The author with CHED Chairperson Dr. Patricia Licuanan
The participants of the activity are the presidents and heads of universities and institutions, heads of the research department or outreach and community extension program, KDC coordinators, and KDC information officers. Development partners, select government agencies and civil society organizations also participated in the activity.
The Meeting, entitled “Exploring Approaches to Community Engagement,” highlighted the results of a study conducted by the World Bank, with support from the Government of Australia, on the approaches to community engagement of universities (ACE-U). The activity also provided a venue to discuss the programs of selected government agencies and identify opportunities for KDCs to participate in those programs. In particular, it focused on the current status of the community engagement programs of the universities in the country and the assistance of different partners to bridge the knowledge gaps and provide a better knowledge platform to their local communities.
Most of the projects mentioned during the KDC Meeting started from the universities themselves. I raised a point: but how about civil society organizations and citizens starting the projects and later on partnering with universities? In particular, I was referring to an example such as Open Contracting in the Classroom and Beyond (OCCB).
OCCB is an ANSA-EAP project funded by the World Bank Institute through the Ateneo School of Government. Working with UP NCPAG and other institutions, four professors were identified from different fields: public administration, political science and journalism. They were invited to a writeshop on open contracting and social accountability for module development for their respective classes. Afterwards, they cascaded the lessons to their students and the students, in turn, created projects related to OC+SAc, which can be in the form of news, interviews, videos, written outputs, et cetera. The project was a semi-finalist for the worldwide Ashoka Changemakers Close the Feedback Loop competition. ANSA-EAP is looking for the possibility of expansion, as well as potential partnerships with CHED in these kinds of endeavors.
I introduced OCCB during the open forum with the idea of getting feedback as well as opening doors for partnerships in mind.
Dr. Licuanan, CHED chairperson, replied that currently there are no government funds for these kinds of initiatives, but such is a function of being locked into traditional things that it supports, for example capacity building for teachers, or improvement of education, et cetera. However, that does not stop government institutions from exploring the possibility of these types of projects. Indeed, there is an increasing interest in alternative ways of involving people, and CHED is open to the idea of OCCB and other similar initiatives.
Most of the CSOs and HEIs present were also open to the idea of partnerships, and are hopeful to find projects and funding which could utilize the potential of the youth in universities and the expertise of teachers in forwarding the SAc advocacy.
The KDC Meeting was a good way to learn about HEI involvement in community governance and projects, not only in the Philippines but in Australia as well. It is a good example of citizen engagement and community monitoring.
There are, of course, areas for improvement. Constructive engagement is lacking, as there are no avenues for feedback to and cooperation with both national government agencies and local government units, however engaged the citizens are. Another aspect that needs to be looked into is the sustainability of said projects. There is a considerable number of projects mentioned which were spearheaded by the KDC university-members, but the question of continuity remains. What is important would be long-lasting effects of said projects, and this is also where the partnership with government comes in, to enable institutionalization of these initiatives. The significance of SAc is then highlighted, particularly constructive engagement in coordinating with government efforts, in order to keep these projects sustainable and more effective to the communities. This is a potential entry point wherein we can introduce the SAc advocacy. In fact, this initiative in engaging HEIs has been started by ANSA-EAP a few years back, and has produced curricula and learning manuals. OCCB takes it a notch further by integrating SAc lessons into core topics of various academic fields.
In conclusion, HEI initiatives are very promising. They tap into the power of the universities as developing areas of expertise and learning facilities, as well as the creativity and human resources that students provide. With a little help from both CSOs and government agencies to guide them into the right direction, these projects and programs can become more effective and sustainable, not to mention viable for further expansion and replication, to help improve service delivery to communities, the promotion of welfare and the protection of the rights of citizens.
The author is a Country Innovations Associate of ANSA-EAP. He is also the Project Manager for i-budget.mo (IBM), a participatory budgeting initiative utilizing online and offline modes of engagement. He dreams of a better Philippines, one community at a time.