Hedz Paredes is Step Up’s New Managing Consultant

Jean Celeste “Hedz” Paredes is Step Up’s new managing consultant, succeeding Arlen Salgados-Canares. Ms. Paredes will lead Step Up Consulting from 15 June 2022 and onwards. Prior to this role, Ms. Paredes was the firm’s research lead.

Ms. Paredes is a graduate of Master in Public Management majoring in Rural Development from the Ateneo School of Government and the Development Academy of the Philippines. She also finished her Bachelor of Political Science from the University of the Philippines.

Ms. Paredes has worked on several research and development projects in the past. These include the following

  • Terminal Evaluation – Strengthening the Capacity of Farmers Federation and their Communities to Address Climate Change in Bohol, Philippines
  • Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives in Vulnerable Areas Toward Effective Governance and Resilient Communities in the Municipalities of Loay, Loboc and Sevilla, Bohol Province, Philippines
  • Analysing Social Media Use and Preferences of Young People in Mindanao
  • Stakeholders Mapping for the Public Utility Vehicles Modernization Program (PUVMP)
  • Philippines Financial and Market Inclusion
  • Feasibility Study for the Establishment of a Cultural Hub in the Central Visayas Region
  • Bohol Institute of Living Tradition: A Feasibility Study
  • Teenage Clicks: Can Teens Protect their Privacy on Social Media
  • Aquatic Biodiversity in Rice-Based Ecosystems , Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Case Studies – Danajon Reef Communities Impact Assessment
  • Feasibility Study: Agro-Ecological Production and Business Model Development for the Island Residents of Sicogon Island, Carles, Iloilo towards the Development of Resilient and Self-sustaining Communities
  • Performance Monitoring and Assessment – MEADA Rabrong, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in TYM-Mutual Assistance Fund, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • World Vision Philippines in the end-of-phase program evaluation of 4 area development programs (ADP) across the country
  • Scaling-up Demand and Supply for Rural Sanitation and Hygiene, United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF)

Step Up Completes Strategy Sessions with Sinar 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.

Step Up Conducts Research on Mis- and Dis-information in Asia

Step Up conducted research on mis- and dis-information in Asia from March to April this year as a contracted research for an international organization. Its strategy advisor, Michael Canares, was contracted to undertake the task.

The research focuses on four important questions; (1) what types of misinformation and disinformation occurs in the region?; (2) who are the perpetrators?; and (3) what are the common responses currently implemented to curb the practice?.

The Philippines figured prominently in the research. The country covers a wide range of political mis- and disinformation including black propaganda and smear campaigning occurring largely during election period. The danger of mis- and disinformation in the country is that online violence breeds into physical violence, including threats to safety and death of victims.

The research was completed in April 2022.

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 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 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 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.