Insights and Analysis

A Data-Driven Peace Dividend for the Bangsamoro

May 26, 2021

By Addie Unsi and Joselle Janolo

Approaches to development in conflict-affected parts of the world often stick to the tried and tested, slowly building communities or institutions from the ground up. As the southern Philippines emerges from decades of conflict, it has a chance to introduce some modern-day solutions that embrace data analysis as part of a renewal of governance.




The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was created in 2019, paving the way for three major changes: geographic expansion, structural transformation of the regional government, and greater fiscal powers for that government.

The structural transformation included shifting from an executive to a parliamentary form of government, almost completely overhauling the staff of the regional government, and drastically changing the structure of regional offices responsible for service delivery. There are many challenges in such extensive change, but there are also opportunities, especially for bringing in new skills and competencies to meet the current needs of BARMM citizens.

One of these opportunities is to revamp the approach to data in governance. Quality data is necessary for understanding development challenges, and data science and analytics are essential for evidence-based policymaking, peacebuilding, and governance.


What does the BARMM need to move forward? Data-driven solutions.

One effort to sow the seeds for new solutions is the recently completed BARMM Data Challenge. The BARMM Data Challenge invited all Filipino data-science enthusiasts to develop insights, strategies, or solutions for addressing development challenges in the BARMM using publicly available data. The Asia Foundation ran the Data Challenge in partnership with Data Ethics PH, CirroLytix Research Services, and the BARMM government, with funding support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).


Structurally unsound homes just above water in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

Cotabato City, regional capital of the BARMM. With peace has come a hunger for development. (Photo: Whitney Legge / The Asia Foundation)


Four Development Problems  

The Data Challenge called for data-driven solutions to four fundamental development goals for the BARMM:

      • Improving community-level responses to health crises like Covid-19
      • Providing inclusive access to quality education       
      • Improving economic opportunities for communities
      • Developing models for “moral governance”

The Data Challenge Process

The Data Challenge invited students, professionals, faculty, researchers, and data scientists to submit proposal abstracts for tackling any challenge in these four priority areas. In the lead-up to the submission deadline, the Data Challenge team conducted the Usapang Hackathon, a series of virtual “data masterclasses” that used insights from leading data scientists in the Philippines to provide tips and advice for locating, analyzing, and utilizing publicly available data.


Phased plan for the 2021 BARMM data challenge

Judging procedure for the 2021 BARMM Data Challenge


The first round drew 68 submissions, including 31 from within the BARMM. The submissions included data blogs, dashboards, research studies, predictive modeling, and mobile and web applications. Thirty-three abstracts that made it through the initial evaluation were then invited to develop prototypes of their solutions and create a three-minute video presenting their idea. These were then subjected to a blind peer-review by an independent panel.

Twenty-one prototypes were selected for the final judgin by a panel of data, industry, humanitarian, and development experts. The criteria for judging included use of Bangsamoro data, use of data science, practicality, and relevance to the development needs of the BARMM.


Collage of the winning solution for the 2021 BARMM data challenge

Winners of the 2021 BARMM Data Challenge


Contest Highlights

Among the highlights of the contest, a “Most Relevant” award went to Team Agri-BARMM for their Agricultural Monitoring Dashboard, an agriculture management and policy tool that aggregates data on farming, livestock, poultry, fisheries, and environmental hazards.

A contestant with the whimsical handle Bash Bunny won a “Best Use of Data Science” award for Understanding Procurement Dynamics in the BARMM through Network Analysis, which takes data from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) and other BARMM datasets and then uses network analysis to reveal anomalies and inefficiencies in the BARMM procurement system, detect and prevent malfeasance, and support effective governance.

A “Special” award went to the creators of e-Padian, an online marketplace that pays homage to the once-bustling Padian commercial district of Marawi, which was destroyed in a violent last stand by Islamic State terrorists during the five-month Battle of Marawi in 2017. The e-Padian e-commerce site and mobile app seek to revitalize the still battle-scarred city by giving local entrepreneurs an online alternative to the ruined marketplace, leapfrogging the long process of physically rebuilding.

The other award winners included:

      • Optimizing Locations for Basic Social Infrastructure to Maximize Accessibility in the BARMM (Best Use of Bangsamoro Data)
      • SAGES: Sustainable Accessibility & Geographics of Education and Schools in the BARMM (Best Use of Bangsamoro Data)
      • MI-AMOR: Mapping and Integration App for Moro Overseas (Most Practical)
      • PALAPangkabuhayan, a youth-led social enterprise that envisions alleviating poverty in Lanao del Sur (BARMM Special Award)
      • Check Me App, a quick medical consultation app (BARMM Special Award)

Each of the winning teams received a cash prize from the Forward Bangsamoro project and, more importantly, a chance to pitch their solutions directly to relevant BARMM agencies and local government units to explore paths to implementation. The BARMM ministries involved in the Data Challenge showed great enthusiasm for the contest, and on the night of the awards, representatives from one key ministry requested a meeting with the contestants—most of them young people—to discuss bringing their networks of data enthusiasts into regular communication and collaboration with the government.

This short BARMM Data Challenge was a small step toward elevating the role of data in addressing development challenges. The hope is that encouraging data scientists to explore applied data solutions in the BARMM will also help the community of data-science enthusiasts, advocates, and policymakers in the BARMM government, academia, the media, and other institutions in the Bangsamoro to grow.

For the BARMM to prosper, its citizens must have a way to actively participate and chart their own pathway to long-term peace and development. Governance that relies on quality data to understand development challenges and build responsive policies is a step along that path.

This project is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under the three-year FORWARD Bangsamoro Project of The Asia Foundation, in partnership with Data Ethics PH and CirroLytix Research Services. FORWARD aims to bolster local governance through the development of Bangsamoro government institutions by building their capacity to be more effective and accountable, supporting the enactment of priority measures, and increasing citizen awareness of, and engagement with, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the BARMM.


Addie Unsi is a specialist in strengthening civil society and Joselle Janolo is an assistant program officer for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation, its partners, or its funders.


Related locations: Philippines


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