You are browsing the archive for Hazwany (Nany) Jamaluddin.

How we, as Open Data community, can improve International Open Data Conference (IODC) together?

- November 7, 2016 in community, Inclusive, IODC, Malaysia, Open Knowledge, Sinar Project

I had initially assumed that I would be unable to attend the International Open Data Conference (IODC) 2016 due to lack of funding. Fortunately, Open Knowledge International (OKI) chose me to join the IODC unconference (and thank you IDRC/OD4D for sponsoring my trip) to represent and share the perspective of Sinar Project, one of our collaborative projects. So, props to OKI for being such a generous sport in flying a person from the other side of the globe to IODC in Madrid. It was my first physical attendance to IODC (and my first time in continental Europe!). Based on my experiences at IODC16 as a participant, volunteer facilitator and volunteer notetaker, I would like to share some ideas on how we can improve the IODC conference format for 2018 in Argentina. From the point of view as a female hijabi southeast Asian-born person of colour who works in a civil society organisation based in Southeast Asia, I see that international conferences such as IODC often lack two fundamental aspects:
1. Diversity
2. Inclusiveness
I am aware that IODC is meant to be a meeting point for the global community to debate and study the future of open data. However, when it comes to “Global Goals, Local Impact” (the theme of this year’s conference), there are a number of aspects of the conference which hinder its ability to be inclusive and diverse from the beginning. Diversity and inclusiveness can and should act as the foundation of IODC, balancing at the same time cost-effectiveness and hopefully, sustainability. Here are some ideas (or a proposal for a session in IODC18) –
To promote global participation and sustainable discussion for the future of open data, remote participation is crucial for communities who are unable to attend the conference physically. Even though face to face interaction is the best way for communication and decision making, physical participation comes with a high price to cover incurred costs for travel, accommodation and per diem. Following are four points that we, as the global, digital & data driven community, need to consider when we talk actively about diversity and inclusiveness while supporting communities who are facing difficulties in constraint environments.

Are we really inclusive? (Image: IODC16)

1. The element of remote

The Open Data field has many challenges to deal with, as well as strategies and shared experiences. Wouldn’t the discussion be more thought provoking when sessions are adaptable for remote panels where anybody and everybody from around the world can contribute their input in the session? We don’t need to eliminate the panel format entirely, but there should be a flexibility where panel format can be changed from its traditional form to reduce the interaction of barriers between moderator(s), speaker(s) and audiences. For an example of this in practice, the Data + Accountability I session was in an un-panel format. The un-panel format is the opposite of panel format where there are more live interaction and feedback from the attendees/participants with speakers and moderators. This format is done off the stage and most of the discussion made in a circle. This allows better knowledge sharing. As a requirement, I propose at least three moderators to able to moderate the discussions in verbal and in written because handling participants from around the world are challenging. Best example found so far: The Open Exchange Facilitation workshop. The flow of the workshop was moderated by three people (2 of which were monitoring actively in the chat room) with very clear participant guidelines, and it was done in remotely via GoToMeeting. Additionally, careful planning is crucial to allow smooth operation throughout this session. When it comes to igniting discussions and encouraging feedback, diverse participants are important in making the discussion itself more inclusive.
For example, who would have known that a country like Malaysia would benefit from applying social audit approaches practiced in Kenya to hold the decision makers accountable?

2. Outreach & Capacity Building

As a follow-up to point 1, we have to approach the right target group(s) that are reliable and responsive in respective projects while sharing common goals. I echoed this point in an article on the creation of elites, how can you address the repetition of participation of small groups of elites that claim to represent the minorities and the communities in their respective country/region? Following are four groups that we, the open data community, need to consider approaching particularly: non-tech skilled persons that have experiences in rights-based issues, tech experienced individuals, intermediaries, and beneficiaries.

Nany in the unconference discussing capacity building (image: IODC16)

3. Window shopping

This is not just any a typical kind of window shopping. This is window shopping for funding. Can IODC be more than just a one-off meeting point? Wouldn’t it be great if some percentage of the conference budget allocated to fund projects at the end of the conference? There is another way to have an added value for IODC: fund small scale & measurable open data projects by regions. This is where organisers of sessions participate with a mission to not just bring ideas and share it with the world but to make it come to life in small projects. IODC can become a platform where organisers of sessions begin to experiment their ideas that can really lead to social change.

