August 2007

e-COMMUNITY Project

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In pursuance to the e-Governance thrust of the government, a consortium of the leading lights of the ICT industry in Cebu (Philippines), from government, private sector and civil society have joined hands to put up together the e-Barangay project which envisions to bring ICT and related services to the level of the masses and set in place viable and cost-effective ICT facilities at the community level.

The thrust of the Philippine government, as documented in the National Information Technology Plan for the 21st Century (IT21), is to bring the local communities online through the internet. However, the so-called “digital divide” in terms of access to information and communications technology (ICT) and related services remains woefully prevalent.

On the national level, 97 percent of government line agencies have established a presence in the internet, according to the latest National Computer Center (NCC) study. However, the same cannot be said for the 41,944 barangays nationwide as internet readiness and connectivity remain elusive, even dismal. (A barangay also known by its former name, the barrio, is the smallest local government unit in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward. Municipalities and cities are composed of barangays).

To realise the vision of addressing the digital divide at the barangay level, a significant initiative was launched in July 2002 which later came to be known as the Barangay.net or e-Barangay project. This project involved the setting up of viable and cost effective ICT facilities or telecenters in the barangays. Eight  urban barangays in Cebu City became the subject of e-Barangay modeling and pilot-testing. These were Apas, Basak Pardo, Carreta, Hipodromo, Kamputhaw, Lahug, Luz and Mabolo.

The Barangay.net project is an innovative and cost-effective approach to governance and community development using ICT to promote connectivity, access, capacity-building and productivity. Likewise is promotes economic upliftment, popular participation and social cohesion using the baran-gays as the government’s vanguards in dealing with the citizenry. The project paves the way for the digitisation of simple local government functions and services and brings technology and government to the grassroots, along with the finer tenets of transparency, accountability, and good citizenship.
The e-Barangay facilities are envisioned to serve as one-stop shop information resource centers in the barangays whose services may range from a calling office, internet café, computer-processing center, e-mail center, reading and training center, and generally as places for people to interact. Other services of the center: a venue for creating and accessing barangay information including barangay clearances, real-estate taxes, etc. and other subject-specific information such as those on health, education, agriculture, environment, rural enterprise development, etc. using state-of-the-art methods of organising, sharing and communicating information and through programmes and applications relevant and useful to the needs of the communities.

The project is providing a package that consists of both hardware (computer, printer, webcam, AVR/UPS), telephone lines (broadband voice and data) and software (Windows operating system, community databank, interactive web portal, barangay online applications), and technical assistance (social preparation, training, capability building, project management, monitoring and evaluation).

Project sustainability will be addressed by income generated by the facility at the barangays. Revenues could come in the form of e-mail fees, computing services, training fees, increased collection of real property taxes, barangay clearances that will be expected to increase in volume as transactions are expedited following use of the ICT, and other ancillary income-generating activities of the project.

For Cebu, the project could not have come at a more auspi-cious time. Cebu is bustling with excitement and energy as it tries to consolidate its gains as a major player in the ICT arena. From the establishment of the first IT Park in the country, the location of many software and IT-related companies including call centers in the city and the presence of trainable and ICT-savy population, Cebu, through this project, is once more looking to become an ICT hub in the country.

Project Framework

The Barangay.net project is in line with the vision of IT21 which stipulates that within the first decade of the 21st century, every Filipino, every organisation, and foreign visitor, shall have online access to government information and services in their homes, in community/municipal centers/barangay halls, in foreign posts, in public libraries and kiosks, and in government offices.

Moreover, Republic Act 8792, otherwise known as the e-Commerce law, provides policy framework for the project. The law mandates that by June 2002, all government agencies shall implement Part IV of the e-Commerce Act to facilitate speedy and efficient electronic online transmission, conveyance and the use of electronic data messages or electronic documents among all government departments, agencies, bureaus, offices down to the division level and to the regional and provincial offices as practicable as possible, government-owned and controlled corporations, local government units (LGUs) other public instrumentalities, universities, colleges and other schools, and universal access to the general public.

Finally, the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Central Visayas also came out with a resolution supporting the project and enjoining all local government units in Central Visayas to adopt the Barangay.net project and integrate the same in their ICT plans and programmes.

Barangay.net is a partnership in e-Governance project. Through a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder consortium that later came to be established as Barangay.net Cebu Alliance, Inc., it seeks to maximise the strengths and resources of government agencies, non-government organisations, local government units and other partners to bring the agenda of e-Governance forward.

The alliance is composed of representatives from government, private sector and civil society. It is a non-stock, non-profit organisation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Through the alliance, the project hopes to widen the opportunities for networking, complementation, sharing of resources and technical expertise while strengthening multi-stakeholder participation and multisectoral involvement in all levels of project implementation to improve the capacity of the barangays for e-Governance. The alliance is an accredited NGO-member of the Cebu City local development council.

