The World Bank Group released its latest report ‘Nepal Development Update’ in December 2019. With the theme “Envisioning a Future Data Ecosystem in Federal Nepal”, the report emphasized the need for an integrated data ecosystem.
Understanding data and the data ecosystem
The global landscape of data has changed significantly in the past decade. Traditionally, the methods for data collection were limited to censuses and surveys. However, there are many different ways for it in the present context. Digital trails left behind by internet users have been creating data at every step. Moreover, the rise of the internet coupled with technological advancement in the digital sphere has contributed to this, triggering the data deluge.
As of today, governments and the private sector across the globe rely on data and analytics for their decision-making. For the private sector, data is required for various purposes such as market research and new product development. They are imperative for companies to understand their customers, implement better pricing, and render a smooth operation. Similarly, the government requires data to ensure transparency and accountability along with improving inclusive public service delivery. The above tasks can only be performed when all concerned parties are able to access, understand and easily interpret the data, which can be achieved through establishing an effective data ecosystem.
Nepal’s data ecosystem
The World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 report highlighted that the lack of an electronic immovable property database and the lack of an electronic database are key bottlenecks that impede doing business in Nepal. Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2019 report also pointed out Nepal’s poor performance in terms of innovation capability, information, communication, and technology adoption. Amidst such bottlenecks, there have been many attempts by the government to improve the data ecosystem in the country.
In 2018, the Government of Nepal adopted its first Digital Framework with the aim of unleashing the potential of digital technologies to drive economic growth. However, there are practical challenges as the required data is not easily accessible. The data possessed by the government bodies in Nepal are highly compartmentalized and mostly inaccessible to users from other ministries and departments. To add to this, data also requires customization for it to be understandable and interpreted by a diverse set of people. Data can be a powerful tool, which can drive the modern economy, however, unprocessed data might not fuel this, as it has no value by itself. Government has access to a large database, but due to limited capabilities to analyze and utilize it, the data remains unprocessed. Moreover, the private sector is also not able to utilize these data as access to government data is not only difficult but complicated. Although all of these issues have been noted as major bottlenecks, the lack of an effective legal framework has defeated all attempts to build an integrated data ecosystem accessible to the general public. Through “Right to Information Act” of 2007, public access to government information in Nepal had been established. However, as the implementation of the act has not been effective, it has not been able to bring any major changes in the existing data ecosystem practices.
The way forward
A proper data ecosystem plays a vital role in facilitating the private sector and accelerating the development process. Nepal’s historic transition to federalism has created a surge in demand for more and better data at the local and provincial levels. Data ecosystems should be designed to evolve over time. So far, Nepal’s priority has been only on data production. However, without improving data sharing and data use, there will not be enough contributions to the growth and dynamism of the ecosystem. The government can focus on creating more data scientists and analysts to overcome these challenges, along with having skilled labourers for modern data-based jobs in the private as well as public sectors.
The key priority to reach middle-income status by 2030 for Nepal is the development of the private sector along with a well-functioning public sector. This can only be achieved with an integrated data ecosystem while adopting a culture of effective data use. At a time when the cost of sharing data is virtually zero, data should be easily accessible for everyone. Timely and high-quality data are essential to lure in investors and to explore untapped possibilities. Collaborative initiations from public and private sectors are also required to develop a system that is not only accessible but also efficient and open to drive economic growth. Nevertheless, inaction will leave Nepal behind in the global data revolution, along with jeopardizing the government’s goals for building a prosperous Nepal.