This is the year of data.

Every year, the World Bank releases its World Development Report, which discusses the most pressing development issues in the world. This year is no exception as the whole report is dedicated to an issue that plays a central role in development but remains overlooked and unappreciated: data. Aptly titled “Data for Better Lives,” it discusses the “unprecedented growth of data” and “explores the tremendous potential of the changing data landscape to improve the lives of poor people.”

Coincidentally, 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of Action for Economic Reforms and is the year that we launched our Data-Driven Development (3D for short) Program. The 3D Program is all about data: promoting a culture conducive to data and evidence, and making them the foundation for responsive local governance and active citizen participation. At its core, the 3D Program advocates human-centered data-driven development by harnessing the power of participatory systems design thinking in the utilization of data and technology for evidence-based solutions.

This comes at an opportune time. First, the Supreme Court’s Mandanas Ruling is expected to increase internal revenue allotments for local government units (LGUs) by 30%, starting 2022. Data-driven approaches can (and should) be used to inform LGUs to direct such resources towards local development.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed gaps in the government’s response, particularly due to weak data infrastructure. Without timely data on cases, disadvantaged groups and underlying priorities, the government was unable to provide the needed support, and had to launch an ambitious data collection effort at a time when such efforts are difficult and overdue.

Third, the implementation of the Philippine Identification System Act is being fast-tracked to properly identify and target beneficiaries for safety net programs. Moreover, the Community-Based Monitoring System Act now requires all LGUs to regularly collect disaggregated data for designing policies and monitoring impact over time.

Amidst these developments, key challenges remain. The problem stems from a culture that places little importance on data as an instrument for open and participative governance. Without an understanding of their constituents through data, National Government and LGUs will be unprepared for catastrophic events, unable to create policies that respond to the people’s needs. The confluence of these measures and events provides a strong basis to advocate human-centered data-driven development in the Philippines.

How does AER envision this to happen? Through the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union, AER is partnering with 14 LGUs, 11 state universities and colleges (SUCs), as well as over 20 civil society organizations (CSOs) around the Philippines to implement data-driven approaches to governance and participation.

Within the project, we have three major components, namely the Data Lab, the Policy Lab, and Partnerships.

The Data Lab focuses on the “data to evidence” arm. Here, we promote high-quality data collection, state-of-the-art data management, and rigorous data analytics to ensure that raw data are transformed into insightful evidence.

The Policy Lab focuses on the “evidence to policy” arm. Here, we engender evidence-based policymaking, and use the evidence to inform local policies and programmatic interventions.

The Partnerships arm leads the “Data and Tech Alliance for Development” (DATA4Dev) Coalition, a national multi-stakeholder coalition of LGUs, SUCs, and CSOs, with a local chapter in each of our project sites.

We are just getting started. There are more, exciting initiatives in store for the next two years (and beyond), and we look forward to inviting everyone to be part of this data-driven initiative. Echoing the World Bank’s mantra of “data for better lives,” we say that data-driven development is simply about harnessing better data to inform better policies that shape better lives.


Laurence Go (@golaurencego) is the Data Lead for the 3D Program and a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. He finished his economics PhD at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. For more details on the 3D Program, visit the webpage: For the USAID project, visit and for the EU project, visit

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