The members of the alliance are: office of the President-Central Visayas (OPCV), Cebu city government, department of science and technology (DOST), department of trade and industry (DTI), department of the interior and local government (DILG), national economic and development authority (NEDA), Philippine information agency (PIA), technical education and skills development authority (TESDA), national computer center (NCC), national telecommunications commission (NTC), telecommunications office (TELOF), University of the Philippines-Cebu college (UPCC), association of barangay councils (ABC)-Cebu City, central Visayas information sharing network foundation, Inc. (CVISNET), and the Ayala foundation, Inc., (AFI) which serves as the project’s coordinating and facilitating arm.

Project Outputs

1. Barangay telecenters or e-Barangay facilities equipped with internet-ready package.

2. Integrated barangay systems that through user-friendly database features will result in more simplified, streamlined and transparent barangay systems, procedures and processes.

3. Integrated citizen web portal that will promote greater citizen convenience through access to information, programmes and services from government, private sector and civil society organisations.

4. Training and other capability building and social preparation activities that will result in enhanced barangay capacities for sustained e-Governance.

Project Impacts

Through information networking, cultural sharing and popular participation, the project  fosters a strong sense of community pride, spirit and solidarity. This is especially important at a time of great national torment and divisiveness.

The project is a tool for transforming the barangays as active participants in nation building by enabling communities through the wonders of the internet to benefit from lifelong learning and engagement in sustainable livelihood (e.g. agriculture, fisheries, trade and commerce, services, etc.).

The project forever alters the ways in which the barangays relate to their constituencies, especially the poor and the ex-cluded, as it provides powerful ways for citizens to demand accountability, responsibility and transparency from government.

The Barangay-based e-Citizen web portal promotes greater citizen convenience through access to programmes on distance education, telemedicine or e-health, electronic commerce, assistance to small businesses, barangay justice, business licensing and empowerment of the poor through social mobilisation and literacy programme and access to government information/programmes/services especially those that improve livelihood and skills.

Allows the barangays to redefine their roles and become more citizen-focused. This will also promote shifts in current institutional thinking and government prioritisation. With the interfacing features of the applications, governing becomes a two-way street, with both the government and the governed working together to achieve consensus on looking for the best solutions to the problems of poverty or delivery of basic services in their respective communities. This will also enable people to ‘join up’ and link information systems and hence participate in governance more effectively.

The project offers customised database and online applications and citizen-centric services that promote barangay-to-barangay (b2b) trade, commerce, industry, tourism, information networking, cultural sharing, active citizenship and resource mobilisation. It reduces the costs while not compromising the quality of public services.

The project develops and sets up customised barangay applications that will facilitate simplified, streamlined and transparent barangay systems, procedures and processes for efficient participatory e-Governance. All these are expected to result in improved efficiency in the collection of revenues and mobilisation of local resources that will result in better delivery of basic barangay services and more programmes to support development initiatives in the barangays.

This project promotes the value of dialogue as an instrument of national policy. This will promote conflict resolution and consensus building. Political participation can be enhanced with an informed citizenry using ICT resulting in more pro-active participation of citizens in governance. Reverses the tide of rural migration and in the process disperses development in the countryside. This is especially critical as cities begin to groan under the weight of challenges (social, political, economic, etc.) posed by in-migration. Dispersing rural development will ensure job creation and employment generation in the rural areas where poverty is stark.

The project helps fight and eliminate gridlock in public services provision, as it gives citizens with state-of-the-art customer service in a seamless relationship, where handoffs between agencies are invisible. The bureaucracy will be able to serve as facilitating not hindering institution as the barangays become more in touch with the needs of their constituencies. This will help restore people’s trust in government through improved access to its programmes and schemes.

The project starts to open new possibilities, as it becomes the information gateway in the barangays where citizens can access services, obtain information, establish their own web presence and influence policy decisions. Eventually, the project will provide citizens with interactive access to a range of services, information and products available in the barangays from public and private sector providers.

The project strengthens democratic institutions through the promotion of accountability, responsibility and transparency in government systems, procedures and processes.

The technology becomes a tool to improve livelihood. Either through agriculture, fishery, SMEs, the project seeks to make the technology responsive to strengthen livelihood and enterprise development especially at the level of the barangays. The overriding concern is that through this app-roach, the communities will be able to help themselves achieve self-reliance and make use of the advances of the information and communication technologies to create sustainable development and convert human knowledge to progress. Increased economic opportunities will reduce poverty, provides employment through online job placements. The use of the technology will be crucial to economic competitiveness.

Over the long haul, the project really stimulates the intensive use of the technology at the lowest government level possible, encourages modernisation initiatives within government to digitise and improve the quality of services, encourages citizen involvement and participation in government decision-making and allows the government to develop new ways of interaction with society. Using the new technology and maximising its benefits will result in the enhanced delivery of basic goods and services which will likewise result in the improvement of the people’s quality of life.

For the Barangay.net alliance, sustained partnership with various sectors help map out opportunities for more and effective stakeholder participation, better governance and delivery of public works and services; builds relationship capital and trust and through coordination, commitment, cooperation and collaboration becomes a driving force for sustainability; and creates new synergies for sustained mechanisms for progress and prosperity. Partnership reduces costs by sharing resources. Value-added partnership or alliance has a synergetic effect and improve chances of desired results.

