(Photo: Nyaya Health: Volunteer collects health data).
One of the important lessons the unfortunate earthquake has taught Nepal, the hard way, is the necessity of accurate data in rescue and relief operations. This included data on a range of topics, from demographics, safety to hospital data. A recent ekantipur article by a notable researcher, Yogesh Raj, shows that it was not data collection that was sorely missing, but avenues to make the data open -- accessible, available, and ready to be used to make decisions in the matter of life and death.
Yogesh Raj writes that, for years information has been collected about Nepal’s citizens, but the data remains in silos, stored away in private files and not readily available when necessary. Why wasn't all the information collected by the various agencies available or used? Yogesh Raj attributes the absence of this to "amnesia". A critical question for the open data movement today is to analyze what we can do to support the state to "remember" and use the data collected about the people and public institutions, and to help implement processes and procedures to make this data readily available when necessary.
This is a complicated question that requires understanding a range of processes and attitudes, but a good start would be to make the data "open" in an accessible format in order that it is readily available whether during the aftermath of disaster or to plan any development interventions. Many believe that data collected about the public, using public funds, should belong to the people. Yogesh Raj’s article highlights the growing need in Nepal for public good like data to be public.