[IQP] Database of American Expatriates in Western Panama

Sponsor: Competitiveness Center of the Western Region
Student Team: Caroline Armstrong
Marissa Bennett
Matthew Kent Eaton
Ranier Gran
Abstract: Our project focused on locating and interviewing American expatriates living in the Western Region of Panamá, and then organizing them and their contact information into a secure database for the organization CECOM-RO (El Centro de Competitividad de la Región Occidental). This report contains the techniques we used to communicate with the expatriate community, the research process we went through to build a suitable database, and methods and ideas for continuation of this project.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

Introduction to Our Project

Our project team worked with the Competitiveness Center of the Western Region of Panamá, or, in Spanish, el Centro de Competitividad de la Región Occidental (CECOM-RO, n.d.). CECOM-RO, a private non-profit foundation, aims to improve the economic competitiveness of the Western Region of Panamá, which consists of the provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro, as well as the Ngäbe Buglé Comarca. Currently, economic activity involving the Panamá Canal comprises about 75% of Panamá’s gross domestic product (GDP) (Panamá Economy, 2016). This indicates a concentration of Panamá’s economic activity in one area. Since its founding in October 2015, CECOM-RO has worked to broaden the geographic range of Panamá’s economic activity by promoting development projects in the Western Region.

CECOM-RO assists development projects by providing the tools and resources necessary for their success. In order for successful execution of objectives to occur, these projects require contribution from individuals possessing certain skills, knowledge, and experience. However, the Western Region lacks a sufficient professional network for enabling project managers to connect with these types of individuals. To address this issue, CECOM-RO tasked our team with creating a database of American expatriates living in the Western Region who have an interest in contributing to such projects. In creating this database of expatriates, our team served as the initial contact between CECOM-RO and the expatriates living in the region. By connecting these expatriates with CECOM-RO, and thus providing the organization’s partner development projects with skilled and experienced individuals, our team aims to improve economic competitiveness in the Western Region of Panamá.

In order to accomplish our task, our team had to build and refine a database, collect expatriate information for the database, and establish a framework for continued use, maintenance, promotion, and growth of the database. To start on our first objective, we visited several project sites and partner organizations to get a sense of how the database could contribute to projects. To collect data, we used the technique of snowball sampling and explored the region to connect with various expatriate groups. Lastly, in order to ensure future maintenance of the database, we demonstrated its use to several members of CECOM-RO during our presentation. At the completion of our project, CECOM-RO received all documentation pertaining to the database, as well as the database itself.

Findings & Analysis

Databases require information in order to function, and in order to gather and input data, we needed to find and converse with individuals from the expatriate community. For a number of reasons, certain parts of the Western Region contain large expatriate populations. These reasons range from lower living costs to retirement incentives such as the Panamá Pensionado Program.

To start us off, Dr. Ugel of Oteima University gave us an initial list of expatriates comprised of people who responded to an advertisement in Chiriquí Life, an online newspaper distributed within the Chiriquí region. This list contained basic information needed for the database such as contact information, which we used to get in touch with these expatriates by email to set up in-person interviews. The interviews served to gauge interest, explain the database and the work of CECOM-RO, and encourage participation in the database. Most of our meetings with the expatriates occurred in the town of Boquete in Chiriquí.

1. Key Interviews

During our stay, we interviewed eight expatriates in-person. Brief descriptions of several expatriate interviews follow. Note that the names have been changed and some information has been withheld to protect their identity and personal information.

  1. Adam. Our first expatriate interview during our stay in Boquete. He possesses significant experience in marketing, finance and strategic planning. Originally he came off as slightly inquisitive, asking challenging questions to consider for our project on topics such as how the Panamánian people will react to increased influence of government organizations. By the end, it turned out that he actually possessed great interest in participating in the database and helping CECOM-RO in any way possible.
  2. Britney. Met in the BCP (Boquete Community Players) Theater. Her experience involved several entrepreneurial endeavors. Due to her connections and organizational positions, she gave our team access to an email alias containing a large number of expatriates.

2. Database Building

When it came to choosing a method for building the database, our team researched various options. These options included constructing a web page to contain the database, using SQL or SQLite to build a computer application for it, or manually inputting information into an Excel document. Our team agreed that the idea of a webpage or the use of SQL/SQLite would be too complicated and unnecessary for our task, as only half of our team has coding experience. We also realized that the use of an Excel document, though simple, would require tedious work in keeping it up to date and could prove difficult to maintain after we left. After further research, our team found a Google Add-On called AppSheet, which we selected as the best method for us and CECOM-RO to use.

In order to use AppSheet, we had to create a Google Spreadsheet to contain the data used in the app. This spreadsheet served as our database. Then, to collect the data, further expedite the process, and conveniently put everyone’s information into our database, our team created a simplistic survey with a Google Form. This allowed us to take the responses from the form and input them directly into the Google Spreadsheet. Also, the use of a Google Form allows sharing the form with expatriates in various ways. Distribution of the link can occur via email or messaging, and the link can be embedded very elegantly into a web page, such as CECOM-RO’s website, for anyone to fill out. Finally, we created a user friendly database app with AppSheet, which lays out and organizes the information from the spreadsheet into an appealing interface that can be used on any device. For security purposes, our team made a Gmail account for CECOM-RO. Only this account has access to editing this application, spreadsheet, and form. Limiting access to these items to one email alias provides the assurance that only CECOM-RO can access this information. This also enabled a smooth transfer of the database to CECOM-RO at the end of our project. Currently we have developed the database to the extent intended, and addition of information can occur 24/7.

3. Recommendations

With the database created, we developed several recommendations for future use, maintenance, and growth of the database as follows. Since CECOM-RO assumes ownership of the database after our project, only certain personnel of CECOM-RO may work on it. Potential improvements to what our team has worked on thus far could include:

  1. A new way of accessing the database. Utilizing a different application than AppSheet.
  2. Other security features. The purchase of an upgrade in membership of AppSheet allows more options for security. Password protection of the spreadsheet could serve as an alternative solution.
  3. Adding Spanish language capability. Addition of a translate button or translated version.
  4. Use of add-ons. (Specifically Google Add-Ons) Any functionality that cannot be easily met without the help of code.

Application of these improvements can meet new needs of CECOM-RO and enhance the quality and functionality of the database itself. Additionally, we developed suggestions on how to grow the number of database participants. Our suggestions for this center on the importance of building connections through face-to-face communication.


Currently, the lack of professional networks in Western Panamá leaves businesses in the region without access to the human capital needed for economic growth and competitiveness. Essentially, our project involved the creation of a database of American expatriates living in the province of Chiriquí who possess a willingness to assist companies in the region in order to improve economic competitiveness and complete development projects. Our sponsor, CECOMRO, will own, maintain, and grow the database, which serves the purpose of matching development projects partnered with CECOM-RO to expatriates who possess the skills, knowledge, and experience needed for each project. Providing human capital to development projects enables success of the projects, resulting in improvements to economic competitiveness in the Western Region and the economy of Panamá as a whole