Jhamka Prasad, an advocate for the rights of deaf people, disliked courses like Mathematics as a child. Such courses were too complex for him. Furthermore, the teaching methodologies did not cater to someone low in hearing like him. He struggled to pass these courses.
Sijal Pokharel, an environment professional, spent most of her professional life intimidated by data and “data geeks” as she calls them. She thought she was incompetent when it came to working with data.
Likewise, Nishant Khanal, born and raised in what he calls a “data-unfriendly society”, mostly relied on anecdotal evidence, advice and sometimes, mere assumptions while making decisions ranging from ‘which phone to purchase?’ to ‘which college to study in?’.
These are three representative data related stories from across Nepal, even as we live in a world where data has become ubiquitous. At the same time, its access and avid usage are limited to a handful of experts such as analysts, economists and statisticians. Technology is at the fingertips of every individual. Nevertheless, a significant population still falls far behind when it comes to accessing, using and deriving meaningful information from data.
Why does data matter?
Simply put, data informs decisions, and for Nepal, data could not be more important than now as the country makes its historic transition to a federal structure. As highlighted in the World Bank’s recent report, data plays a critical role for successful implementation of federalism and acceleration of development progress. Government’s core activities like policy development, program implementation, and monitoring all require data. Availability, accessibility and right usage of data can ensure need-based interventions and make primary healthcare, education, sanitation and other basic necessities accessible to all. On one hand, federalism has brought decision-making closer to people. On the other, it has amplified the need for data and capacity to use it for evidence-based decisions.
Nurturing a data ecosystem: one individual and organization at a time
While Nepal undergoes a fundamental transformation, its data ecosystem needs to be built around three dimensions that spurred the global data revolution: data production, sharing and use. So far, the focus has been on data production.
In mid-2019, the World Bank in partnership with the Department for International Development Nepal, launched the Nepal Data Literacy Program. The objective of this training-of-trainers program was to sustainably transfer data literacy skills to professionals in Nepal who can proactively engage in evidence-based policy making, increase data literacy of Nepalis and support federalism in the country.
Jhamka Prasad, Sijal and Nishant were three of the 80 professionals trained in this first of its kind, three phased 100-hour program. It was designed and delivered in a systematic, supportive, inclusive, and fun way.
The program empowered participants and equipped them with various data analysis and visualization tools along with leadership development and design thinking concepts. By the end, graduates of the Nepal Data Literacy Program had harnessed their learnings to make better data-driven decisions in their everyday life and then, ‘pay it forward’ by transferring acquired knowledge and skills to others in their network through training and workshops.
And the results are already showing.
Within the first five months of the program, the participants had trained over 100 people within their communities and organizations.
The British College in Nepal has incorporated components of Nepal Data Literacy Program in its existing courses in BBA, MBA and MScIT programs. Similarly, Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM) is also incorporating data-literacy toolkits in their BBA and MBA programs and partnering with the World Bank to develop a data-driven course whose syllabus will be publicly available to other institutions and thousands of students beyond Nepal. Altogether, over the next three years, over 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students are expected to enhance their ability to find, work with, analyze and interpret data.
To power this data movement, the World Bank in collaboration with local partners has developed an open source Data Literacy Portal with resources and toolkits which can be customized and used in diverse contexts within and outside of Nepal to help users develop their data skills. With a global reach crossing 28,000 views within seven months of its launch, the content developed and published on the portal can be used freely and seamlessly by anyone with the Internet.
And as for Jhamka Prasad, Sijal and Nishant, today they have a different story to tell. Jhamka Prasad is analyzing and testing credibility of disability related statistics at the local level. Realizing the dearth of data on disability, he is also advocating at the local and policy level to include disability related questions in the upcoming population census to collect specific and disaggregated data on people with disabilities.
For Sijal, the program was a career booster. She is now more efficient in cleaning and scraping large sets of data and converting them into meaningful information.
Nishant has already trained 20 journalists to analyze data and use innovative visualization to complement their stories. Currently, he is using open source data, resources and toolkits from the program to create a data portal to visualize provincial revenue and expenses.
While the data movement has already begun in Nepal, its momentum needs to be sustained. More efforts need to be directed towards building capacity to use data and make data-driven decisions, and a robust data governance architecture clarifying roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. While this is no ordinary task, it can be accomplished if done together.