Step Up Completes COVID-19 and Higher Education Research

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.

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 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 Wins International Research Competition

Step Up Consulting is one of the 15 research teams across the world awarded by the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations to undertake research on how to accelerate digital inclusion during the COVID-19 recovery globally.

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 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 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.