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Making budget audit reports more accessible to citizens

Sheena Carmel Opulencia-Calub - January 16, 2016 in Event report, Fellowship

An audit of a government budget, if it happens and can be trusted, is a very important public document. It contains information that is vital to achieve the goals of the government and to ensure transparency and accountability. It is not, however, an easily accessible document for most of the public because of the huge wall of numbers and text that it is often made of.

Happy Feraren, 2014 School of Data Fellow, facilitating an activity on how you cluster data.

Happy Feraren, 2014 School of Data Fellow, facilitating an activity on how you cluster data.

In the Philippines, the agency tasked with government audits is called the Commission on Audit (COA). They review the budget of every government entity, from the different government offices to public projects. One of this project is the Farm-to-Market Road (FMR), a project which aims to build concrete roads from farms to the town markets.

As part of a partnership with the World Bank, the COA called on the expertise of Open Knowledge and School of Data to design and conduct a Data Analytics and Visualisation Training workshop which would address the needs of the team responsible for auditing the Farm to Market Road project. It took place on November 11.

The workshop was attended by a mix of CoA Directors and Administrative Officers from Manila and Capiz. There was a total of 24 participants on the first day of the workshop, and 23 participants on the second day. The main goal of the event was to help the participants understand how data analytics and visualization can aid the creation of an audit report more accessible to the general public, dubbed “People’s Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA) Report”. There were sessions on Open Data and its relation with the work of COA, how and why there is a need to analyze and visualize data, what tools can be used for data visualization, and what data does the public want to know.

Happy Feraren and Sheena Opulencia-Calub, respectively 2014 and 2015 School of Data Fellows, co-facilitated the training, and later led online mentoring sessions with the participants to deliver a People’s CPA Report. The drafted People’s CPA report is currently being reviewed by COA for public dissemination.

It is necessary to develop the data analysis skills of auditors especially since they are given very little technical trainings like this one. The workshop itself was a bit challenging to conduct because of the varying levels of data knowledge and appreciation of the participants. However, because the training design was patterned after previous data skills training for government agencies, it was easy to align the training objectives that would meet the interest and needs of the participants. As always, asking participants to complete a pre-training and post-training survey were essential to get a sense of what and how much they have learned.

Training participants, organizers and resource persons.

Training participants, organizers and resource persons.

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Less buzzword, more engagement: Event report from School of Data and UP Politica

Sheena Carmel Opulencia-Calub - October 9, 2015 in Event report, Fellowship

On September 28, 2015, School of Data, in partnership with the University of the Philippines People-Oriented Leadership for the Interest of Community Awareness (UP POLITICA), organized a Forum with the theme “Open Data, Open Government and Freedom of Information: Effects on the Political Landscape of the Philippines” at the CM Recto Hall, UP Diliman, Philippines.

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Legally open + technically open = open data

The first speaker was Mr. Gabriel Baleos, Program Manager and Policy Head of Open Data Philippines Task Force. In his discussion, he explained the dilemmas in getting data from various government agencies and having them in machine-readable formats e.g. xls., .csv, .json and  which can easily be re-used by the citizens. Gabe characterized Open Data as being legally open – placed in public domain or under liberal terms of use – and technically open – data published in electronic formats. The Philippines has a Cabinet Cluster on Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, and part of this cluster’s initiatives is the Open Data Task Force, which is in charge of the Open Data portal.

Ms. Happy Feraren, 2014 School of Data fellow and CEO of Bantay.ph gave her insights on the role of civil society organizations in promoting Open Data and Freedom of Information. Happy shared the undertakings of Bantay.ph in engaging with ordinary citizens, students, journalists and local government staff through their Local Government Scorecard – a survey done by students across different Metro Manila local government offices to score their processes related to starting a business. She also posed the challenge that citizens should be proactive in using data being opened up by the government for access and use, otherwise, the Open Data is useless if no one is analyzing the data.