4. Measurement of progress

In supporting all of the points above, we need to look at two aspects of measuring the growth of our target groups: period to measure progress (minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 2 years) and milestones for both achievements and failures. More importantly, we must ensure there are suitable mechanisms for capacity building. There should be an expectation set to allow organisers to evaluate progress. This progress should be shared with IODC organisers, attendees and the rest of the world. Furthermore, in the proposed session on diversity and inclusivity, we can discuss further:
– Barriers of participation for remote participants and panels/facilitators
– Best practices in collecting feedbacks before and after participating IODC
– Is a centralized hub a useful contribution for remote participation? Are there any existing examples?
– Ways to attract new participants and panels/facilitators
There is a need for capacity building internally and externally so the open data community can ensure local communities understand the importance of open data. This will entail further training/coaching people to make use of open data, putting the pressure on policy makers to implement better National Action Plans, improving Freedom of Information policy, and a renewed focus on better open government policy. Therefore, let’s spare some energy to make IODC more inclusive and diverse through remote participation and see how we can grow together collectively as a movement.

Turning data into action: what we learned from conducting social audits on public housing communities in Malaysia

- September 29, 2016 in Open Data Partnership For Development, Open Spending

The Sinar Project in Malaysia is exploring ways of making critical information public and accessible to Malaysian citizens. The project is supported by the Open Data for Development (OD4D) programme and has been run in collaboration with OpenSpending at Open Knowledge International. In our previous blog post, we provided an overview of the Sinar Project’s work opening budget data in Malaysia. In this second post, we would like to share what we learned through the urban poverty survey we conducted in Kota Damansara – a township located in Selangor. The survey was designed to collect information on the status and needs of citizens in this community.
“The survey was designed to collect information on the status and needs of citizens in this community…Our ability to understand [public housing] issues is severely limited by a lack of accurate, up-to-date data…”

The aim of this effort was to compare and contrast the allocation priorities of government at all levels with the on-the-ground reality of citizens living in public housing, often living below the minimum wage of MYR1,000 in Selangor state. Selangor has a reported median household income of MYR 6,214 and population distribution of 19.9%. Ultimately, our goal was to to use the data that we collected to advocate for better, more evidence based budget decisions.
urban-survey-1Image credit: Author

Collecting and organising the data

There are a number public policy challenges facing public housing in Malaysia. For example:
  1. Infrastructure development
  2. Facility accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities
  3. Security and safety
  4. Health coverage and access
  5. Education coverage and supervision
  6. Welfare coverage and supervision for families living under the poverty line
Our ability to understand these issues is severely limited by a lack of accurate, up-to-date data. This is further complicated by the fact that it is difficult to gather budget information to understand how public funds are flowing between different levels of government and how they are intended to be used. Currently, it is very hard for policy researchers, journalists and civil society organisations to determine how allocated budgets relate to official government policies and how that translates to the implementation of government programmes on the ground. One way to collect raw data on these issues is to run a social audit, a process of evaluating official records in order to determine whether reported expenditures match unofficial reports and surveys. The social audit process works in parallel to opening budget data and has proven effective at collecting the requisite information needed to begin to address the issues communities are facing. Our social audit was comprised of two components, an urban poverty survey and issue reports through AduanKu (a web application based on FixMyStreet).

Urban poverty survey – our data collection methods

We used the urban poverty survey to gather information on various socio-economic indicators such as poverty rate, unemployment rate, child mortality rate, crime rate and literacy rate of Kota Damansara public housing residents. We conducted a survey that included 40 questions, grouped in five categories:
  1. General
  2. Employment & Education
  3. Household Financial Management
  4. Cleanliness & Health
  5. Safety
There are 18 floors in one public housing block and on each floor there are roughly 16 residential units. According to residents of Kota Damansara public housing, there are more than 1000 residential units in the four public house blocks, which, for the urban poverty survey, were referred to as blocks A, B, C, and D. We surveyed 415 households. The average household size was four. In order to document data from this survey, we created two forms: Household Form (in Malay) & Member Form (in Malay). Households were assigned an ID based on their address in order to easily match the data from the two forms.
urbansurvey2Image credit: author
The survey captures data on the following for both individual members of the household and the household as a whole:
  1. Demographic profile ie gender, age, marital status, nationality, race, religion and place of birth by state
  2. Employment and Education ie unemployment, sector of employment, income, personal expenses, contributions to household, academic qualification, reading & writing skills
  3. Disability and Special Aid ie identifying persons with disabilities or family members that suffers from any severe illnesses
  4. Cellphone / Smartphone Usage
This only scratched the surface of potential information that we could collect but was sufficient for the goals of social audit. However, in conducting the survey, we identified a number of ways that the survey could have been improved both in terms of the structure and clarity of the questions. Data entry is an ongoing process and we will continue to make it publicly available on Malaysian Civil Society Open Data Portal.

