Aksyon agad!

Sometime ago, I conducted an orientation of enumerators for a survey. Right after the orientation, some of the participants were so eager to have an action so they asked permission to start the fieldwork. The rest, especially those who have experiences in conducting surveys, laughed at the eager ones and said, “Na-internalize niyo ba ang orientation? Baka pagdating sa actual work matameme kayo?”

Of course, there were friendly exchanges until one quipped, “Tama na ang satsat. Aksyon agad!” I agreed and for a demonstration, asked the less experienced yet aggressive ones to do the interviews. After a round or two we had an assessment and they said, “Mahirap pala. Pilosopo pa ang na-interview ko”.

Conducting a survey is dealing with people. Hence, first, it means strategizing: How should you approach the respondents? Second, it is marketing: Why would your chosen respondent answer you if they see no gains in return? Third, it is building relationships: Why would the respondents trust you for the information that they will share? Many would think that the information-generation and analysis are the more important ones but for me, these only come later.

Conducting a survey is also like running an election campaign. If a politician’s attitude is “Aksyon Agad!”, it is most likely that the campaign will be “bara-bara”. And trial-and-error campaigns are usually disastrous because aside from the lost resources, time is also lost. Campaign periods are definitely short and once time is lost, it can never be found. That is why we always ask the politicians who would approach us for help: Are we in for troubleshooting or for strategizing? Though the latter is usually a part of the former but still, it is costly to troubleshoot.

The case is also true in managing organizations and associations. Newer ones are usually aggressive and would sometimes sacrifice time for looking at the long term by looking at the immediate gains. A case in point is the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco). In the 1990’s, groups and individuals including former Governor Jose Estevez advocated the idea of merging Alecos I, II and III. The reason: Economies of scale. It is claimed that as an organization grows and production units increase, the better is the chance for that organization to decrease its costs. Or simply, economies of scale is achieved “when more units of a good or a service can be produced on a larger scale, yet with (on average) less input costs.”

Because of the idea of economies of scale, the three Alecos were merged in 1991. The result, however, was disastrous because the idea of the economies of scale can apply only at certain conditions. As such, the better performing coops (Aleco I and II) ended up subsidizing the bad performing one (Aleco III). This is also the case of federated TODAs (tricycle operators and drivers’ associations) and merged HOAs (homeowners’ associations). HOA merging though, is somewhat rare because communities usually ended up divided especially if the officers do not know how to differentiate the duties and responsibilities of a HOA and that of a barangay government; and if the HOA gets politicized. TODAs are usually politicized so while the majority is supporting the mayor, the minority or the smaller fractions would support the vice mayor or the municipal councilor especially if these local government officials are not in good terms with each other.

But disasters, or at least, poor performance, could have been solved if constructive brainstorming sessions were organized. To some it may be the “satsat part” but if the participants (“satsateros” and “satsateras”) know what they are saying, the information that these people will share can patch a small hole and prevent the same from getting bigger. In the case of Aleco, if the members only listened and looked back at the electric coop’s history, they would have known that once upon a time, Alecos I, II, and III (then known as the original Aleco, LEALDA, and Ligao Power Plant, respectively) were also merged but ended up in failure. As such, by virtue of the order from the National Electrification Administration during the Marcos time, these were separated to be known then as the three Alecos serving the different districts of Albay until the early part of 1991.

But of course, some lessons are learned the hard way. For Aleco, it means owing more than P1 billion debt, and for the aggressive enumerators, it means paying a second visit to their respondents to get the proper information. And what about the HOAs and the TODAs? Well, most continue to become agents of disunity and division and has become dependent on the LGU and the politicians for survival. Only a few lived to their purpose and the rest are still struggling to understand what they really are and why, in the very first place, they were organized.###

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