Forum speakers Gabe Baleos of Open Data Task Force, Sheena Opulencia-Calub or School of Data and Happy Feraren of Bantay.ph.

Forum speakers Gabe Baleos of Open Data Task Force, Sheena Opulencia-Calub or School of Data and Happy Feraren of Bantay.ph.

Freedom to know as the new buzzword

In my discussion about Open Data and Freedom of Information, I reinforced that Freedom of Information is not something new, that for the Philippines, the freedom to know is already in our constitution as early as 1973. It has become a new buzzword because of the Freedom of Information Act that has not been passed by our lawmakers. While most people think that Open Data is an alternative to Freedom of Information, I have stressed that we still need a law that will support the advocacy of making government agencies share their data and information for public use.

During the open forum, there was a good discussion on how to build government staff skills relevant to open data and freedom of information. All speakers agreed that there must be cooperation among civil society organizations, the academic community and the government in organizing learning activities for government staff who are producing and using the data. There was also a good discussion on how Open Data can be used to ensure provision of basic services to the people.#

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UP POLITICA with Happy Feraren (first row, 1st to the left), Gabe Baleos (first row, 2nd to the left) and Sheena Opulencia-Calub.

 

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School of Data Fellows: What Are They Up To?

Meg Foulkes - October 8, 2015 in Fellowship

Our brilliant 2015 School of Data Fellows are a busy bunch! We asked them to reflect on the first half of their fellowships; here’s a roundup of just a few of the highlights:

  • Camila has run numerous training events, working with Abriendo Datos Costa Rica and with Costa Rican university students. She has also run two data expeditions and a workshop in Mexico City in the NGO Festival FITS – in total, Camila has trained 177 participants! Camila looks forward to engaging wider audiences of Costa Rican NGOs and journalists in data-literacy training during the remainder of her fellowship.

  • In Macedonia, Goran has been making great progress on the Open Budgets project and work is underway with the Metamorphosis Foundation on upgrading their ‘Follow The Money’ website. He has also been busy finalising contracts with the winners of the Open Data Projects competition and facilitating their kick-off. Goran is also finalising his first skillshare on TimelineJS, which we look forward to!

  • In Nepal, Nirab has responded to the devastation caused by April’s earthquake by supporting all manner of data-related support, working with a host of CSO’s, INGOs, government agents, technologists, journalists and researchers. He has a particular interest in post-disaster transport management and has trained 78 road engineers in OpenStreetMap, who are utilising this knowledge across 36 different districts of Nepal!

  • In Ecuador, Julio has been busy preparing a workshop for Campus Party Ecuador 2015, a fantastic technology festival kicking off later this week. He has also been collaborating recently with Innovation Lab Quito on an exciting upcoming training event in October and also with SocialTIC and the Ecuadorian Journalist Forum on an event planned for November.

  • Nkechi attended the Africa Open Data Conference (AODC) in Tanzania recently, where she did some fantastic networking at the School of Data booth. She also organised an Open Data Workshop for approximately 25 Tanzanian CSOs and journalists at the conference, comprising skill shares on data advocacy, finding and verifying data, the data pipeline, scraping and visualizing. Nkechi looks forward to consolidating her work in strengthening the Nigerian data-literacy community in the coming months of her fellowship.

  • In the Phillipines, Sheena has worked extensively on data skills for effective disaster response, organising successful training events in Northern Mindanao and Leyte with a total of 77 participants. She recently participated in in the Forum on Open Government Data organized by the Knowledge for Development Center, which provided powerful insights regarding School of Data’s role in supporting the Open Data movement. Sheena is focused on extending her network of local NGOs and media actors in the coming months, as she makes progress to her goal of establishing a local School of Data instance.

  • In Ghana, David has hosted several workshops, including a data scraping workshop with Code for Ghana, and another during the Africa Open Data Conference with fellow School of Data and Code for Africa colleagues. He has presented two online skillshares on Data Scraping and R programming which have received very positive feedback! David is currently organising the first H/H Accra meetup. He intends to focus on data journalism for the rest of his fellowship, in anticipation of the national elections that will happen in Ghana next year.

