Every aspect of our life today has a technology interface. I recently had the opportunity to be on a panel discussion titled ‘Open Data for Business in Nepal’ organised by a research organization called Facts Nepal. The idea was to understand open data, its application in Nepal, the opportunities and potential it carries for both government and business, and an assessment of its challenges.
Simply put open data is data that anyone can freely access, use, share and built on and modify for any purpose. Governments, businesses and individuals can use open data to bring about social, economic and environmental benefits. Some examples of open data are the World Bank open data, WHO repository, Google Public Data Explorer, and closer home, RBI Database of Indian Economy and Aadhar Metadata whereas examples in the country are Nepal Rastra Bank’s financial and economic statistics and National Reconstruction Authority humanitarian data post earthquake.
Data has the power to revolutionise and disrupt the way societies are governed. It improves transparency and accountability in government even as it enables policy decisions based on identification and prediction of mass trends and behaviours. In the context of business, it creates new insights and innovation and transforms business strategies and operations.
But the challenges to open data are real: from infrastructure to support efficient data collection to processing and analytics. In addition are the fears of data security, data anonymisation and issues of privacy. Also what worked for the United States or for China may not necessarily be relevant for Nepal which means we must have technical and expert human resource to design data processes that are at the heart of what is integral and applicable to Nepal.
Some of the issues that we were discussed on the panel included how data needs to be integrated – for example, making one Ministry’s data able to speak to another Ministry which would minimize paperwork and approval hassles that a citizen incurs. A key apprehension was data security especially at a time when the country is introducing a biometric identity card for its citizens and how this would affect their privacy. For me, a concern was that we are standing at the helm of a digital revolution unprepared because having access to the internet and smartphone and being on facebook do not necessarily make you digitally literate. Additionally digital policy must include the voices of youth, women and local representatives into open data policy conversations.
Using open data presents opportunities for commerce, improving communities and everyday living for citizens in a time when people want increased transparency and democracy at all levels. Data is ultimately about people, and whatever the format, it must reflect the reality and factual aspirations of every Nepali.