects on open contracting.   

After the two trainings, participants we asked to submit proposals for the 1st South Cotabato Open Contracting Challenge.  Three proposals were received were the following:

  1. Forecasting Contractor Performance Using Non-Parametric Models by Cubort Bulanon and Chucky Marie Fernandez
  2. Citizen’s Project Monitoring Management System by Rodulfo Dorado and Elisha Susana Alvarico
  3. Cost-Efficiency of Procurement by Lot by Michelle Capistrano, Jennifer Era, and Rean May Galang

On March 11-13 2020, the proponents were invited to a BootCamp designed by Step Up Consulting’s strategy advisor, Michael Canares. He was joined by mentors and facilitators Ben Hur, Frei Sangil, and Vien Suerte to help polish and finalize the research proposals for implementation. The research outputs will be presented in June 2020.

Step Up Completes Regional Cultural Hub Feasibility Study

Step Up Consulting recently completed the feasibility study of establishing a regional cultural hub for the Visayas. The research seeks to determine the viability and sustainability of a permanent center and venue of productions and creative enterprises in the Central Visayas region.

The feasibility study focused on the five key aspects – market, technical, organizational, financial and socio-economic feasibility. Conducted in 2019, it involved different approaches: a combination of survey, focus group discussion or key informant interview, ocular inspection and site visits, and evaluation of documentary evidence.

The research team of Step Up is composed of Michael Canares, Jean Celeste Paredes and Mary Therese Pepito with the support of Marilou Sale. It was funded through a grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts managed by the Bohol Integrated Development Foundation.

Step Up Consulting Conducts Data Dive on a Global Project on Access to Energy

headingStep Up Consulting signs a contract with a major development organization to conduct a data dive on a global project on access to energy implemented in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  The project aims to provide access to modern energy services across 25 countries. Step Up’s team is composed of the following:

OGP profile picMichael  (Miko) Canares, Team Leader

Miko has 23 years of experience in development work primarily in research, results-measurement, data-driven innovation design, and adaptive management.  He has proven expertise in developing and implementing research projects that use a combination of both quantitative and qualitative approaches and in developing robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks and systems that document and analyse results of development interventions in governance reforms, road asset management, labour market, local economic development and internal audit. In the last five years, he has designed and developed data for development projects in Asia on key topics as open government, open data, digital literacy, and open contracting, and its applications in health, education, and natural resource management.

Awarded as the Philippines’ Most Outstanding Finance Educator in 2010 after 10 years of university teaching, Mr. Canares is a skilled adult-learning facilitator and is engaged to build capacity of international organizations, local governments, and non-profits in research, monitoring and evaluation, and organizational management, including financial management and audit.  His accounting and economics background are very useful in efficiency audits as well as value-for-money measurements.

He has solid experience in working with different stakeholders within and outside of government and is skilled at different approaches in adaptive management and reflexive practice. He is also a published academic, an author of three books to date (accounting, natural resource management, and child-focused development) and different articles in referred journals dealing with topics related to local governance.

freiMaria Jihan (Frei) Sangil, Data Science Lead

Frei worked as a cybersecurity professional in multinational cybersecurity giant Trend Micro, handling research and documentation, production of Level three (highest and most detailed) technical documentation which the teams of support engineers and technical managers refer to in handling customer cases and deployment needs. Example of her cases are Advanced Persistent Threats on large-scale enterprise espionage and breach detection and mitigation, Instant Messaging Security (monitoring) and several other malware and enterprise breach-related cases.

Frei started Layertech as a startup in Hong Kong Polytechnic University Global Innovation and

Entrepreneurship Challenge, with flagship innovation: Mileaf Medical Network. She then she used the same technology to create Balangay: A Cloud Based Information System for Disaster and located in Legazpi City Philippines, wherein she founded a corporation of the same name: Layertech Software Labs, Inc. a private Research and Development Company specializing in data analytics and business process optimization (www.LAYERTECHLAB.com).

