How data can benefit Nepal

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School children in Nepal. Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Thirty years ago, almost everyone in Nepal — except for a few professionals and business people — would have been classified as poor by any international standard. 

In 2010, by contrast, 15 percent of Nepalis were considered poor.

Without a doubt, Nepal has made progress.

Now the 761 newly formed—local, provincial, and federal—governments in Nepal aim to provide all Nepalis access to essential public services, eliminate poverty, reduce gender and ethnic inequalities, and ensure environmental sustainability

The hope is that Nepal will reach middle-income status by 2030.  But tracking and monitoring progress against the goals articulated in Nepal’s development vision as well as the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) impose significant demands on the country.

Unfortunately, the absence of disaggregated data by geography, sex, age, social groups and sub-national level, and more poses an enormous challenge for all levels of governments to properly plan and budget. As such, Nepal needs to urgently invest in its data and statistics capacity.

Data is the currency for decision making and helps us understand what works and what doesn't.  For instance, let’s consider a province in Nepal that is keen to improve learning for its public schools’ students. Without data on students, their gender, age, academic performance, or the number of schools and teachers, the provincial government cannot elaborate an informed plan for its students.

But were policymakers able to access timely and sufficient data, they could decide whether more teachers or more schools are needed. Without data, decisions are just like shooting in the dark and hoping for the best.   

I recently met with Nepali leaders from academia, businesses, civil society, and media to understand the availability of data in the country and what can be done to improve its quality, production, and utilization. Many leaders expressed optimism as to how data access has increased in recent years.

The leaders I spoke with also emphasized that public agencies in Nepal need to invest more in their data production and dissemination capacity. Nepal would benefit, they noted, if everyone treats data as a public good, uses and shares it widely. Notably, they talked about how access to quality data would help them conduct research and identify business opportunities and challenges facing the country. Data can also help media tell better stories to better inform the public.

Further, better and timely data can help all policymakers set priorities and respond to the needs and aspirations of their people. Data and statistics are also an essential tool for transparency, accountability and improving the quality of public services.

To accelerate development progress and engage with citizens, public agencies should make data publicly accessible, understandable, and machine-readable.

This process would not only help government agencies engage in evidence-based policymaking but also help media, researchers and civil society and businesses initiate a robust conversation about issues pertinent to Nepal’s future. Ultimately, this will inform and engage the general public who are the ultimate beneficiaries of these policies.

With more significant discussion of policies and program effectiveness, more evidence or data will be created on what works and what doesn’t, which in turn can help shape future policy conversations and guide policymakers to make smart choices.

Thus evidence-based policymaking has the potential to create virtuous cycles in Nepal and beyond. 

How do you think Nepal can use data to make better policies?  Tell us in the comments.

Editor's note: This blog post is part of a series for the ‘Partnership for Knowledge-based Poverty Reduction and Shared Prosperity’, a World Bank project with support from DFID to increase production and usage of data and statistics in Nepal. It was first published in the World Bank's End Poverty in South Asia blog platform here.


Ravi Kumar

Team Leader, Data Use and Literacy Program

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