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SERP-P Network celebrates accomplishments, forges commitments at 4th biennial meeting

More than 50 representatives from 29 member-institutions in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao took part in the 4th Network Biennial Meeting of the Socioeconomic Research Portal for the Philippines (SERP-P) Project held on December 6, 2016, at the PIDS Office in Quezon City. The Biennial Meeting aimed to strengthen the partnership between and among the SERP-P member-institutions; discuss the issues, challenges, and opportunities relevant in implementing the project; and identify strategies and develop future pathways for SERP-P.

In his opening remarks, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) President Gilberto Llanto noted that in an era where changes are coming from many different ways, the value of organizations like SERP-P becomes more pronounced. "SERP-P is about the truth; it is about empirical evidence and producing policies that are evidence-based," he remarked. Hinting on the importance of truth, Llanto emphasized the role of SERP-P in creating an avenue not for post-truth, which is largely based on emotional appeal or subjective interpretation, but for the "unvarnished truth".

As the first electronic repository of policy research that capitalizes on knowledge networking in the country, Llanto said that since 2002, SERP-P has endeavored to share and integrate the research work of different institutions, particularly universities, to reach a wider audience and to penetrate different stakeholders' agenda.

"This is how you optimize its [research] value: by giving people the opportunity to mine data and ideas, which they use to improve society," Llanto added.

As one of the prime movers of SERP-P since its launch 14 years ago, PIDS Senior Research Fellow and SERP-P Technical Adviser Dr. Aniceto Orbeta Jr. provided a brief history of the project. According to him, SERP-P emerged as a function of the mandate of PIDS to provide research materials that support the formulation of national development plans and policies.

With limited resources, however, Orbeta said that "there is a natural need for PIDS to reach out to universities, colleges, and other research institutions, and seek their assistance in jointly addressing the policy research gaps of the country."

Orbeta, therefore, noted that a network of research institutions sharing their research outputs is a better way of fulfilling the mandate of PIDS. Ultimately, the goal is to influence policy discussions with evidence-based research and, eventually, craft effective and efficient policies.

"We cannot fill all the research needs of the country; that is the value of the network. This where SERP-P comes in. One can think of SERP-P as essentially a continuous research fair on the web," stressed Orbeta.

SERP-P accomplishments

SERP-P Project Manager Dr. Sheila Siar then presented the accomplishments of the project since the last biennial meeting in 2014. With the contributions from the SERP-P Network, the portal is now home to more than 5,600 socioeconomic materials.

In her presentation, Siar discussed the two main challenges confronted by the project: (1) lack of contributions from inactive member-institutions and (2) low level of awareness of SERP-P among its intended users. To resolve this, Siar reported that the SERP-P team at PIDS continuously conducts coaching sessions in using the SERP-P content management system (CMS). SERP-P reorientation and promotion programs, which are an attempt to raise the awareness of the research community about SERP-P, were also conducted in different knowledge events in the country. Most notable are the Database Management Seminar for the Mindanao Knowledge Center (MKC) held in Davao City, a presentation at the Young Economists' International Conference held in Manila, and promotional activities simultaneously conducted with PIDS co-sponsored events in Butuan and Cebu. Late in 2015, the SERP-P team also participated in the Global Open Knowledge Hub meeting in Brighton, United Kingdom.

Other accomplishments include the redesign of the SERP-P website, automatic updating of the SERP-P mobile page, and continuous production of the SERP-P News and SERP-P Monthly. Siar also reported that starting in 2016, unique users of the SERP-P website increased from less than 1000 users to more than 2000. "SERP-P is not owned by PIDS. It is OUR project, our collective endeavor. With the cooperation and support of all member-institutions, we can accomplish more in the coming years," Siar said. She added that the meeting is a venue to chart future pathways for SERP-P and to craft strategies that will address persistent issues, particularly the inactivity of some SERP-P member-institutions.

Engaging SERP-P member-institutions

Following the presentation of accomplishments, Jun Bautista and Mark Vincent Aranas, SERP-P web developer and coordinator, respectively, presented the new SERP-P website and demonstrated how to use the SERP-P CMS.

