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Jamming for Data – Open Data Day in the Philippines

- March 23, 2015 in Community, Data for CSOs

Some people spend Saturday afternoons going out with friends and watching a movie. Some spend it going to a park or working out. Some spend it in the house doing nothing. And some, spend Saturday afternoons wrangling government related data.

It was a joy to see people find people like themselves, “Met people who understand the horrors of PDF data sets and merged cells. I’m not crazy yay!” tweeted one participant. It was an even bigger joy to see people excited over the possibilities of Open Data. Though the OGP has been around in the Philippines for 4 years, the principles and ideas behind it are still not common knowledge in civil society.


We called, they answered: From magazine feature writers, to animators, and expert programmers who do data projects for fun -the event was a good mix of diverse personalities from different sectors as well (private sector, NGOs, government).IMG_0057

In celebration of the International Open Data Day  last February 21, we at, together with our partner SEATTI, Open Knowledge Foundation, School of Data and Philippine Cyberpress conducted the very first citizen-led “Data Jam.” It was attended by people who were all interested in using their skills to find stories within a given data set and ultimately shed light on the problem of government accountability.

During the Data Jam, we opened up our organization’s primary dataset for the first time. The dataset contains findings from our citizen monitoring work on red tape in Metro Manila’s local government units. Actual survey questions and answers of on-site reports can be found in CSV format. It is the same data set used for the city scorecards published online through our website’s Red Tape Index. Users of the website can download the raw survey data of and visualize it however they want. If, for example, a citizen wants to know more about how transparent processes are in different LGU’s, they can look through  the raw dataset and find answers. Moreover, if government offices themselves want to know how they are performing given a different set of indicators, they can use the dataset to help them identify their lapses.

This is a trend we hope to start with other NGOs and CSOs. There are so many valuable datasets in the development sector and if we start opening them up, we give the general public a clearer picture of our reality. This gives us a good baseline if we want to improve and change failing systems. We cannot rely on government data alone.
We’re also proud to announce that now has an added feedback feature in the website that allows citizens of Metro Manila to write a review and rate their experience in a given city hall.

The 2014-2015 data set of the Contact Center ng Bayan (the national government feedback mechanism under the Civil Service Commission) was also used in the Data Jam. Participants were able to get an idea of how responsive different government offices were to complaints and grievances, what the most common complaints were in terms of government services, and the most popular mode of feedback. Government offices like the Civil Service Commission spend a lot of time processing and releasing this kind of data. The people behind the feedback mechanism are the same people who answer the hotline, encode, analyze, and visualize the data. Moreover, government still relies on mainstream media to pick up the data findings before it reaches the general public. Through the event, participants realized that by simply opening up the data set, government can outsource the analysis and visualization part to the citizenry.

Sentiments Visualized: Mich Rama of Dakila (a local NGO) and one of the Data Jam participants, used the online tool to instantly create a word cloud and pie chart.

Sentiments Visualized: Mich Rama of Dakila (a local NGO) and one of the Data Jam participants, used the online tool to instantly create a word cloud and pie chart.1


I find that the whole event was a good way to reflect on my organization’s internal process. We all have our blind spots, and by keeping things transparent, we get people to collaborate on solutions for the common good. This Data Jam also helped me see how we can improve our organization’s data collection processes and thus has given me a better insight on how to proceed strategically. When we open up datasets, we get to increase participation and engagement. Citizens are the end users of government service, they shouldn’t be left out of the conversation. We are, after all, the biggest stakeholders of this country.

During the event, data became the common language for everyone. Opinions were formed based on hard evidence instead of emotions and political agendas. In a span of 4 hours, people of different backgrounds were able to work together and help create a culture of transparency and accountability.

IMG_0086 is a civil society organization that uses technology to mobilize citizens to demand good governance. They want to help citizens get good government service and they do this primarily through awareness campaigns and performance monitoring of the different LGUs in Metro Manila. Currently, they have covered 9 out of 17 cities but target  to finish all of them by this year.

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Learn data visualization and data-driven journalism in a real “Data Jam”

- February 17, 2015 in Events

[Cross posted from GMA News Online; Press release by]

On February 21 (International Open Data Day),, a platform that uses technology in mobilizing citizens to demand good governance, will host the very first citizen-initiated “Data Jam.”

Done in partnership with the Southeast Asia Technology and Transparency Initiative (SEATTI), the Data Jam aims to get citizens to participate in governance via data analysis and visualization.
The event also aims to teach the general public and journalists alike the fundamentals of data visualization and data-driven journalism through a real hands-on experience.
“Data Journalism in the Philippines is still a wide-open field,” notes TJ Dimacali, Philippine Cyberpress president. “It’s an exciting frontier, especially for tech-savvy journalists. But it’s also something anyone can do, given the right tools.” co-founder and 2014 School of Data Fellow Happy Feraren explains: “The information that we hope to mine from the activity can give us an insight on how and where exactly our systems of governance are failing. It can help us identify what exactly is going wrong and instead of pointing fingers,  we can use this information to improve the lapses of the bureaucracy.”
The Data Jam hopes to introduce the frontier of using data to raise awareness and give feedback to government. Feraren adds, “We will group writers, graphic designers, and data analysts together to come up with questions and find the answers together.”
The program and activity flow will be based on the international School of Data toolkit. Using the open datasets of and the Civil Service Commission, the event wants to get people with the right skillsets to work together and discover new stories from the raw datasets provided. Overall, it’s a new way to shed light on national issues and is a slicker and more efficient way to give feedback to government.

