• Blog
  • 4 April 2017

Nepal’s emerging data revolution for sustainable development

The past few years have seen a growing focus on data as a key driver of sustainable development. This article focuses on the impact it has had in Nepal.

Written by Louisa Dennison

Quality & Impact Lead (Maternity leave)

The past few years have seen a growing focus on data as a key driver of sustainable development. Internationally, the data revolution has emerged as a key paradigm encapsulating the transformational change needed in the production, sharing and use of data to drive and monitor sustainable development.

At a national level these changes are unfolding differently, according to particular local contexts – for example those involving multiple stakeholders with diverse interests, and comprising different initiatives and milestones according to local priorities, challenges and opportunities. Since 2011 we have worked in collaboration with various partners to improve the production, sharing and use of data for sustainable development in Nepal. In our background paper Nepal’s emerging data revolution, we share insights into the context in which the data revolution is materialising alongside key milestones and stakeholders involved.

In Nepal, while there is still a long way to go before access and use of development data are widespread, interest in the role of data in development planning, monitoring, decision-making, governance and accountability is growing, and important advances have been made over the past five years. Nepal’s nascent and dynamic community of data enthusiasts has played an important role in this progress, supporting advancements in digital data collection, the opening of official datasets, and the development of data-sharing and e-governance platforms. It has encouraged growing interest from government and civil society in the agenda for better production, sharing and use of data, whether that agenda is termed ‘open development’, ‘open data’, ‘access to information’, ‘evidence for development’ or brought together under the broader umbrella of ‘the data revolution for sustainable development’, as in our background paper. If supported with the right funding and opportunities for learning and skills development, diverse actors across this community can continue to make a significant contribution to the data revolution. Areas in which they can be supported to make an important contribution include:

  • Increasing demand and building political will for data production, sharing and use. In this area, the community has demonstrated leadership in raising awareness and engaging public sector champions in open data efforts. The key to future advances is demonstrating to producers and potential users the value of data, focusing on the impact that its use can have on specific development issues. These efforts need to be informed by a detailed understanding of the current behaviours of decision-making and accountability actors; a clear view of the challenges faced in producing, sharing and using data; and a better understanding of the incentives and disincentives to data use.
  • Improving the production and systematic sharing of high-quality data. The community has made important contributions through the development of various data-sharing platforms. The key to future work is developing a systematic understanding of the data needed by national and local actors to facilitate evidence-based decision-making and accountability; identifying what data is available; and diagnosing the gaps in data production and sharing. The involvement of data users in the design of initiatives to improve data production and sharing can help ensure that their needs are addressed.
  • Supporting the use of data for development decision-making and accountability, and building a culture of data use. Nepal’s community of data enthusiasts has demonstrated initial success through a series of pilot interventions. Going forward, their role in this area is critical and should build on a strong understanding of the challenges preventing national and local actors using data in their efforts. A suite of practical interventions can then be developed to address these barriers, for example training programmes to build data skills, open-source tools to support analysis and its application, the provision of technical infrastructure to support data access, and the design of incentive structures to reward data use. In addition, the use of new, non-traditional types of data can be trialled, for example big data and citizen-generated data, and the capacity of intermediaries such as journalists can be built to better facilitate the translation of data into information for the wider population.

Over the past five years, Development Initiatives, through involvement with the Open Nepal initiative, has had the privilege of engaging with many of these actors and in many of these developments. We have learned from their insights and experiences, and have witnessed, alongside them, the emergence of Nepal’s data revolution. In our background paper we share some of our observations on the present state of production, sharing and use of data for sustainable development in Nepal, alongside details of the country context and key stakeholders. We hope this will help inform the work of practitioners and supporters, and that the recommendations will support the future work of Nepal’s data community.

View the report here.