A famous self-development author, Brian Tracy, once said: “Excellence is not a destination; it is a continuous journey that never ends.” Indeed, growth requires an examination of oneself, challenging how things currently are, and taking steps to improve things – no matter how big or small. We will never arrive at perfection; there will always be room for improvement.

In August 2019, Team ALAB of the Cooperative Development Agency (CDA), headed by Giovanni Platero, started the Cooperative Assessment Information System or CAIS, as an effort to improve their current system. It was intended to make the issuance of a Certificate of Compliance (COC) for cooperatives as simple as possible. The system upgrade also included a number of improvements that decreased turnaround time by allowing for more efficient, hassle-free, and user-friendly document processing. This project helps further improve the system for Philippine cooperatives.

How It Came to Be

CAIS Project Manager Giovanni Platero explained that before the conceptualization of the project, their then-existing system, which they use for submitting cooperative reports and used to issue COCs, does not comply with the requirements of Republic Act 11032, or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018. The CDA then came up with ways to streamline its processes, particularly with the issuance of COCs, through the development of CAIS, in support of RA 11032.

By virtue of Republic Act 6939, the CDA was established to promote the viability and expansion of cooperatives as tools of fairness, social justice, and economic development. Every cooperative in the Philippines is obligated to produce periodical reports of its program of activities – including those in support of its socio-civic initiatives – at the end of each fiscal year, detailing their development and accomplishments. As of December 2018, there were about 18,065 registered and functioning cooperatives in the country, but only 11,138 or 62% are reporting cooperatives or those who have been issued with a COC. Because of this, CAIS was born.

The project aimed to reduce the burden of complying with reportorial requirements to ensure that cooperatives are functioning in accordance with statutory and regulatory obligations; produce useful information from the cooperatives’ performance monitoring reports; and increase stakeholder collaboration to better promote the development of cooperatives in the country. 

From Finding Fault in Others to Improving Oneself

Platero shared that through CAIS, the system is able to reduce the effort of everyone involved in report evaluation and COC issuance. Not only this, CAIS also enhanced the speed with which services were delivered to the cooperatives. The process is smoother and faster than ever, with little to no issues experienced.

The project also helped the people working behind it. Platero said that their team’s ability to think of new concepts was further enhanced with the help of CAIS. He also mentioned that he learned that the key to a successful creative initiative is accepting others’ ideas, active engagement with stakeholders, and encouraging people to share innovative ideas.

As said by Platero, the mindset of the individuals involved in the system and processed transformations evolved to a new type of “regulatory” environment. “We viewed the regulation now as [an] enabler to advance our developmental initiative for 28,000+ cooperatives in the country,” the project manager explained. “Instead of using regulation to find “fault” on the practices of the cooperatives, we view regulation as [a] tool of finding the weaknesses in the operations of the cooperatives, [as it] gave us [an] opportunity to improve our services through responsive policy and program interventions.” That, he revealed, is the reason why they opted to change their system’s name from Cooperative Monitoring System (CMS) to Cooperative Assessment Information System.

The Deal with Davao

The project manager explained that the initiatives received top management support, and also sparked interest from some Local Government Units (LGUs). This resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Davao LGU and CDA to make CAIS be interfaced with Davao’s Cooperative Management Information System (CMIS), thereby establishing it as a pilot project that can be replicated in other LGUs.

Among the LGUs in the Philippines, Davao boasts a sophisticated Information Technology (IT) system. Platero claims that this is a huge factor for their decision to collaborate with the Davao LGU. The LGU identified an opportunity by integrating CAIS with their CMIS. The Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the two parties in May.

In January of this year, Republic Act 11535 was signed into law, requiring the creation of Cooperative Development Officers across the country. As a result, the Davao initiative has the chance to be replicated by other LGUs. Because of this, Platero said that the CAIS project has a multiplier effect. He then revealed that 37 provinces have already appointed their Cooperative Development Officers, with the total number of officers expected to reach around 80 once the other LGUs have done so.

Key Characteristics

The Cooperative Assessment Information System includes a number of project features.

One of these is the full online submission of simplified reportorial requirements. The Authority will examine their current reportorial requirements to ensure that they are relevant and that the forms are easy to complete. Previously, they required reports to be submitted both online and in printed copy.

Another key feature would be the built-in standard evaluation tools for real-time results. The Authority previously had no standard evaluation tool and depended completely on the judgement of its evaluators. Moreover, the evaluation period’s turnaround time is also not defined. To add to that, the Authority still issues a Certificate of Compliance without properly evaluating submitted reports – revoking the COC once the Authority finds a deficiency and non-compliance later on. With all of these issues at hand, the Authority created a standard evaluation tool that was incorporated into the system, making it easy to use and producing real-time results.

Furthermore, a notification via SMS or e-mail feature is included in the system. Cooperatives receive an SMS or e-mail notification with the results of the evaluation and when the COC is ready for pickup. Previously, they simply provided the cooperatives with a claim stub that specified when they would need to return.

Other features include an online payment facility; e-signatures and barcodes for COCs; performance monitoring and data analytics capability; mapping, visualization, and geo-tagging capability; and web services that have interoperability features with other stakeholders.

Room for more improvements     

Despite being the initial success of CAIS, Platero shared that further improvements are needed so that it can better address the demands of the organization.

The first improvement Platero mentioned was the conduct of a more in-depth technical analysis of the system’s efficiency in terms of performance, accuracy, and dependency. Another would be completing a regulatory cost compliance study, so that CDA will be aware of the expenses associated with rules imposed on cooperatives. Lastly, they would need to further develop the system in order to meet cooperative compliance obligations that are the bare minimum required to satisfy CDA policy objectives.

The process of improvement is, in fact, a long road. With the global pandemic that is going on, efforts to enhance the system were hampered due to the shift in priorities.

Platero said that the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), through its Innovation Laboratory, helped them to conceptualize the project, as well as in developing an action plan to help implement it. The Innovation Laboratory uses the design thinking method to help organizations identify possible opportunities for improvement and co-create solutions. DAP continues to conduct online collaboration meetings with CDA in order to monitor the progress of the implementation of CAIS.

As of now, the project is in its “transition stage “, as said by Platero. Currently, they are transferring all physical data they have and fully converting it into its digital forms. 

Everything in the world is a work in progress. The Cooperative Assessment Information System, though already a feat by itself, still has a large potential of becoming even better. As the saying      goes, “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” The key is to always have a humble, curious, and innovative mind.