Preliminary findings from the urban poverty survey

A number of socio-economic indicators were collected and analysed through the urban poverty survey. The preliminary findings show that the average household size is 4 and average income per household is MYR1,500/month. Keeping in mind that the national minimum wage is MYR 1,000/month in Peninsular Malaysia and MYR 920/month in east Malaysia, a monthly household income of MYR 1,500 is low.
urbansurvey3Image credit: author
Examples of analysis from collected raw data are as follows:
  1. Mean household income: MYR 1814.576
  2. Mean total household expenditure: MYR 1546.1309
  3. Mean household size: 4 members
To know more detailed breakdown of statistics in Kota Damansara public housing, you can read it from here.
urban-survey-4Image credit: author

Issues reported in AduanKu – a web-based application based on FixMyStreet

In addition to the urban poverty survey, we set up an online application to report, view and discuss local issues. AduanKu allows residents to report broken infrastructure in public housing of Kota Damansara. To date, there are 18 reports from the PPR Kota Damansara zone. Once an issue is reported online, it is manually submitted to the responsible agencies, for example, the state-owned agency Property and Housing Selangor Sdn Bhd. We are continuing to collect issue reports as at present, the 18 reports collected are not considered strong enough evidence of the systemic problems faced by the residents in the housing block. We were able to consult with the elected councillor for Zone 3 (PJU4 & PJU5) of Petaling Jaya, Shatiri Mansor, to roll AduanKu out to the whole of Zone 3. As a result of the roll out,  94 reports have been submitted online and these reports are under supervision of Zone 3 office. From 94 reports, 8 street problems have been fixed and this number continues to grow. However, while the Kota Damansara public housing premise is within the Zone 3 boundary, the land belongs to the state-owned agency Selangor State Development Corporation. As such, the broken infrastructure on the public housing’s premise is not under the jurisdiction of Zone 3 office and is instead under the jurisdiction of the Property and Housing Selangor Sdn Bhd.

Informing the authorities on our social audit findings

On behalf of public housing communities, a memorandum was submitted to the Selangor State Chief Minister at the Freedom of Information forum hosted by Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) and to the Speaker of Selangor at the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. As a follow up from the memorandum, a meeting was organised on August 8th, 2016 by the Board of Property and Housing Selangor to bring together several stakeholders to discuss issues faced by the communities. The meeting gave us a forum to present concrete evidence to discuss how the budget allocated to the management company, Property and Housing Selangor Sdn Bhd (PHSSB), was being used. For example, PHSSB received MYR5 million to repair railings in all four blocks, according to 2014/2015 budgets for maintenance. However, through interviews with residents and inspection, it is not clear how these funds were used and what repairs were actually made. Many railings remain wobbly and unstable. Unfortunately, while we were able to raise these issues, authorities have maintained that we have not provided sufficient evidence to support claims raised by the communities.This demonstrates that we need to do more. This highlights that communities still remain at a disadvantage due to inadequacy of the system. Even as we continue to collect our own data, where official government statistics are lacking, there is a risk that this evidence will not be accepted or deemed adequate by authorities. Nevertheless, the experience also demonstrates the need for transparency and the importance of Freedom of Information. For example, a list of expenses incurred by PHSSB that was obtained via a freedom of information request points to a potential discrepancy that might indicate that PHSSB is overcharging for water. Further investigation is necessary but the ability to gain access to official documents helps us know where to look.