Objectives of the Project

1. To expand and replicate the e-Barangay project in ten (10) additional barangays in Cebu City.

2. To establish community telecenters or e-Barangays in the 10 additional barangays with access to ICT and related services.

3. To develop and set up useful information application systems in the barangays to improve delivery of basic services and stimulate community livelihood, economy and productivity.

4. To create barangay web portal as a forum for enhanced citizen convenience, participation and empowerment.

5. To provide the mindset and capacity for sustained barangay e-Governance through training and other capability building, social preparation and organisational development activities.

Implementation Strategy and Process Involved

The project will focus on the expansion, replication and content buildup of the e-Barangay project in the ten additional barangays in Cebu City.

As in any community-based project, the Barangay.net project starts and ends at the community. The community is where the policy agenda and stakeholder ownership are defined. How the community sees itself viz a viz the project is central to the issue of sustainability. Intrinsic in all this is the need to create a compelling reason or a buy-in to ensure public acceptance and project support. Social preparation provides this platform and sets the stage for social mobilisation. This process will also help determine community preparedness and e-Readiness and helps the barangay deal with issues of willingness and capacity to pay, community need versus demand for ICT4D, etc. This component more importantly determines the kind of institutional support (from government and private sector) needed to increase prospects for project scalability and replicability. This can be done and secured through project briefing and orientation with community key leaders/stakeholders, preparation of project agreements, and participatory rapid appraisal to gain knowledge of political topography and dynamics. An important output of this activity will be the identification of local champions that will support and push for the agenda of e-Governance at the local level.

The next phase will assess the ICT infrastructure of the barangay. This will involve determining the presence and availability of telecom companies (TELCOS), internet service providers (ISPs), vendors, network infrastructure, etc., the project scope and network designs, the type of service or content or application (e.g. e-Governance, distance education, e-health/telemedicine, business applications, job search, agriculture, SMEs, etc.) that will be developed to best respond to the needs of the community. This phase will also explore various sustainable technology options and business solutions as well as discuss cost issues (i.e. cost benefit analysis, business case, technology depreciation/obsolescence) as they relate to project sustainability.

Setting up the Barangay.net facility will be the next step. This phase will entail the provision of connectivity/internet/access as well as the communication links. This component will also involve the procurement of hardware and other peripherals as well as putting together the operation and management structure at the level of the barangay, including support staff requirements, operating and maintenance costs for the facility, personnel competencies, hiring and other administrative policies, etc. In this component, the barangays will choose in their best light the better option in terms of management and operation of the facility. One school of thought maintains that the project will be better sustained if managed and operated by a community association, as opposed to the idea of a barangay running it – widely perceived to be too willing to make political accommodations to compromise the integrity of the project

After setting up the Barangay.net facility as well as the necessary hardware and operational support to get it started, the next step is to develop and put together the content and relevant applications. Content is key to how the project will be received by the barangays and how much of it they are willing to use and support over time. The content can be very detailed and localised and custom-fit to very sector specific categories and applications needed, i.e. age, gender, group, etc. This is also the phase where databases and websites are created including web portal with other interfacing features. Parallel to all these activities, a comprehensive organisational development and management capability building programme is implemented to improve the capability of the programme implementers at the barangay for e-Governance as they work towards building networks and partnerships, enlarging project constituencies and support, setting up coordination/cooperation/collaboration mechanisms and dealing with issues on project ownership, management and institutionalisation.

Aside from building and improving barangay capacity for e-Governance, this capability building and training component will make the barangays better equipped to implement the project and sustain its benefits. Critical to this component is putting in place the change management systems. Through these systems, the communities will learn the skills to deal with the changes taking place around them as a result of the project. The knowledge and skills generated and shared through these activities should not only be useful towards capacity building (whether organisational development or financial management/fiscal responsibility, etc.) but should also boil down towards spreading the fruits of empowerment and democracy. The skills should be useful tools in creating an environment conducive to widening the arena for community engagement and people empowerment.

To a large extent, sustained efforts to raise public profile and project awareness as it relates to e-Governance will impact on sustainability. People need to be aware of how ICT4D can make a difference in their lives and the positive changes it is creating around their communities to be able to appreciate and embrace the technology. Promoting the project through enhanced advocacy will also help shore up project support and adoption especially in a country where technology diffusion is still widespread. Project advocacy also entails improving the policy environment so that there is a better playing field to replicating the project on a much larger scale. Among the strategies identified to push this component forward include media blitzes, roadshows, briefings, IEC campaigns, etc.

Conclusion

It is expected that one year after the implementation of the project, the operations will be sustained by the income from resource mobilisation activities of the barangays using the internet facilities. Additional revenues will be generated by the different services provided by the project such as: Internet, and other computer services. The income from the first year of operations will be used to cover for maintenance and other operating costs for the succeeding years.

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