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Exploring the emerging impacts of open aid data and budget data in Nepal

TitleExploring the emerging impacts of open aid data and budget data in Nepal
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsSapkota, Krishna
Date Published09/2014
InstitutionFreedom Forum
CityKathmandu, Nepal
Abstract

The Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) research programme is a multi-country, multi-year study working to understand how open data is being put to use in different countries and contexts across the developing work. It seeks evidence that can confirm or challenge the belief that open data holds the promise to improve transparency, accountability, citizen participation and economic activity. Coordinated by the World Wide Web Foundation and established with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada), ODDC has conducted 17 southern-led independent case studies in 13 countries, offering the opportunity to compare different contexts to explore the emerging impacts of open data. This case study: “Exploring the emerging impacts of open aid data and open budget data in Nepal” was conducted by Freedom Forum with capacity support from Web Foundation, Development Initiatives and a research mentor during the months September 2013 to May 2014.

It is widely believed that greater openness in many areas of public life, including around budgets and aid, leads to greater civic participation in decision-making processes related to resources, greater government accountability and better public service delivery. A case study approach was used to explore these assumptions in the context of Nepal, by seeking empirical evidence of the types of budget and aid information that are available, and by testing the extent to which relevant stakeholders use, and are able to use, this information to deliver development outcomes. Given the early stage of development of open data on aid and budget in Nepal, developing strong evidence of impact was not possible. Instead the project sought to understand the interaction of key stakeholders and develop recommendations for intelligent action in future. The study focused on three groups of stakeholders within the open data ecosystem: data providers, data intermediaries and data users.

The project has combined a top-down look at the context of open data in Nepal with a bottom-up view of emerging uses and outcomes from open data. It has done this by looking at the experiences of different actors in the open data ecosystem, and in particular at journalists. The project was designed around a mixed-method approach, combining a literature review, participatory stakeholder mapping workshops, interviews (semi-structured, open ended and informal), participant observation (including during ‘open data days’ and training events), survey work and media monitoring. The methods were designed to gather data to build up a full picture of the demand for, and use of, data and information on budget and aid. To address the emerging outcomes of open data, the core components of the research framework were designed to study the context for open data, the supply of open data, the stakeholder governance of the open data ecosystem, the use of open data, and the potential impact of open data.

Nepal’s political, social, economic, technical, social and organisational context presents a complex environment of opportunities and challenges for the further emergence of open data in Nepal. With the prevalence of a vibrant civil society familiar with advocating for transparency and accountability, emerging government support, a governance-friendly legislative framework in place, and a burgeoning community interested in the issue, open data has a solid potential to strengthen the transparency and accountability regime and to deliver effective development outcomes. However, Nepal ranks low on many of the social and economic indicators reviewed, and it is unclear how open data will play out in an environment with limited financial resources for data infrastructure and sharing, and with high levels of inequality. Among other issues, the low internet penetration, lack of open data policy, political and bureaucratic resistance to innovation, limited financial resources, high levels of corruption,  culture of secrecy, limited demand for open data and lack of collaboration between open data and the Right To Information legislative framework form a range of bottlenecks constraining the growth of open data in Nepal. Despite this, there is a committed and skilled group of Nepali technical and thematic experts who are proactively trying to improve Nepal’s supply of open data, stimulate demand for that data, and equip an ecosystem of actors with the skills to use that data.

In addition to the core research questions, over the course of the project, a number of other critical questions emerged. These were driven by themes emerging from key informant interviews, and relate more broadly to how the concept of open data can apply, or can best be applied, in Nepal. How can the concept, practice and culture of open aid and budget data be accepted in Nepal? What needs to happen for such initiatives to be implemented, and when implemented, what is the impact? Is open aid and budget data inevitably good for Nepal, and what needs to happen for open aid and budget data to be beneficial for Nepal as a country, and for the Nepali people? These questions add a critical aspect to the study and added, as an additional objective to the study, an exploration of how far concepts of open data need to be adapted to be relevant to Nepal, and how far open data ideas should be prioritized given the current context in Nepal. Discussions that responded to these set of questions gave rise to a series of further themes including whether open data further empowered the already empowered, the potential of open data to increase inequality and the information divide between groups of Nepali people, and the critical need for honesty, pureness and personal integrity if a culture of openness, and hence open data, is to be accepted.

 

The study revealed that there is a gap between open data efforts, and the information needs and practices of civil society and journalists in Nepal. In order to address this, the study concludes with a model for future action-oriented research, recommending the integration of open data and Right to Information along with networking, capacity building and a focus on common issues, including proactive transparency around public resources focused on budget and aid. Many networking and capacity building initiatives around open data are currently being undertaken in Nepal but in a fairly ad hoc way. Up to now, they have not been linked to a clear demand or a shared issue, and a key recommendation is that both RTI and open data initiatives need to be driven and shaped by demand. Through this model, together with dialogue and process, we believe that open data can play an important role in contributing to the empowerment of the people of Nepal.

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Open Aid and Budget Data in Nepal2.99 MB