How open data help build better roads, communities

Michael Bueza
How open data help build better roads, communities
What do the 10,000 ongoing road projects nationwide mean? They are 'about building better futures,' about bringing people to schools, healthcare services, jobs

MANILA, Philippines – It’s 2015, but many roads remain unpaved, especially in remote areas. Many communities also still experience difficulty receiving basic public services due to poor road networks.

Open data seeks to close that gap to better connect communities, as well as promote transparency in the implementation of road projects.

World Bank senior economist Kai Kaiser presented an online platform for the initiative during Rappler’s Innovation+SocialGood Summit on Saturday, September 26.

The OpenRoads project is part of the government’s Open Data Initiative and is supported by funding from the World Bank. It is accessible via www.openroads.gov.ph.

Officially launched in August 2015 after months of development, the OpenRoads project aims “to bring together the idea of open government, good governance, mapping, and above all, feedback,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser noted that around P767 million in next year’s national budget will be allotted to public infrastructure spending. It translates to 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), he added.

With over 10,000 ongoing road projects nationwide and 7,000 in the pipeline in 2016, Kaiser said that the focus should not just be on building roads and building better ones.

“Building roads are also about connecting communities, building better futures, getting the roads at the right place, getting roads to markets… and also better roads to schools, and thinking how these roads are connecting up,” he said.

Better roads are also key to connecting people to heathcare services and jobs, going to workplaces and other destinations with ease, and leading foreigners and locals to tourist destinations.

“It’s about our road to the places that [we] need to go to,” Kaiser emphasized.

Online platform

The OpenRoads platform, he explained, brings together information on existing road networks, and allows online users to track road projects in their area.

At the moment, data in openroads.gov.ph are comprised of nationally-financed road projects by agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Tourism, said Kaiser.

They include farm-to-market roads and projects under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program.

They also include projects in programs with foreign partners such as the Philippines World Development Program – supported by World Bank financing – and the Provincial Road Management Facility, in partnership with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), said Kaiser.

With the help of geotagging, OpenRoads data are able to be plotted on a map.

Users can also drill down to individual projects and view information about its funding, project status, and project implementation over time.

A snapshot of the OpenRoads website, openroads.gov.ph.

Community feedback

Kaiser, however, emphasized that these data do not mean anything if there is no feedback from the community.

“There are a number of levels of feedback this initiative allows. The first one is understanding: ‘Are the roads actually getting built? Can I now connect to [my destination]?'” he asked.

Once users have an idea on how the road projects and networks look like, “then the conversation can become more sophisticated and better.” At this point, users can see what projects are being prioritized and point out things that might still be missing.

Kaiser added that the platform can have feedback that celebrates successful projects, in the same way it can have feedback that highlights projects lagging behind or having questionable data.

He then called on volunteers to provide feedback not only from their communities but also from far-flung areas that remain disconnected from the Internet.

“You are the digital natives in some ways. But it’s also up to you to bridge that information, reach out to communities that are, in some ways, not in this side of the digital divide, and take this opportunity to engage them,” said Kaiser.

“We would actually encourage you to take your ability and your connection to the Internet, and provide feedback from there,” he continued.

Nevertheless, Kaiser said that they have been optimizing the platform to work in low bandwidth possibly via short-messaging service (SMS), and even offline.

Next frontiers

Kaiser mentioned the next steps the OpenRoads platform could take.

“One of the things we are working with government is: how can you mainstream this practice as part of both the open government policies and the annual budget process?” he asked.

He also hopes that, over time, “this could be something that provincial governments, local governments, and other agencies can take on for other infrastructure areas, not just the roads.”

To conclude, Kaiser suggested that good roads “actually make for good politics.”

“Platforms like this and a government that is willing to put information on the public domain are really a full step to realizing our roads to the places that we want to go to, and also bringing these projects to fruition.”

In the end, it all leads to how roads matter to you and your community. – Rappler.com

What roads need to be properly maintained or built in order to promote development in poor communities within the country? Let us know. Take photos, turn on precise location and tweet using #OpenRoads!

Learn more about how you can help improve road conditions in the Philippines:

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.