By Laurence Go
In the middle of the pandemic, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) launched its Data-Driven Development (3D) Program. The goal: to promote a culture conducive to data and evidence and make them the foundation for responsive local governance and active citizen participation. In early 2021, we set out to implement our 3D projects in 14 local government units, 11 state universities and colleges, as well as over 20 civil society organizations around the Philippines.
The 3D program has two components, namely Coalescing Organizations towards Locally Led Actions to Boost Development (COLLABDev) and Data Driven Development in the Philippines (PH3D). COLLABDev and PH3D receive generous support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union (EU), respectively.
Nearing the end of both projects, we ask: How have we fared and what have we learned so far? Here, we count down to what we have learned, our “54321”: the 5 lessons, 4 3D 2wards 1 goal.
First, we started the project thinking that we would assist our partners in simply analyzing available data, instead of collecting data. As the projects progressed, we were faced with several challenges:
• Some local government units (LGUs) did not have sufficient data to be used for policymaking.
• Although LGUs were required by government agencies to collect data on their behalf, they could not access such data.
• There was a lack of trust with some existing datasets due to data quality issues. Reliable and timely data, as evidenced in the pandemic, were hard to come by.
Addressing these issues required a pivot: focusing instead on more “basic” processes of data collection. We learned that local communities’ data needs were more basic than previously thought — in most cases, the gap is in having high quality data that can be used for policy.
Second, we realized that while technological infrastructure (e.g., hardware and software) is lacking in many partner sites, it is generally easier to address these concerns: through provision of laptops/tablets, software for data processing, online meetings, and more.
While infrastructure is necessary, ultimately, it is the culture of data appreciation that is critical in promoting 3D. The difficulty is that culture is built, not bought, and it requires having data champions from the top and bottom (what we call the “bibingka”1 method of championing 3D). Instilling the 3D culture means investing resources: dedicating, not just designating, both human and financial resources into data programs.
Institutionalization is key, and this entails actual policies that encourage data collection, sharing and analysis for policymaking. To this end, we have been able to share new technologies for digital data collection to inculcate a culture of collecting high quality data and impart policy templates for implementing regular data processes in the LGUs. This is just the start, but LGUs’ positive response towards digitization is promising.
Third, as data champions, we initially thought that it would also be easy to convince others to imbibe 3D principles. However, the reality is that data can be intimidating for most. It is an abstract resource whose use is unappreciated.
This necessitated a gradual process where we built local partners’ capacity to understand the benefits of doing 3D and exposed them to practical applications needed for stakeholders to appreciate data. Data aren’t just numbers that go into a report but reflect underlying relationships.
We make a distinction between two aspects of 3D: kwenta2, which is the essence of data in measuring things and looking at data as numbers, statistics, and evidence; and, kwento3, which is expressing data and numbers as stories about people and the communities they represent. Having both increases people’s stake in the 3D process: being able to tell factual stories about their local communities and providing potential solutions to their issues.
Fourth, we learned that it takes a village to implement 3D. This is the 21st century version of bayanihan4 — the data bayanihan, composed of local government units, civil society organizations (CSOs), and state universities/colleges (SUCs). Each component is focal to “carrying” the data institution: LGUs generating data and implementing evidence-based policies, CSOs determining what the community needs and mobilizing to identify need data and policies, and SUCs providing technical assistance as part of their mandate.
With our local partners, we implemented community mobilization activities to serve as 3D applications which can be scaled up to the whole municipality. Examples include drafting local health codes based on existing health data, mapping business establishments, and creating an agricultural portal to connect farmers and the market. Indeed, the power of data bayanihan is unparalleled.
Finally, 3D is not just about data for data’s sake, nor technology for technology’s sake. At the center of data are the people and their local communities. In Filipino, tao ang nasa sentro ng datos (people are in the center of the data) — both literally and figuratively. From the get-go, our partners identified focus sectors (e.g., health, tourism, agriculture) where we would implement the 3D projects. This was driven by their desire to improve these sectors to contribute to local development. As we went along, foci were further narrowed down by realities on the ground: data availability, political priorities, and project resources.
From the start and until the end, our commitment to putting people at the center of our initiatives is what transcends 3D to HD: human-centered data-driven development.
1Bibingka is a rice cake that is cooked with heat applied both above and below. — Ed.
2Kwenta means to count, a tally, a sum. — Ed.
3Kwento means story or storytelling. — Ed.
4Bayanihan is community spirit and action, usually illustrated by the image of neighbors carrying a nipa hut to a new location. — Ed.
Laurence Go (@golaurencego) is the data lead for the 3D Program and a trustee and senior fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. He finished his economics PhD at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.