Apart from being CEO of Layertech Inc., Frei is practicing as a professional data scientist and analyst, working with government officials, local government units, civil society organizations, the academia, and private businesses and corporations as a consultant on cybersecurity, data processing and analysis, and business process optimization.

icaMaria Carmen (Ica) Fernandez, Development Programming Expert

Born on 14 May 1987, Maria Carmen (Ica) Fernandez is a spatial planner working on the intersections of space, place, culture, sustainability, good governance, and armed conflict.

Ms. Fernandez has spent the last decade specialising in the implementation and evaluation of peace agreements and other issues related to violence, vulnerability, and social cohesion in conflict-vulnerable areas. In the last five years, she has designed and implemented projects related to open governance and open geospatial and statistical data for decision-making in transitional contexts and post-crisis reconstruction.

As a former worker in the Philippine ministry overseeing peace negotiations, Ms. Fernandez presently consults with governments, communities, and international development organisations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, British Council, JICA, and The Asia Foundation. She has a keen interest in interdisciplinary action research, specifically the use of alternative platforms such as visual art, music, movement, and community activities for participatory engagement.

Step Up Wins HIVOS Contract to Study Open Contracting in 4 Countries

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Open Contracting and OCDS (Image taken from https://openprocurement.io/en/ocds

Step Up Consulting was awarded a research contract by HIVOS, a development organization headquartered in the Netherlands, to undertake a research project to understand how open contracting reforms and increased availability of contract data can be used to realize results and benefits for specific, historically marginalized groups external to government.

Step Up Consulting is one of the several firms considered to undertake the research but got the final nod of the HIVOS review panel based on the strength of its proposal and the quality of the composition of its research team. The research will be conducted in Kenya and Nigeria in Africa, and Indonesia and the Philippines in Asia.

For this research, Step Up’s team is composed of Michael Canares, strategy advisor, as research lead and Francois Van Schalkwyk, a long-time collaborator of Mr. Canares, along with Fiona Smith and Ana Brandusescu as review panel.  The research will run from July 2019 to January 2020.

The research, using a case study approach, aims to identify and assess ways in which key aspects of open contracting reforms did or did not lead to circumstances where open contracting resulted in increased equality and inclusion in public contracting processes. More particularly, the research would like to answer the following questions:

  1. How can open contracting reforms and increased availability of contract data be used to realise results and benefits for specific, historically marginalised groups external to government? 
  2. What contextual and programmatic aspects in open contracting contribute to achieving meaningful results and benefits for these marginalised groups? 
  3. What do specific, historically marginalised stakeholders experience as significant barriers/impediments to achieving the desired results and benefits?

Step Up Writes Labour Market Assessment for the Rakhine State

ILO reportMichael Canares, Strategy Advisor of Step Up Consulting was tasked by the International Labour Organization to write a consolidated report that looks into the opportunities and challenges of labour market development in the Rakhine State in Myanmar.  The report that Mr. Canares wrote, together with his team at Step Up was based on primary field work that was conducted by Synergia Consulting and Training and Myanmar Survey Research.

The report, entitled “Rakhine State Labour Market:  Assessing Assets, Projecting Demands, and Identifying Areas for Intervention” looked into current and projected demand for labour skills in the Rakhine state, quality and quantity of labour supply in the area, and potential areas for intervention to strenthen labour market quality and labour to industry matching processes.

Labour Markets Project Design Workshop for Indonesia

miko in action day 2Step Up Managing Consultant Michael Canares led the design for the Labour Market Information Systems exploratory workshop for Indonesia and facilitated the same last April 9-10, 2019 at the GIZ Headquarters in Jakarta Indonesia. The primary question that the workshop tackled was whether non-traditional data sources can help overcome information deficits in labour market development programs.

