By Bikin Ghimire, Soni Khanal and Nitee Shrestha

As strong advocates and supporters of the country’s open data movement, we at the Accountability Lab were thrilled to learn about the “100-hour Nepal Data Literacy Program” organized by the World Bank in 2019 and jumped at the opportunity to learn about data literacy.

As World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, Faris Hadad-Zervos noted, the program was designed to sustainably transfer data literacy skills to stakeholders in Nepal and build an enabling environment for evidence-based policymaking and strengthening federalism in the country.

The training program helped participants build a strong foundation with lessons on the importance of data and open data and the different ways to collect, scrape, and clean data using freely available tools.

We also got a taste of programming and advanced data analysis through introductory Python programming. Overall, the lessons were very informative, thanks to the team and mentors.

From trainee to trainers

The program made us realize the importance of data literacy in different sectors of Nepal. Following the training, we wanted to build on the momentum and decided to conduct data literacy training in different parts of the country.

We piloted a two-hour contextualized “Open Data and its Benefits” training for 21 young government officials of our Integrity School program. The training helped the government officials to reflect on the importance of open data through best practices in data collection, management, and sharing.

Most of the participants had never used digital data. “I used to think that the data I worked so hard on shouldn’t be provided in formats that others can easily edit,” remarked one of the participants in the anonymous feedback survey.“Now, I understand it isn’t about data ownership but rather promoting data use for a better purpose.”

Encouraged by the workshop, participants committed to making the shift from paper to digital formats and practicing data dissemination in Machine Readable Formats (MRF).

Our second training took us all the way to Nepalgunj in Lumbini Province, where we shared our expertise with the locally elected representatives through a specialized Data Practices and Policies session. We mentored political leaders on data management best practices and open data policies.

Our session focused on different data storage formats, advantages of machine-readable data, and ways to start producing, using, and requesting data in machine-readable formats to foster transparent, inclusive, and data-driven processes. One of the biggest challenges at the local level was a lack of machine-readable data (i.e., PDF or paper-based data), which limited its usage greatly.

This training helped elected representatives understand the importance of open data and opened doors to discussions on policies regarding open data at the sub-metropolitan level. Encouragingly, following the training, the elected representatives expressed commitment to publishing local planning and budgets transparently to the citizens through digital boards and infographics.

Collaboration breeds creation

During the pandemic, we started publishing the Coronavirus CivActs Campaign bulletins to share validated information regarding COVID-19 in Nepal.

This led to a collaboration with Sahi Suchana to track various COVID-19 related data on infection transmission, government spending, state of SAARC countries, etc., and design infographics to share insights with the general public. We also collaborated with local governments across Nepal to analyze their spending on the pandemic to further support data-driven decisions to address its impacts in Nepal.

Moving forward as data practitioners

As a result of the data literacy training, the culture of open data practices and data-driven methods has been imprinted even more into the Lab’s core values of equipping reformers with knowledge and tools for better governance and evidence-based decision-making.

It has helped us become more visionary when it comes to data collection and analysis, especially to pre-plan baseline and end-line surveys to ensure proper standards in our programs. After the end of our project in Nepalgunj in 2019, we generated an impact report analyzing the primary data we collected and compared the changes in citizen’s perceptions towards their government. The report showed citizen’s increased involvement in their local governments and an elevated trust in their elected representatives. This helped the government understand the impact of our program and helped make similar programs going forward. We also recently researched the citizen’s perception of the government response to COVID-19 and used infographics to study and share the responses, which helped the local governments understand the priorities of people on the ground and make decisions accordingly.

Moreover, the Lab team is working to create an online data portal to track COVID-related expenses in Nepal on the national as well as sub-national government levels to ensure transparency and accountability during the time of crisis.

Bikin Ghimire, Soni Khanal and Nitee Shrestha are all staff members of Accountability Lab Nepal. Originally published by The World Bank.