YELLOW PAD

By Francis Gentoral

The new mantra of local governments units (LGUs) is to promote the strategic use of information for effective decision making as they focus to improve the delivery of economic and social services.

Local governments often face challenges inherited from analogue models. To name some: analogue models and outdated data infrastructure, data silos, skill gaps, regulatory barriers, lack of leadership and accountability, and a culture which undervalues digital innovation and change.

These problems require specific technical and political solutions. Take, for example, the problems of depending on old data infrastructure and having data silos. They can be solved by establishing the integrated economic data system and a common and flexible data sharing platform for both the local and national agencies.

Recognizing the need, the Western Visayas Regional Development Council Economic Development Committee (EDC) formed a Technical Working Group (TWG) composed of National Government agencies (NGAs), the academe, and the private sector towards the creation of an integrated economic data system.

Guided by the Development Entrepreneurship model advocated by Asia Foundation, which, among other things, emphasizes doing diagnostics to situate the main bottlenecks and determine appropriate solutions, the TWG conducted a “Data Gaps” exercise. The initial review showed that LGUs are required to prepare at least 33 plans by the NGAs, using 600 or more indicators. This task of gathering and analyzing data for 600 indicators is overwhelming. In addition, there is no common template for data gathering and processing. Thus, it is difficult to measure progress or to aggregate data in a way that gives an accurate assessment of the performance of LGUs.

To surmount the above challenge, the TWG has identified, rationalized, and weighted the common economic data issues and the set of indicators that have practical value for LGUs.

The LGUs are tasked to deliver basic services to their constituents and are responsible for ensuring that their programs and projects are well-planned, budgeted, and fulfilled. In this regard, the TWG recognizes the imperative of having the data sets that will guide local executives in implementing economic programs for recovery and sustainability. These data sets will enable a better understanding of the changing contexts of the local economy.

Data initiatives at the regional and local level often miss the understanding and appreciation of the data needs of the stakeholders and how data affect them. Many LGUs and NGAs do not appreciate why data is needed for change to take place. This problem is pronounced when an LGU is not particularly inclined towards technical thinking and when such change takes them out of their comfort zone.

At a more technical level, fragmentation happens when accountability mechanisms are weak. This, for instance, is manifested in not knowing who is responsible for generating and controlling the data. Fragmentation also arises when sharing and accessing the data are severely constrained by specific legal arrangements. Fragmentation leads to siloed policy and technical solutions, making it harder to build integrated and connected local governments.

The role of the academe in the coalition (or the TWG) to have integrated data systems is exemplified by the Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISTU). ISTU sees the value of data interoperability. To realize data interoperability, a team of faculty experts, with the assistance of the Department of Science and Technology, will spearhead the development of the prototype for a portal. The portal should be completed and operational by end of 2021. We are expecting more NGAs and LGUs to be part of this economic data platform.

The work-together data platform will help ensure that the policy of decentralization as enshrined in the Constitution, the Local Government Code, and the Mandanas-Garcia ruling of the Supreme Court will be carried out with smoothness, transparency, and accountability.

Hopefully, this initiative will allow for more collaboration and for more in-depth discussions among stakeholders to strengthen leadership and accountability. Hopefully, too, the initiative can achieve productivity and effectiveness in planning for local economic recovery.

In today’s uncertain and volatile environment, data fuel growth and development. Collecting large amounts of data and analyzing them have become essential tasks of how local governments and organizations track their progress and develop growth strategies.

The power of data opens new possibilities for the future of economic governance in this part of the country, Western Visayas. We, too, hope we can learn from colleagues in other regions in the same way that they can learn from Western Visayas.

This column is part of a series on data-driven development.

Francis Gentoral is Executive Director of the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, Inc. and works with government, as well as with non-government organizations, private sector associations and organizations on local economic development and governance, program design, and impact evaluation.