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Data journalism in the Philippines: changing the open data landscape in the country

Marco Túlio Pires - July 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Transparency, accountability and open data in the Philippines have just become more palpable to citizens and journalists alike. Open Knowledge/School of Data joined forces with the World Bank and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) to launch a five-month training program for 34 journalists from 12 media organisations in the country. The program was kickstarted this morning in a convention in Manila, with strong support of the Philippine government.

The event gathered 87 people from all over the country and discussed the challenges and the potential collaboration efforts between civil society and the government to make the Philippines more transparent and accountable through open data. The panel was lead by Malou Mangahas, executive director of the PCIJ, who reflected on the timing and relevance of the program to the Philippines, because of the coming elections. “We’re facing big changes in leadership in the country and we need to think about the way we do conversations around public policies”, she said. “Data could be the narrative that binds us all”.

The Philippines has made remarkable efforts in recent years to open its data. In 2010 the government made a commitment to characterise itself by transparency and accountability, leading to its participation in the foundation of the Open Government Partnership in 2011 with seven other countries, including Brazil and the United States. Within the country, the most visible impact of that commitment was seen two years later with the creation of the Open Data Philippines and its Open Data Portal in the 2014. “The goal is to have more than 2000 datasets published by the end of this year”, said Usec Bon Moya, who leads the Open Data Task Force. Moya admits the number is still “a drop in the ocean of Philippine data” and welcomed the contribution of journalists and civil society activists to help the government find the data that is relevant to all stakeholders. “We need your input to make our data more consistent and publish more datasets”, he said.

One of the issues acknowledged by the panel is the hard time professionals and citizens have to understand and work with data. A lot of times stakeholders don’t have a clear grasp of how the government works. Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, from the Commission on Audit, said one way to tackle this problem is to engage citizens to work with the government in a participatory process, like the Civil Participatory Audits. “When citizens work together with auditors, they feel stimulated to get to know more the government and its programs”, she said.

“The first step to achieve transparency is to show everybody we have nothing to hide”
Keneth Abante, Department of Finance, Philippines

It goes a long way if the government itself is willing to open its data, regardless of public pressure. Kenneth Abante, from the Department of Finance knows that and showed the audience ways journalists can help the office identify frauds and get smuggles just by analysing the data they publish. “The first step to achieve transparency is to show everybody we have nothing to hide”, he said. “We release every week and month important data that can be mined by journalists and activists.” To have a taste of how to take Mr. Abante’s invitation seriously and actually find stories in data that is already published in the Philippines, Kai Kaiser, senior economist from the World Bank, walked through a mini-data investigation. Using open data about tobacco, Kaiser raised questions about components that are imported to the Philippines and the relationship between the values declared by importing companies and the actual prices in the market. “That’s how you can find holes and corruption in the system”, he said.

Kaiser’s example was picked up by Rogier van den Brink, also from the World Bank, to show how the concept of Open Government can lead to better democracies and better relationships between governments and its citizens. Nevertheless, Mr. Brink reminded the audience that transparency is not enough. “The idea of open data is potentially transformative, but more needs to be done”, he said. “We need to collect and give feedback at all times and we also need to follow up on our initiatives.”

After the conference, the 34 journalists will participate in a 3-day hands on training about data analysis, cleaning, scraping and visualisation. The workshop will be lead by our own Sam Leon, School of Data trainer and data analyst. The training is just the beginning of a 5 month process in which the journalists will have conference calls with Open Knowledge/School of Data to help on their data investigations. Ideally each group of journalists will have produced a data driven investigation by the end of the program using the skills and tools presented during the workshops and mentoring sessions. “We are very excited and looking forward to see which stories are hidden in the Philippine open data landscape”, said Sam.

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