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 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 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.

Step Up Completes Research on Youth and Technology Use in Mindanao

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.

Figure 1. Overall Approach of the Research

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.

Step Up Publishes AID-FOI Tool

The FOI Research Team at Step Up Consulting , in collaboration with the FOI Project Management Office of the Government of the Philippines, released the latest version of the Assessing Information Disclosure Practices for FOI Compliance (AID-FOI) Tool.

The tool, developed with funding support from HIVOS, is used to assess whether the conditions within an agency are appropriate for FOI mechanisms to be effective. It assesses whether the agency possesses the critical elements that will enable it to perform proactive disclosure of agency data. For purposes of the assessment, the AID-FOI Tool draws heavily from the work of the Carter Center’s Rule of Law Program that specifies a set of indicators to assess FOI implementation. These indicators revolve around five essential components, namely, leadership, rules, systems, resources, and monitoring.

Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan of the FOI Project Management Office (FOI) was able to champion the use of the tool across national government agencies when he promoted the tool during the Freedom of Information (FOI) Annual Summit. A total of 200 agencies were able to use the tool to assess their information disclosure practices. As a result, of these initiatives, the AID-FOI tool was
included as part of the Compendium on the Innovation and Productivity Initiatives in the Public
Sector, which aims to provide an inventory of best practices on public service delivery in the Asia- Pacific region.

Step Up Managing Consultant Assists NCCA in the Nationwide Study on the Impact of COVID-19 on Culture and the Arts

Michael Canares, managing consultant of Step Up consulting, joins a team of experts tasked by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to assess the impact of COVID-19 on culture and the arts. The study involved a survey of culture and arts practitioners, consumers and institutions and businesses involved in the promotion of culture and the arts in the country.

The results of the study will be used as inputs in the development of a Cultural Response and Resiliency Plan (CRRP). The information collected will assist NCCA and other government agencies prepare and implement immediate and medium-to-long-term measures to sustain the culture and arts sector of the Philippines given the pandemic.

For  organizations/offices that are involved in culture and arts, regardless of whether they are of a public, civil society, or business nature, please click on this link to access the survey.

For individuals working in creative industries and those engaged in or practicing different art forms, please click on this link to answer the questionnaire.

Step Up Presents Research on the Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 onTagbilaran City

Step Up Consulting presented the results of its recently conducted research on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on Tagbilaran City to stakeholders from government, civil society, and the private sector last 17 July 2020.

The research was fully funded by Step Up Consulting, with the technical support of the City Government of Tagbilaran and Dr. Rosalinda G. Paredes, city coordinator of USAID SURGE. It seeks to answer the following questions:

a. What are the key socio-economic impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic more particularly to the businesses, employees, and informal and on-account workers?

b. What is the level of economic vulnerability of the groups mentioned above to withstand a prolonged enhanced community quarantine?

c. What policy measures and programs are needed to be in place to protect the most vulnerable from the adverse economic impacts of the COVID crisis? 

During the public presentation held via zoom, Step Up also launched the research website that will communicate research findings in digestible chunks. You can find the website on this link – https://covidimpactresearch.com/

Working on Systems Mapping with Indonesia NGO Network

Step Up strategy advisor, Michael Canares, works with Konsil LSM Indonesia (Indonesian NGO Council) on a systems mapping research together with Open Data Lab Jakarta to develop a deep understanding of the systemic challenges in affecting gender-inclusive development in the cities of Jakarta, Banda Aceh, Bandung, and Pontianak in Indonesia.

The  system  mapping  research  consist  of  three  main  components:  1)  desk  research,  2) interviews with key civil society and government stakeholders in each of the target cities, and 3) system mapping workshops. Mr. Canares was engaged by the project implementation team to design the online workshop using different online tools.

Mr. Canares designed the different workshops aimed at (a) identifying and validating priority issues related to gender-inclusive development in each city; (b) recommending strategies or solutions to gender-inclusive development issues in each city and identify ways in which open data can be part of the solution; (c) identifying and prioritizing skills gaps and data gaps needed in implementing the solutions; and (d) identifying key actors and validating coalitions between actors within and inter-city, including support needed to strengthen the collaboration.

The workshops started in June 2020 and will wrap up in the next three weeks.

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.