Motivated by the feedback received from the knowledge events attended by the SERP-P team, the redesign of the SERP-P website was centered on improving its facilities, particularly in terms of search options; navigating inside the website; updating statistics; and adding new features, such as spotlight issues for researchers and publications. According to Bautista, the new website intends to not only improve how the website looks (i.e., frontend) but also improve the "total user experience" of SERP-P.

Meanwhile, Aranas demonstrated how to upload publications on the SERP-P CMS. He said that the CMS was designed to provide the member-institutions with direct access to SERP-P by giving them login credentials and allowing them to upload their own publications. He added that member-institutions can upload materials, news articles, and events through the CMS. During the demonstration, problems confronted by member-institutions in terms of contributing materials also surfaced. These include poor Internet connection, particularly among state universities and colleges; lack of manpower; and clearance issues.

To aid the participants with information regarding copyright and licensing, Aranas also tackled ways on how to employ the open access agenda. He centered his presentation on licensing content using Creative Commons licenses. According to Aranas, explicitly giving a material a license allows the copyright holder to determine how the content can be reused, revised, remixed, and/or redistributed. He stressed, however, that copyright holders or authors should assign the correct and appropriate license from the start, as this is irrevocable.

Furthermore, to demonstrate a prolific partnership between the SERP-P team at PIDS and another member-institution, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Executive Director Dr. Janet Lopoz talked about the MKC, whose goal is to serve as the leading resource of policy research and experts on Mindanao, and to share research studies among academic institutions, government agencies, and international organizations. Lopoz acknowledged the assistance of the SERP-P team in helping them come up with strategies in managing their own database.

"Since we have been engaged with PIDS [through SERP-P] in a number of initiatives in Mindanao, the momentum of the MKC has been fast-tracked," Lopoz noted.

Ways forward

During the afternoon session, an interactive group work on strategic forecasting was conducted. The activity aimed to develop short-, medium-, and long-term visions for the SERP-Project (i.e., for 2018, 2020, and 2022, respectively). Strategies in the form of activities and policies to achieve these goals were also discussed.

Divided into five groups, the participants developed future pathways for the SERP-P Project. Some recurring themes surfaced.

For 2018, the vision is for a more strengthened and engaged SERP-P Network with members fully committed in contributing materials to the portal and in promoting the open access agenda. In 2020, the participants envision the SERP-P website as one of the leading open access repository of research materials in the country, with a wider reach and expanded research coverage. In 2022, the participants envision a SERP-P Project that finds its way into the global arena, with the goal of establishing a research culture among its primary stakeholders. These pathways, according to Aranas, will serve as the compass of the project in the next few years, particularly in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of SERP-P in 2022.

To achieve these goals, the participants drew specific recommendations that include, among others: pursuing formalization of partnership through a memorandum of understanding; incentivizing most active members through nonmonetary measures, such as providing certificates of recognition; increasing social media presence by liking and sharing SERP-P materials and events on Facebook; conducting more frequent meetings and promotional activities by visiting the locale of each member-institution; developing a briefing package or kit about SERP-P and the open access agenda, which can be used by SERP-P coordinators in promoting the project; and pursuing a study on SERP-P website users (i.e., demographics) to further customize knowledge services.

"In the succeeding years, the challenge to SERP-P is how to stay relevant amid increasing competition, and how to harness the advancements in technology to better improve our services. Our competitive advantage is that we are composed of 53 member-institutions—with diverse research expertise and resources—all working toward innovating knowledge exchange and making sure information is available and easily accessible for the research community," said Aranas.

To get these plans in motion, commitment, according to Siar, is necessary. She added: "commitment is something that we should continuously build and demonstrate." She also reminded the participants that SERP-P is not just a portal but also a network composed of people with talents and research capacities. Siar added that each member-institution has a duty to the research community, to policymakers, and to the public to serve as champions of knowledge exchange and help ensure that policies are backed up by evidence-based research.

At the end of the meeting, seven member-institutions were given certificates of recognition for being the most active members of SERP-P in terms of contributing materials to the SERP-P database from 2014 to 2016. These are (1) MinDA, (2) Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, (3) Central Philippine University, (4) University of the Philippines Los Baños-Center for Strategic Planning and Policy Studies, (5) Silliman University, (6) Congressional Planning and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives, and (7) National Economic and Development Authority-Caraga. (Mark Vincent Aranas)