New survey reveals the importance of developing Nepal’s open data capacity

On 30 November 2017, Open Knowledge Nepal completed a month long Open Data Awareness Program, including an Open Data Hackathon, which brought students and youths from different backgrounds under the same roof to work collaboratively on different aspects of open data. The awareness program sensitized more the 335+ youths and students from different colleges and youth organizations. It covered eleven colleges, one school and two youth organizations from seven different districts of Nepal. Most of the participants who joined the workshop were from diverse backgrounds like computer science, engineering, management, arts, journalism, social work, and more. The participants were raised as digital natives and could understand technology better than many current leaders, and are undoubtedly the future leaders and members of Nepal's government, industry and civil society. The awareness program was based on the Open Data Curriculum and the Open Data Manual, which was developed as a reference and best practice guide for anybody who wants to work and contribute to the open data sector.

During the workshop, Open Knowledge Nepal conducted a Pre- and Post- Data Literacy Survey to gather participants’ views regarding open data. The survey output clearly highlighted the need for more local level awareness programs to promote open data at the grassroots level in Nepal. 76.1% of participants who attended the workshop and filled out the survey said that they haven't heard of the term ‘open data’, although most of the students had studied data analysis, statistics, and database management systems in their college courses.

 

Image 1: Participants understanding of open data according to our pre-survey

According the Open Data Handbook, open data should have three major components:

  • Availability and Access: the data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.
  • Re-use and Redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets.
  • Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, re-use and redistribute - there should be no discrimination against any fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (for example, only in education), are not allowed.

Not just falling short in understanding, many respondents also lack the technical skills which are required to work with data effectively. These include data extraction, analysis, and visualization. While most respondents know how to download data and information from the Internet, many were unaware about the process of reusing it.

Image 2: Participants’ expertise in data downloading, extraction, analysis and visualization.

This is a significant barrier, because sharing data isn't everything. We need to focus on the other aspects of data like reuse, so that people can build innovative products and collaborate on projects that leverage available data to solve pressing issues faced by Nepali citizens.

The findings of our survey also indicated that most of the participants know how to use Microsoft Excel and Google spreadsheets for basic data editing and analysis. But only few know about advanced scraping and analysis tools like Tabula and OpenRefine, which highlights that there is a lack of practical knowledge of data among youths and students.

Image 3: Participants’ expertise in Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheet, LibreOffice/OpenOffice, Tabula, and Open Refine.

Call to action

There is a huge opportunity in Nepal for open data advocacy to raise awareness and develop solutions for particular problems. The increasing number of civil society and government organizations working and supporting open data have already created a good momentum. Despite at times leisurely service delivery, the adoption of technology by government bodies might help generate digital reports and data, increasing the availability of shareable information to the public.

But, as our survey has shown, the weak demand side for technical skills has been a major drawback for Nepal's open data ecosystem. To improve, both the supply and demand side need to expand concurrently, which is difficult with Nepal already lacking the human manpower and technical resources.

The Government of Nepal is slowly becoming decentralized following the new constitution, so it’s a prime time for Nepal’s civil society working in open data to decentralize themselves and reach out to the local people. For this, institutions, civil society and government need to shake hands and collaborate. If they can do so, it will be possible to increase the public’s consciousness about open data at the periphery level, which will hopefully lead to a greater number of local level awareness programs and projects beyond the developed cities. Civil society and institutions need to work together to generate more resources and help the public understand the value of open data in the context of Nepal.

Explore the full report, Open Data Curriculum and Open Data Manual from here.