The Philippines has been a signatory of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) since 2011, which essentially encourages participatory governance and openness in the bureaucracy. One way that the OGP suggests is the use and application of open data provisions. Given the amount of public data, there should be a conscious effort to make these datasets available and easily accessible. And at the same time, citizens should make use of these datasets to ensure transparency is met.
“We want to promote that kind of culture where we make data-driven decisions, especially when it comes to matters of governance. There is so much we can do to track what government is doing and how they are performing. It’s one concrete way to tell them, as citizens, that ‘we are watching you,’ ” says Feraren. “It’s one way we can promote a culture of active citizenship – where we don’t just rely on mainstream media to know what’s really happening. There’s a whole lot of data out there that we don’t look at and given the right training and awareness, citizens CAN mine their own insights out of publicly available data.”
The Data Jam is organized by and SEATTI, co-sponsored by the Open Knowledge Foundation, The School of Data – Philippines, and the Philippine Cyberpress.
Interested data analysts, storytellers, and graphic designers can RSVP via [email protected] – LIMITED SLOTS ONLY and RSVP is a must. It will be held in on February 21, 1-5pm at the AIM Conference Center. Full details will be sent to confirmed participants.

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Constructive Engagement: The first citizen-initiated data skills training for government (Philippines)

- December 4, 2014 in Events


Open Spoken: Happy talks about openness and its impact in governance.

Last Tuesday (November 25), I led my first data training workshop in Manila with Sam Leon. After months of preparation, over Skype calls and shared Google documents, the workshop finally took place in a shared office space, with 20 participants from government. The participants came from the office of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) – a special constitutional body in the country created to promote morale, efficiency, integrity, responsiveness, progressiveness, and courtesy in the Civil Service. The office is also in charge of the implementation of the Anti Red Tape Act* (ARTA). The participants we handled during the session were directly involved in the monitoring of this law through a national feedback and help desk system called the Contact Center ng Bayan (CCB); and, an internal team that is in charge of surveying various local government offices and its clients (from social security, to health, to tax offices, etc.) called the Report Card Survey (RCS). The team was young, vibrant, and ready to learn – and the day was just about to start. This is hardly the image of a “public servant” in the Philippines. It was a stark difference from the typical grandstanding politician that Filipinos see in mainstream media.

Open Data and the Anti Red Tape Act

The first part of the program was an introduction to Open Data through the lens of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) of which the Philippines is a founding member country. Despite being one of the first 8 signatories in 2011, it’s still not common knowledge in government offices. The OGP is still a fairly new concept, and the significance of it hasn’t been fully recognized. The implementation of the ARTA  is included as one of the commitments of the OGP Philippine Government Action Plan.

After the discussion of open data and open governance, we then moved on to the hard skills sessions of data cleaning and data visualization. Despite the technical heavy content that we were discussing, participants were very engaged asking questions and sharing stories about data protection and open data formats. They understood the seriousness of confidentiality especially in a political climate like the Philippines where reporting something may cause you harm. Government offices, for example, can give an individual a more difficult time obtaining something like a business permit if he/she files a case against a government officer in the local city hall. Given that, I think the publishing of this dataset bears so much more weight considering how some of these complaints fall on deaf ears, or worse, a failed justice system. Through the information that can be gathered from this dataset, citizens can find out for themselves which local government offices are most responsive and which ones are apathetic. By making this kind of information public, pressure from the citizenry can be applied to specific offices to change their inefficient and poor public service delivery.

Clean Data: Sam talks about Open Refine and its many uses when handling "dirty data"

Clean Data: Sam talks about Open Refine and its many uses when handling “dirty data”

Working Break: Participants opted to work through the break to continue their data visualization activity headed by Sam.

Working Break: Participants opted to work through the break to continue their data cleaning activity headed by Sam.

The same people that answer the calls of the national hotline are the same ones that process, analyze, and publish stories about their reports from the frontline. Data skills such as data cleaning and visualization can save a lot of processing time and can quickly turn into useful information for the citizens. “It’s good that we now have this common knowledge base between us. All members of the team now understand the impact of something like properly inputting data on our shared database,” said one of the participants.

To illustrate how much data they process yearly – In 2014 the RCS team surveyed 1,023 government offices and interviewed 30,690 citizens. Moreover, the CCB team processed 5,162 ticketed transactions* via SMS, calls, and online channels from 2012-2013. One of the participants approached me after and said, “If I had known about Open Refine before, this would have saved me so much time in generating reports.”

Open is an attitude. Data is a discipline.

Open Data in the Philippines exists in its own way. I found that though the datasets of the Civil Service Commission are not technically open, openness exists in the attitudes of the people who work inside the bureaucracy. The programs they have (RCS and CCB) are already done in the discipline of data-driven governance and perhaps all it takes is channelling all of that towards the global movement of Open Governance.

It will take time to digitize all our datasets and publish them in open formats, meanwhile, we can start with attitudes and making newer processes and programs that don’t rely on older data more transparent. The CCB, for example, was launched in 2012 and started with digital data collection processes. Instead of focusing on the backlog, we can choose to look forward and integrate open data in programs that are new or still to be launched.

Shared Space: The group was divided into teams to work on different data visualizations given a common dataset.

Shared Space: The group was divided into teams to work on different data visualizations given a common dataset.

Picture-taking unites us all: If there's one thing we Filipinos love to do, it's this. All smiles for open data!

Picture-taking unites us all: If there’s one thing we Filipinos love to do, it’s this. All smiles for open data!

*The ARTA is a law that was passed in 2007 to improve the efficiency in frontline government services to the public by reducing bureaucratic red tape, preventing graft and corruption, and providing penalties therefore.
* Ticketed transactions consist of: complaints, queries, feedback, and commendations

Full Disclosure: Happy is also the co-founder of – a Manila based civil society organization (CSO) that focuses its work on youth and ARTA implementation. They have been a CSO partner of the CSC since 2013 which is the basis for the selection of their office to go through the data skills workshop with the Open Knowledge Foundation.

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