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Czarina Medina-Guce: The social innovator proving that #opengov works

Blog | September 28, 2017

In 2015-2016, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) in partnership with Making All Voices Count supported three pilot provinces in the Philippines to identify context-specific, tech-based innovations to support efforts to make Bottom-Up Budgeting more accessible and useable at the local level.

We asked ULAP’s Executive Director -at the time- Czarina Medina-Guce, about herself, what motivated her to troubleshoot national governance platforms in order to make them locally accessible and what she has learned from her experience with Making All Voices Count.


ULAP

Tell me about yourself…

I am transitioning from Political Governance Fellow to become Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD), which is a think tank and resource center working on policy and governance issues to strengthen democratic institutions in the Philippines. At the same time, I am teaching at the Development Studies Program of the Ateneo de Manila University, and serving as term member of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation.

The MAVC-supported project I worked on was in 2015 to 2016, during my former stint as Executive Director of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.

Outside of work, I geek out on Game of Thrones and Star Wars and sing Broadway songs endlessly, privately. I also read books, listen to audio books and meditate a lot.

What was the innovation about?

The Making All Voices Count - supported innovation project was an intervention on the reporting struggles of local governments and civil society groups on the former Bottom-Up Budgeting (BuB) program in the Philippines. The project focused on the BuB reporting component because at that time, fund releases (in tranches) were dependent on compliance of local governments in clearing out reporting requirements at various times of the year. This arrangement contributed to the delays in fund releases, project completion, and ultimately, service delivery.

We assisted the local teams to make more efficient and effective their strategies to report project and fund status to national government agencies through online and offline prototypes. We conducted a useability study of the online national project platform, and design thinking sessions with the three provincial sites and select municipalities. We also used the evidence from the project (published as a white paper) to trigger policy response from the national government agencies on developing data platforms, and streamlining the processes of project reporting from national to local levels.

A first blog from Making All Voices Count highlighted how we changed the project design in the middle of the implementation, because we found out from the communities that sophisticated online platforms (or even using existing government platform) did not work for them. A second blog, which I wrote, looks at how the learning from the project has lived on beyond the project per se, and even beyond the BuB project since it was replaced by another upon the change of national administration.

What motivated you to come up with such an innovation?  

We were motivated to pursue the project because we felt that the reporting component in the BuB was something practical but missed by many, if not all, interventions at that point. The system needed troubleshooting, and while there was continuous reference to it as one primary cause of the project delays, there was no evidence to hammer on the point to trigger any policy reform. At that point, we felt it needed to be done.

And partnering with Making All Voices Count was definitely the right way to proceed with the innovation. The support platform is different from most funding opportunities as it was explicit and purposive in funding governance innovations within its scope of issue interests. Making All Voices Count was willing to take the risks we took stake on and gave us the space to maximize opportunities and work within the limitations of our communities. That proved the "making-all-voices-count" real –The Making All Voices Count  team journeyed with us as much as we journeyed with the local governments and the local civil society groups, in their terms, in their pace. I believe ultimately, that risk-taking, community voice-driven attitude that we shared made the short innovation project have impact to the policies and program implementation of government.    

What is your greatest strength and in what areas do you feel you could grow?

Perhaps my strength is being reflexive about the challenge that stakeholders do not say what they really want to say upfront, until there is a relationship or common understanding that binds you. That fact about stakeholder relationships grounds me back to listening with the intent to understand. Especially in the work of policy and governance, listening and understanding one another takes people a long, long way. It builds relationships, unmasks assumptions, and allows for disagreement in good faith (if it comes to that).

What matters is that your partners and stakeholders know for sure that you are proceeding with a genuine desire to help make things better.

For new things to learn, I really would want to learn how to code, build apps, like what tech innovators do. Maybe soon, as a helpful additional skill. It should not be ever too late to learn anything new.

What learning have you incorporated in your work? 

I have always subscribed to the principle that there should be partners who will take up on development initiatives. We call this by different names - buy-in, uptake, integration - but the core principle behind all these is simple: stakeholders do not buy-in or take up development initiatives if the perspective and pace is not designed according to their context. Their voices take precedence because we are only facilitators of a change process.

This does not mean that we do not put in some stretch and pressure into the work. Nothing ever gets accomplished without some sense of urgency. But there is a difference between forcing a process versus facilitating a process, especially on innovation and systems-development. In the end, stakeholders need to co-own and co-create the work with you, because the innovation would have to be part of their new-normal. That is how change truly happens.

Based on your learning from the implementation of the innovation, what recommendations would you share with other social innovators?

Innovators may take these into consideration:

  • Monitor, document, evaluate, write, publish – all the data and narratives arising from your project. The way to scale up is to prove that the innovation works, and to identify how it can be improved. Most innovators are boxed into the ‘implementing’ perspective, and as such become fixated with the process of going through one activity to another. While that has its own set of merits, the function of monitoring and evaluation must not be missed. Monitoring and evaluation, when conducted with discipline and rigor, allows for insights that allow you to become agile in implementing so you can approach your desired outcomes more strategically.
  • Situate your innovation in the context of governance, in order to design your project with scale and delivery in mind. Even if innovations are meant to be manageably small, the designing process should always deal with questions of: Will this work in other contexts? What should you test to make the necessarily nuances? What are opportunities to make delivery as ready as possible for others to consider it a model for policy and program development? And almost always, the way to scale is to target vertical integration of your innovation in governance, both policies and systems.
  • Acknowledge the possibility that your innovation cannot be scaled up, which means the best card you can put into the table is to know with certainty and document what is NOT working. Recognizing limitedness of your sphere of control is not failure. Documenting limitations is part of your contribution to the universe of policy and program development. It takes a certain humility to acknowledge that your plans are not working out. Some innovators get lost in this and become devoid of agility and strategy, just because they want their original design to keep on going. Working with the awareness of possible failure leads you to: (a) planning and proceeding more strategically to address the causes of failure, and, (b) adopting an entrepreneurial mindset to keep on creating more possibilities for the future of your innovation; it can become anything depending on how it is received by your partners.

What are your future plans?

I will definitely continue working in the political governance dimension of the development world. Civic spaces are attacked in many places over the world, and definitely so in the Philippines where we are seeing the consolidation of power of some groups, at the expense of the lives and rights of many Filipinos. We will go on with the journey of Philippine democracy, and work to the best of what is possible to contribute to keeping civic spaces protected, and people empowered.

What is your message to other ambitious innovators?

To other ambitious innovators, may you remember that you are only as good as your relevance to finding solutions to the problems of today and that your skills are meant to be unleased to make people’s lives better. May you never be boxed into what you think or others think you can only do. May you speak with the voices of the voiceless. May you work with the grit of a soldier at the battle front. May your heart be always true, always humble, always grounded to a great purpose. May you help the realm to prepare to fight ‘any Winter to come and may the Force be with you’.

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