Building an Open Data Ecosystem in Nepal
February 28, 2018
On March 3, hundreds of groups from around the world will celebrate Open Data Day to showcase the value of open data for communities and to encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business, and civil society.
For Nepal, which is currently undergoing a process of decentralization to a new federal structure, there are high hopes for pushing forward an open government agenda and developing a culture of greater accountability and transparency. On Open Data Day, advocates will converge at Patan Durbar Square, a centuries-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kathmandu valley, to show off their latest projects and provide the general public an opportunity to experience and learn the importance of data in the context of Nepal’s development.
Data that are freely used, re-used, and redistributed can have valuable effects, such as increased revenue opportunities, greater government transparency, and broader provision of public services. In places with relatively strong open data ecosystems, such as the United States or the United Kingdom, government agencies regularly release well-organized, machine-readable datasets on public data portals, or even via application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow for even easier access for programmers. Software developers have come to rely on these open data resources to build apps that improve citizens’ lives by for example, providing access to transit schedules, neighborhood crime rates, available jobs, or nearby doctors. Journalists also make heavy use of open data when reporting on government performance or other topics of public interest.
In Nepal, you can find open data on issues such as earthquake recovery, agriculture and land, air pollution, population changes, and more on independent web portals like Nepal in Data and Open Nepal, and some NGOs and donors make their own datasets available online. However, the vast majority of the data collected by the government is not easily accessible to the public and development practitioners. The publicly accessible government datasets are often limited to aggregate findings and are primarily shared only as PDFs or printed booklets. These datasets may be “public,” but they are not “open,” since their technical limitations prevent software developers and other potential consumers from using them in truly effective and innovative ways.
To develop stronger open data practices in Nepal, changes must occur on both the supply and demand sides. Stimulating demand for open data among the Nepali public has been one focus of The Asia Foundation’s Data for Development program funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which is supporting the Open Data Day event in Patan. Through events like this, more and better data is becoming accessible and usable by a range of government, civil society, and private sector actors at the national and subnational level.
In a short video developed by Nepal in Data with the support of The Asia Foundation’s Evidence for Development program, Dr. Biswo Poudel uses economic data to dispel myths about poverty and inequality in Nepal.
Under Nepal’s new federal structure of governance, public sector entities are taking a harder look at how they can demonstrate accountability to their constituents, especially by designing policies and deploying services that are needed at the local level. Accurate and relevant data that can be shared openly and inform decision-making is a critical component in this process. For example, through our partnership with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), local social innovation hub Bikas Udhyami and COMMITTED Nepal are developing 11 comprehensive municipality profiles to help capture the status of public service delivery and key devolved sectors, providing evidence-based analytics to locally elected representatives and decision-makers. The information, which will be available to the public online, will help define and establish a tested planning and development process, enabling municipalities to develop a long-term vision and objective to address urban service delivery challenges.
By encouraging data literacy and giving greater visibility to data journalism, public sector data profiles, and other applications of open data-including through Open Data Day festivities-these projects can spur more vocal demand for data among citizens and the private sector to lead to a stronger open data ecosystem in Nepal.
Benjamin Lokshin is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Technology Program and Ashray Pande is a Foundation program officer in Nepal. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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