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Wicked Problems

Updated: Aug 28

Time the public at large adds "wicked problems" to its toolbox.


“Project Moses” has been suggested by one of our board members, a bar topnotcher in his days and former mayor of a town in Quezon Province. He and I have been negotiating for a partnership with the Catholic Media Network (CMN) as represented by a former spokesman of the CBCP. This has been sometime in mid-January, 2020.

DOH Sec. Francisco Duque. PNA photo by Oliver Marquez

Over lunches and dinners, our team has come to conclude that a pandemic is about to occur.


Coincidentally, a UP colleague who is with a data research group agrees. We have occasionally met by accident at the same UP restaurant that has served as venue for our meetings.

We have all been in agreement, our team, the CMN founder and our friend, our UP colleague who runs a data research group. A pandemic is coming.


Project Moses has been intended to be a disaster management tool for anyone among national or local government units interested in confronting this upcoming pandemic. The plan has been to put-up a web app dashboard of sorts that can be used to navigate through the events that are expected to happen in a pandemic.

Our start-up team then has just come-out of its planning retreat somewhere in Batangas. The team then has decided to work for the entire year on Wayste, an app intended to connect household solid waste producers with solid waste processors. The hope has been for our company to earn with the app and at the same time help alleviate plastics pollution of the rivers of Metro Manila and Manila Bay itself. The long term goal has been to show that Information Communication Technology (ICT) can be very useful in the management of solid waste everywhere. Everyone has been optimistic about Wayste on account of the project being featured on TV, radio and broad sheet news agencies and, in addition, the start-up has been offered a partnership in a Hong Kong project.


With the conclusion that a pandemic is about to occur, everything about Wayste has been dropped. Focus has been concentrated on Project Moses.

Partnership with CMN has been considered important to the team. The team has concluded that in the event of the pandemic, a significant part of the population without access to data are going to be left-out. The way to them has been planned through the broadcasters of the 54 AM/FM radio stations of CMN. We have laid out for the CMN convenor the plan for the dashboard web app and how the broadcasters can use the web app in the attempt to help listerners navigate through the outbreak.

Funding has been difficult to come but at some point, the team has come-up with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that had the following components:

  • self-diagnosis tool for those who suspect themselves of being infected with SARS-CoV-2,

  • needs matcher that matches someone’s plea for help, medical or otherwise, with available provider of the help needed;

  • access to real-time outbreak trackers;

  • automated hospital search with quick filters that covers all hospitals of the entire country;

  • citizens patrol that collects and collates crowdsourced information about clinics, grocery stores, pharmacies, and roads, among others;

  • aggregator of government announcements and news items about the outbreak; and,

  • resource page that collates government policy statements and advisories, outbreak FAQs, emerging research items, useful links and COVID-19 apps.

Finally the time has come for the team to show possibly interested parties who may want to use the web app, exactly at the time when the pandemic has already been recognized by the government.

The team has approached a well-known senator, the Office of the President, the Office of the Vice-President, and a university-based NGO. Bottomline is that the project has received only cold shoulders except for the university-based NGO that has partnered with the team.

The team’s enthusiasm, however, has not waned. The team plodded with meager funds left in its accounts not expecting anything in return. This until the team has come to be on the red.

As an option to raise funds, the start-up has joined an international hackathon -- which it has won. Then, another such hackathon -- which it has also won. So the web app development has continued.

Desperate for users of the web app at time the team has realized that the outbreak is going long haul, the team has come to approach LGUs at the provincial and municipal levels. Bottomline again, the project has received only cold shoulders.


It has only been during the height of the second wave early this year that, finally, the team has received interest from the Department of Health. Communication lines have been opened. The technical group of the central office has concluded, it is recommending the use by the department of the web app. Agreed upon among other things, the team is not charging the department anything but the department is going to share all of its data with the team.


The third wave is now peaking. The team has not received any call again from the department.


The team’s assessment now is actually quite simple. The team has learned this lesson. This has to be shared, firstly since it might be correct and useful for others, and secondly, it might also be a wrong assessment and so we need to be told.


The team has come-up with a tool meant to confront a wicked problem, full of complexities everyone is now still trying to grasp. The general public, however, represented by the local government unit leaders, and the nation’s leaders, represented by the senators, the president and the vice-president, seem not to see this outbreak as a wicked problem.


The team does not believe that its project is on the wrong track. The CMN convenor finds its interesting enough as to partner with us. Medical practitioners from Stanford University have adjudged it to be a winner and so do professionals from Australia who have also found this project a winner. A former president of the Philippine Medical Association and his associates have been all along helping the team believing in the project. The DOH central office technical group itself has found the web app good enough for recommendation. Colleagues from a UP data research group and the UP Resilience Institute have been sympathetic.


Thus our conclusion, our bad. The team has been wrong in thinking that an app meant to confront a wicked problem is what is needed by our intended users. The team should have gathered data about the possible users of the app. The team, in its haste, has only presumed it knows what it is doing.


The team thinks the project has not been for naught. More disasters are expected especially with the prospects of climate change and environmental catastrophe. The team hopes to pivot the project onto where it can be useful for the public at large. The team projects LGUs are going to take-up the web app at some point in the medium to long term future.


This is the url of the web app: https://www.projectmoses.ph. It still has glitches and bugs that need work. The citizens patrol appears only on the desktop version and not on the iOS and Android versions.


Meanwhile, the team is again working on Wayste and, in addition, a book about wicked problems and futuristics.


We are a proud team of a former mayor bar topnotcher, a college president, engineer graduates of UP and the Asian Institute of Management, an accomplished artist, an engineer inventor from Mapua Institute of Technology, a geology graduate from UP and now, a new addition, a self-made ICT engineer running his own independent company.

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