Open Data Boot Camp for UP-NCPAG

Date Originally Published: May 05, 2015
Date Republished: October 13, 2017


In support of our thrust to promote the use and reuse of data, the Task Force recently partnered with the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG) to organize a two-day Open Data Boot Camp. Focusing on essential data skills such as scraping, cleaning, and visualizing, the Boot Camp briefed the participants on the value of open formats, clean datasets, and appealing infographics. The event was attended by members of the UP-NCPAG’s Center for Local and Regional Governance (CLRG), Center for Leadership, Citizenship, and Democracy (CLCD), and Center for Policy and Executive Development (CPED), as well as their colleagues from the UP-NCPAG Publications Office and faculty.

Given UP-NCPAG’s focus on research, training, and consultancy, the Boot Camp aimed to boost the capacity of the participants to effectively manage and communicate data. Researchers who handle data on a regular basis were especially targeted, as the skills involved could directly affect and ease their work. The prospect of secondhand training was also considered. Since UP-NCPAG’s centers conduct trainings for local officials and civil society organizations (CSOs), it was hoped that the participants could eventually pass on the skills they learned during the Boot Camp to other stakeholders.

Day 1 began with introductions to the Open Government Partnership and Open Data Philippines. Task Force Policy Lead Gabe Baleos gave an overview of the basic principles of open governance and open data, emphasizing the limits of PDF, the benefits of openness, and the many opportunities available to make data relevant to everyday life. Specific examples include New York City’s Don’t Eat At, London’s Bus Guru, and Metro Manila’s own Sakay.ph. All three apps use government data to improve city life, from warning citizens about restaurants at risk of closure to streamlining commuting options. Developer Evangelist Nick Castro in turn talked about Open Data Philippines. Apart from providing a summary of our journey thus far, he also gave updates onadvancements in open data policy, including the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

Afterward, Citizen Engagement Officer Michelle Manza spoke about the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Data Pipeline, which breaks down the process of working with datasets into specific steps, from asking a question to presenting data. Crucial segments of this pipeline—such as cleaning and visualizing data—were discussed more deeply in later sessions. Overall, Manza stressed that while researchers often already have their own established procedures, it is important to keep the pipeline sequence in mind, and remember that data should first be properly understood before it can be communicated.

The next session was conducted by Data Team members Gianne Gaoiran and Ed Magturo. It involved a short lecture on the basics of data management (closed vs. open formats, metadata, etc.) and a hands-on exercise on scraping and cleaning datasets. Tools used include Online OCR, which converts scanned PDFs and images into editable text; Tabula, which allows easy extraction of tables from PDFs; and Table Capture, which copies HTML tables to the clipboard for easy reuse. Creatives Lead Smile Indias led the succeeding presentations on basic design principles and visualizing data. Beginning with a few slides on today’s fast-paced world and the need for effective, eye-catching designs, Indias moved on to guidelines for choosing colors, combining fonts, and structuring layouts. She also discussed the different types of charts and their best usage. During the hands-on workshop, she introduced the participants to free online tools such as Wordle, Many Eyes, and Raw, all of which allow users to create exciting visualizations.

The first day ended with a session called Stories in Our Data: How to Create Narratives from Numbers. After a short lecture, the attendees—grouped according to their NCPAG affiliation—were asked to come up with a data visualization plan. Over the next hour, they decided on specific datasets and identified key aspects of their plan: message, audience, and medium. They then presented these plans to the whole group. The next day, the four teams—CLRG, CLCD, CPED, and the Publications Office—were given time to execute these plans before again taking the stage for presentations. Their datasets ranged from Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) releases and the Good Governance Index to PhilHealth data and the spending patterns of local government units (LGUs). Members of the audience and the Task Force gave comments on both the conceptualization and visualization aspects of their output.

As one of the Boot Camp’s objectives was to empower UP-NCPAG’s centers to apply open data to their work, the four teams were also asked to share commitment statements. The CLRG pledged to improve the materials they produce and share their knowledge of open data with LGUs. The CPED promised to make their in-house data downloadable and include open data as one of the advocacies in their training programs. The CLCD and Publications Office in turn agreed to allow public access to their data, while also working to improve their visualizations. The Boot Camp ended on this note, accompanied by a few closing remarks from Dr. Erwin Alampay, Executive Director of the CLRG.

The Open Data Task Force is committed to forming partnerships with key stakeholders like UP-NCPAG. While the Boot Camp served as an effective introduction to open data, the Task Force recognizes that more engagements are needed to solidify this partnership and ensure that the skills imparted during the Boot Camp make an impact on the centers’ work. As such, over the coming months, Outreach Lead Ivygail Ong will coordinate with UP-NCPAG for follow-up meetings, during which the Task Force will try to further build the centers’ capacity for open data and identify areas of possible support. All this serves to bring us closer to our goal of widespread data use, with active users empowered to access government data and equipped with the necessary skills to use it for the improvement of lives.