Building Towards a Philippine National Data Ecosystem: Getting the Fundamentals Right

In a two part series, Keith Detros from the Tech For Good Institute shares his thoughts on building towards a Philippine national data ecosystem. In the first article, he offers his insights on how the 2020 World Development Report can be a useful starting point for the Philippines to craft its own National Data Strategy, and how the Philippines is well-positioned to build on its current fundamentals.

By Keith Detros, Programme Manager, Tech for Good Institute

In 2020, the World Development Report (WDR) ‘Data for Better Lives’ proposed a framework for countries to pursue an Integrated National Data System (INDS).  The INDS operates on a whole-of-government, cross-sectoral, and multi-stakeholder approach towards a robust and holistic data governance, and specifies how countries can establish the fundamentals of data governance, initiate data flows, and optimize the data integration.  

Currently, there is no national data strategy for the Philippines, similar to the intentional nature of INDS.  The Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA), the country’s national statistics office, leads the government effort in statistical development strategies and coordinates data governance needed within the government bureaucracy.  The current mandate of the PSA however focuses on official statistics, and there is no overarching framework on how data, including those from the private sector and non-government organizations, will form part of the national data ecosystem. 

The Philippines, however, is in a unique spot.  Historically, it has performed well in terms of official statistics capacity, openness, and coverage. This positive performance can be leveraged to encourage other stakeholders in the Philippine data ecosystem—namely the private sector, civil society organizations, and academia—to share data with the government and work towards improving the value of data in the country.  

Framing the Vision: Leveraging Official Statistics Performance to Promote a Data Ecosystem

Government national statistical offices play a key role towards a country’s national data ecosystem.  It serves as a barometer for the level of data sharing, data openness, and capacity of governments to implement integration strategies for better data use.  To promote a data ecosystem, the government should be able to show end-users and stakeholders that the bureaucracy can be a model for data exchanges, and thus enjoin the private sector and non-government entities to follow suit.  The Philippines has shown that she is in a unique position to promote an integrated data system by building on its gains and performance in official statistics.

  • The Philippines performs well in statistical capacity. From 2008 to 2013, the country led its ASEAN neighbours in terms of statistical capacity based on the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicator. In 2014, it dipped behind Thailand and Indonesia due to non-reporting of health and education indicators which affected its periodicity and timeliness score.  The Philippines was able to have improvements in 2015 and has seen a steady score over the last five years.  As of 2020, the Philippines ranks 3rd in the ASEAN and is at par with its neighbours.  The country’s SCI score (82.2) is also above the average of the East Asia & Pacific Region (74.5).
  • The Philippines also scores high in data coverage and openness. Based on the Open Data Inventory (ODIN), which looks at the completeness of NSO data offerings (coverage) and whether the data meets international standards of openness (openness), the Philippines’ overall score rank is 18th out of 187 countries in 2020.  The Philippines exhibits high scores especially in openness of data, including machine readability, and the fact that the data can be accessed for free.  This makes the Philippines second only to Singapore in Southeast Asia for open data governance. 
  • The OpenStat portal is evidence of the government’s commitment to the promotion of a culture of open data. The portal is a project of the PSA and serves as the national database for all public intent data of the government.  It hosts more than 3,000 databases containing demographic and social statistics, economic statistics, and environment and multi-domain statistics. These come from multiple government agencies.  The portal is also in line with the Philippine government’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership to which it has been a founding member since 2011. 

Thus, the performance of the Philippine national statistical office can serve as a building block for the country to promote a national data ecosystem.  It shows that open government data and data sharing across government agencies can be done.  The issue however lies in translating this performance in official statistics to a larger agenda of an integrated national data system.  The data agenda is broad but the government can start by having a national data strategy, promoting public-private partnerships through data sharing, and improving the digital infrastructure in the country. 

Getting the Fundamentals Right: Public-Private Partnership and Digital Infrastructure

  1. The participation of non-government entities in planning the national data strategy is key. The Philippines should integrate the private sector, civil society organizations, and non-government entities early into the planning process of the national data strategy.  This ensures buy in and serves as a trust-building exercise. The PSA already formed 29 interagency statistical committees (IACs) to coordinate and resolve sectoral concerns on statistics.  The IACs are mainly composed of government agencies, but the PSA also formed task forces that involved civil society, the academe, and the private sector.  The Task Force on Big Data on Official Statistics and Citizen Generated Data for Official Reporting both involve non-government stakeholders such as telecom giants, Globe and Smart, private sector-backed NGOs like the Ayala Foundation and SM Foundation, business associations, and international organizations such as the United National Development Programme.  On the backs of the IACs, the government can form a consultative body for the national data strategy and involve non-government entities from the start.
  2. The government can also continue promoting data sharing agreements (DSA) between the public and the private sector. In December 2020, the National Privacy Commission released a new circular, which details the guidelines for DSAs between government and businesses.  The new circular supersedes the previous release which only specified DSA rules between government agencies only.  The expansion of the guidelines to include the private sector is a welcome development and a sign that the regulators are seeing the importance of public-private partnerships in establishing avenues for data exchanges.  The government now needs to sign DSAs, implement the rules consistently, and protect the data shared to them by the private sector in order to foster trust in the system.  Safeguarding trust in the DSAs is key to have a sustainable national data ecosystem.
  3. Finally, the Philippines should also work towards improving data connectivity and infrastructure. Internet access, affordability, and speed has been long-standing challenges in the Philippine digital infrastructure.  Connectivity is key not only for data sharing among government agencies, but it can also develop a vibrant demand for data use from the citizens.  This feeds into the culture of open data, which further promotes accountability, integrity, and timeliness of generated data.  However, only 47% of the adult population in the country has access to the internet.  The cost of the internet remains the most expensive among ASEAN-6 economies in both mobile data and fixed broadband. In addition, the country trails its ASEAN-6 neighbors in internet speed at almost five times slower than Singapore in fixed broadband.  Encouraging more competition in the telecommunications and connectivity sector can help solve this issue.  It is imperative for the country to have a reliable digital infrastructure so that a data ecosystem can function.

This article is part of a two-part series on building towards a Philippine national data ecosystem. Click here for the second part of this series where we delve deeper into key policies that should be targeted for the fast tracking of the Philippine’s national data ecosystem and governance.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.