Only disaggregated and publicly available data will help us realize our dream of inclusive development
Nepal is currently undergoing a big transition in terms of institutionalizing local governments, as envisaged by the constitution. While some local units have already elected their representatives, others are due to do so soon. This is a great achievement for the country. But ensuring that local governments function as envisioned will be a big challenge. Local governments must plan for the upcoming fiscal but the data and information they would need for this are missing.
Data and information for administrative and development works so far were managed by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), sectoral ministries, departments and line agencies. But there is no repository of data and information that integrates sector-wide data. It is thus unclear how local governments will formulate and execute their plans and policies.
The data we have are scattered across ministries, departments and line agencies.
Available data may be published in books and made available as PDF files in websites of respective agencies. But they may be outdated. Collecting basic data in possession of different government agencies is hard. But at least some basic data is a prerequisite for the newly elected representatives at local levels. Local governments will need information on local public and private institutions, businesses, local population, and on social and economic status of local people so that they can plan revenue collection and expenditure accordingly.
Availability of real time and disaggregated data should be the goal, as this could have a huge impact on distribution of resources, setting of targets and reaching the poorest of the poor and marginalized communities.
Only disaggregated data that is also publicly available will help us realize our dream of inclusive development. There are already a few initiatives—from the government, the civil society and the private sector—for open data but there is a long way to go before all state actors are convinced of the importance of collecting, managing and publishing data in open format. Open data is the data that can be used, reused and redistributed freely. It is both technologically and legally open and available in machine-readable standard format.
Ultimately, the most reliable and sustainable source of data is the government. To start with, CBS already possesses a good amount of data although not in published open formats. CBS can coordinate across other government agencies to collate available data.
If existing data is organized and supplemented with essential data, a workable base will be available to the local bodies.
Building of a reliable data system starts at the local level. The data collected in standard format can be used for multiple purposes and can be synchronized into the provincial and federal levels. This might take some time but it is doable. When we are restructuring the state, this is the right time to start on our data revolution.
Information is power. Anyone can benefit from data and information if they are readily accessible. All the tiers of government can be made mutually accountable while non-state actors can use open data to hold public organizations accountable. Making the data open and accessible will be costly at the start, but the final benefits will far outweigh the costs.
At the moment, one of the big developmental issues is exclusion of the marginalized, minorities, the poor and vulnerable groups. As these groups are left out of the mainstream of development, disaggregated data is essential to reach out to them. Poverty persists as targets cannot be identified and located and development interventions do not reach them.
If development practitioners keep beating about the bush, hopes of Nepal graduating from LDC status by 2022 is bleak.
When development gaps are identified, the government can work to fill the gaps to enhance aid effectiveness and better regulate mushrooming non-government organizations. Ranking and assessment of local governments in terms of their social and economic status and designing and implementing policies and programs accordingly will be useful.
Publicly available data can help the civil society and the media to hold our public institutions to account. Such data will also forestall baseless advocacy and campaigning. Open and easily available data also paves the way for their creative use in apps and infographics.
The writer has a Masters in development management from Asian Institute of Management, Manila