The workshop brought together policy makers from relevant education and labour market related institutions, providers of relevant data and technical experts across Indonesia, more particularly those in the food processing sector, the current test case. The workshop aimed to initiate an in-depth discussion with respect to the following overarching questions:

  1. On which basis are education and labour market policies currently formulated in Indonesia?
  2. Are the currently used data sources enough to serve as a basis for informed policy formulation?
  3. What are known data/information gaps that may lead to sub-optimal policy decisions?
  4. Can non-traditional data sources, in particular, data from job-platforms and social networks, be used to enrich the existing information base and strengthen the evidence base in order to allow for more informed policy decisions?
  5. What gains can be expected from the use of non-traditional data sources?
  6. What are the related prerequisites and the costs related to the use of non-traditional data sources?
  7. What process needs to be in place to develop a system of integrating new data sources to existing systems?

outputThrough intensive workshops and meaningful conversations designed primarily to harness different ideas, the workshop resulted to at least four experiments in the use of different data sources – big data, open data, thick data, and citizen-generated data – to be able to capture traditionally unavailable information that are critical to labour market decision making processes.

The workshop was sponsored by GIZ and was part of GIZ’s efforts to harness new data sources for development projects.

Step Up Strategy Advisor Facilitates LOGIN General Assembly in Bangkok

DSC_8511Step Up strategy advisor Michael Canares facilitated the Local Governance Initiative and Network (LOGIN) General Assembly held in Bangkok Thailand on April 2-4 2019 at the Renaissance Hotel. The workshop was attended by more than a hundred participants coming from several countries in the Asia Pacific region and other representatives and guests from Europe.

LOGIN is a multi-stakeholder knowledge network connecting state and non-state actors to promote a culture of learning and exchange on decentralization and local governance, more particularly in South and East Asia.  Organized in 2007, LOGIN’s members include government officials, elected parliamentarians, non-governmental and international organizations. It aims to capacitate local institutions in participatory, accountable, inclusive, and citizen-responsive governance.

Spanning 12 countries, LOGIN’s membership includes elected representatives, training institutions, think tanks, government departments, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, among others. It aims to capacitate local institutions in participatory, accountable, inclusive, and citizen-responsive governance.

Mr. Canares leads the design and facilitation of the 3-day activity.  He was joined by Suresh Raghavan of India as co-facilitator.

Step Up Strategy Advisor Facilitates ASEAN Workshop

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Supreme Audit Institutions (ASEANSAI) and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) held a joint conference last 26 February 2016 with the theme “Laying the Foundation for Future Cooperation in Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the ASEAN”.

The workshop was held at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel, Indonesia and was attended in by almost 100 participants from 14 countries coming from within and outside the ASEAN. Mr. Michael Canares, Strategy Advisor of Step Up Consulting was hired by GIZ to help design and facilitate the whole day event.

The event was spearheaded by ASEANSAI, a relatively young regional organisation of ten audit offices in the ASEAN region and supported by GIZ.  The event intended to bring together the three organizations  (ASEAN, ASEANSAI and AIPA) to explore more coordinated framework for future joint action and inter-agency collaboration for fostering state-society relationships in ASEAN, including efforts towards Good Governance, transparency and accountability.

Step Up Attends Workshop in New Delhi

india picStep Up Strategy Advisor Michael Canares started the year 2019 by attending a workshop on local governance in the Asian region along with other experts in the field.  The workshop was held on January 3-7, 2019 at Swiss Embassy in New Delhi as part of Swiss EDA’s program on local governance.

The workshop tackled the current situation of local governance in Asian countries, how learning and knowledge sharing can be facilitated across different local government units, and what enabling mechanisms are necessary to make learning processes across different actors can be made sustainable to promote local government development in the Asian region.

The workshop was organized under the auspices of the Local Governance Initiative and Network.

Step Up Produces Book on Natural Resource Management

nourishing book coverStep Up Consulting Services was contracted in 2015 by Soil and Water Conservation Foundation to document and publish into a book the natural resource management practices that its projects in Bohol implemented.

The project began with a participatory book conceptualization workshop that was facilitated by Step Up in order to define the details of the book, including proposed title, theme, concept, content, length, writers, among others. The intention was to ensure that the book represents the project, including the views of those who were impacted by it.

The book was finally completed with SWCF’s Executive Director Bill Granert writing part of the chapters and reviewing the whole book content.  Publication was done in the middle of 2016 and printed copies was distributed to SWCF partners.

If you want a hard copy of the book, please contact Marilou Sale at marilou.sale@steupconsultants.com.

If you want to read an online copy, please visit