Evidence-based data can help communities and journalists

In Malaysia, data journalism is in its earliest stages. Most data shared and visualised in media articles and research are not open data. With the results from the urban poverty survey and issue reports that we have gathered, journalists and civil society could use it as hard evidence to raise issues faced by communities on the ground, identify responsible agencies/elected representatives and place a spotlight on them. The template of the urban poverty survey is publicly available online. urbansurvey5 With limited access to expenditure information and contracts, tools to gather evidence should be used by the communities to hold government’s accountable. We think that urban poverty surveys and issue reports on AduanKu can help in the following ways:
  1. Communities can use these tools to hold the government at all levels (including the federal/state owned agencies) accountable by showing them how policies affect citizens from the ground up.
  2. Communities can also use this data to highlight budget priorities to decision makers for future participatory budgeting sessions. To unlock the truth of what policymakers actually plan, we must look at the fiscal budgets at all governmental levels alongside the policies simultaneously.
In order to make the case to the elected representatives, public officials and the government about the reality on the ground, we will continue to collect evidence highlighting community needs.

Sinar Project in Malaysia works to open budget data at all levels of government

- July 26, 2016 in Malaysia, Open Spending

“Open Spending Data in Constrained Environments” is a project being lead by Sinar Project in Malaysia aimed exploring ways to of making critical information public and accessible to Malaysian citizens. The project is supported by the Open Data for Development programme and has been run in collaboration with Open Knowledge International & OpenSpending In Malaysia, fiscal information exists at all three levels of government, the federal, the state and the municipal. There are complicated relationships and laws that dictate how budget flows through the different levels of government and, as the information is not published as open data, by any level of government, it is incredibly challenging for citizens to understand and track how public funds are being spent. This lack of transparency creates an environment for potential mismanagement of funds and facilitates corruption.

Earlier this year, the prime minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, announced the revised budgets for 2016 in response to slow economic growth, that is a result of declining oil and commodity price coupled with stagnant demand from China. As a result, it was paramount to restructure the 2016 federal budget in order to find a savings of US $2.1 billion. That will make possible for the government  to maintain its 2016 fiscal budget target at least at 3.1 percent of the country’s GDP. One of the biggest cuts from the revised 2016 budget is the public scholarships for higher education.
“Higher education institutions had their budget slashed by RM2.4 billion (US$573 million), from RM15.78 billion (US$3.8 billion) in 2015 to RM13.37 billion (US$3.2 billion) for the year 2016.” – Murray Hunter, Asian Correspondent

When numbers get this big, it is often difficult for people to understand what the real impact and implications of these cuts are going to be on the service citizens depend on. While it is the role of journalists and civil society to act as an infomediary and relay this information to citizens, without access to comprehensive, reliable budget and spending data it becomes impossible for us to fulfil our civic duty of keeping citizens informed. Open budget and spending data is vital in order to demonstrate to the public the real life impact large budget cuts will have. Over the past few months, we have worked on a pilot project to try to make this possible. While the federal budgets that have been presented to Parliament are accessible on the Ministry of Finance website, we were only able to access state and municipal governments budgets through directly contacting state assemblyman and local councillors.
Given this lack of proactive transparency and limited mechanisms for reactive transparency, it was necessary to employ alternative mechanism devised to hold governments accountable. In this case, we decided to conduct a social audit.

Kota Damansara public housing. Credit: Sze Ming

Social audits are mechanisms in which users collect evidence to publicly audit, as a community, the provision of services by government. One essential component of a social audit is taking advantage of the opportunity to work closely with communities in order to connect and empower traditionally disenfranchised communities. Here in Malaysia, we started our social audit work by conducting several meetings with communities living in public house in Kota Damansara, a town in the district of Petaling Jaya in Selangor State, in order to gain a better understanding of the challenges they were facing and to map these issues against various socio-economic and global development indicators. Then, we conducted an urban poverty survey where we managed to collect essential data on 415 residents from 4 blocks in Kota Damansara public housing. This urban poverty survey covered several indicators that were able to tell us more about the poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the child mortality rate and the literacy rate within this community. From the preliminary results of the survey, we have found that all residents are low income earners, currently living under the poverty line. These findings stand in contrast to the question asked in the Parliament last year on income distribution of the nation’s residents, where it was declared that there is a decrease of about 0.421% of people in poverty in Malaysia. Moreover, in order for citizens to hold the Selangor state government accountable, civil society could use this data as evidence to demand that allocated budgets are increased in order to give financial/welfare support to disenfranchised communities in Kota Damansara public housing. What’s next? In order to measure the impact of open data and social audit, we are planning a follow up of urban poverty surveys. Since the upcoming general elections will be held on 2018, the follow up of the surveys  will be applied each 4 months after the first survey, in order to document if there are any changes or improvements made by the decision makers for better policies in the respective constituency and making better budget priorities that match the proposed/approved public policies.