Nepal Earthquake Data: The Good, The Bad and How You Can Help
October 3, 2018

Open Government Data: A First Step Towards Evidence Based Decision Making

This blog was written by the D4D Program team and is also published on the Open Nepal website. 

The Constitution of Nepal adopted in 1990 guaranteed the right to information for the first time as a fundamental right to its citizens. Nepal was one of the first countries within South Asia to adopt a Right to Information Act in 2007 and under the helm of the National Information Commission has taken progressive steps to implement the Act. In line with the Right to Information Act, the Government adopted a Citizens Charter, appointed a dedicated information officer in each government agency and developed websites with publications for download. However, still challenges remain in terms of accessing information and in particular, the underlying data.  Despite the banner with “Information Officer” seen in the entrance and website of every ministry, gaining access to certain information often involves a long bureaucratic process with various hassles. While there is no shortage of information and data being produced, most of it is locked in pdf files and not shared in an open format that allows users to freely use, reuse and redistribute data without any restrictions.

Globally, the Open Data Movement has gained significant momentum – including in Nepal which traditionally has relied on informal, inter-personal information sharing. Various members of the Open Nepal community comprised of Nepali civil society and private sector actors have been pushing the agenda forward by opening up datasets across a wide range of themes including natural disaster data, procurement data, economic data and social and human development data.[1] The Government has been slower to follow suit. In April 2015, a devastating earthquake together with continued aftershocks killed nearly 9,000 people, injured nearly 22,000 and made hundreds of thousands homeless.  Rapid disaster recovery was required but the lack of public access to comprehensive open government datasets such as maps, demographic and environmental data risked hindering the humanitarian response. The earthquake acted as a catalyst for efforts to make this data open.

Since then, the Government of Nepal has picked up pace. In August 2017, the National Information Commission submitted the Open Government Data Action Plan to the Prime Minister’s Office where it is currently awaiting approval. In the meantime, increasingly more government agencies are making data available via their websites such as the Aid Management Platform of the Ministry of Finance, the Office of the Company Registrar, the National Youth Council, the Foreign Trade Statistics of the Department of Customs, and the recently launched Financial Inclusion Dashboard of the Nepal Rastra Bank. This constitutes an important step towards using data for evidence-based decision-making by Nepal’s development actors.

Globally, the advent of open government data is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, however in Nepal the concept is still novel. It constitutes a paradigm shift for the Government of Nepal for whom traditionally data has not been a key priority. Data is collected and produced, but very often without a clear understanding for what purpose and its intended use. Government agencies have been very much closed with limited data sharing even between government agencies. Interestingly, some government institutions still lack substantial management information systems for their own use and there is limited integration and data interoperability between the management information systems that do exist. In addition, among some officials, there has been a lack of willingness to share information and data. In part, this is because having information is considered power and in part due a lack of understanding about the benefits of open data and misconceptions regarding data privacy and manipulation of data. Furthermore, there are capacity gaps in terms of being able to open and analyze data. Decision-making is still very often based on people’s perception and opinion, rather than backed by evidence. However, as a result of growing demand for data from citizens, civil society, media and to a limited extend private sector, the government is placing increasing emphasis on data production and dissemination.

The Data for Development in Nepal (D4D) Program of The Asia Foundation and Development Initiatives is, with funding from UK Aid, supporting the local open data eco-system to grow the demand for, supply and use of open data. The D4D Program has supported a number of pilots with government, including efforts by Kathmandu Living Labs in partnership with the National Planning Commission to open up the National Housing and Reconstruction Survey collected by the Central Bureau of Statistics immediately after the earthquake. This dataset is now openly available via the National Planning Commission’s website. In addition, the D4D Program has supported Clean Up Nepal to partner with Kathmandu Metropolitan City to collect data on solid waste management in three wards of Kathmandu Metropolitan City and make this available via the Nepal Waste Map portal. In addition to opening up data, the D4D Program is also working to promote the use of this data for evidence-based decision-making through capacity building and technical support for analysis. The increasing trend of government agencies opening their data is promising and if combined with adoption the Open Government Data Action Plan, will advance Nepal further on its path towards evidence-based development that improves lives.

[1] Examples of various members who have launched open data portals include Young Innovation’s earthquake aid data portal and municipal open data portals. In addition, the Data for Development in Nepal Program has supported the opening up of government data through the Taxation Data Portal of LSP Associates, Health Population Projection Portal of Digital Data System for Development.