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The OGP process in Nepal – On the path of our own choosing

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 | Permalink

Narayan and Pranav, OpenGov Hub Kathmandu

 

 

Politics has often been the obstacle to greater transparency in Nepal. But the country’s open government movement took an important step forward last month, when twelve leading accountability and transparency groups gathered in the new OpenGov Hub Kathmandu– a resource center on openness and transparency – to critically examine progress on this agenda to date. The idea was to push build consensus around the idea of open government and the Open Government Partnership, generate local ownership of the process and develop preliminary ideas on possible commitments in Nepal- when the government is ready to sign up.

At Accountability Lab Nepal and Local Interventions Group, we’ve seen that a lack of ownership has undermined progress on open government reforms elsewhere- so we have been working hard, as Nepali civil society organizations, to ensure that the OGP is fully-embraced by government and civil society from the outset. Here are a few thoughts that emerged from our meeting that we’re going to bear in mind as we push for OGP membership in Nepal:

  1. Incentives– our group discussed incentives for openness in depth– how does the OGP add value to existing openness and transparency efforts? What are the incentives for the various stakeholders to take part in the process? What could persuade the government to sign up? We’ve seen the value of the OGP to governments elsewhere- as a framework and process for reform, but there are many ongoing policy reform processes in Nepal- we need to make sure the OGP is different, and better. And we also see not just transparency, but efficiency and growth as key incentives for the government that might distinguish the OGP- if we can indicate to decision-makers that opening up means greater GDP growth for Nepal through improved competitiveness and trust in business, this will allow us to put together a broad coalition in support of reforms.
  2. Trust-the OGP process has to be built on trust, given that commitments are co-created between government and civil society. But trust has been in short supply in Nepal recently, given the post-earthquake dynamics and frequent turnover of governments. Trust between people in power and citizens is low, the government has been mired in controversies around governance issues and civil society has often played a deeply adversarial role. We want to find constructive ways to move beyond these challenges- and the OGP provides a set of positive ideas, collective tools and shared goals to do this.
  3. Commitment– we want the Government of Nepal to sign up to the OGP, but only if they are fully committed to the process. We have spoken to colleagues elsewhere about their work with government on these issues along with some key advocates within the Nepali government who are pushing for more openness. We’ve realized that proponents for reform are everywhere, but not always in the places you expect. They key seems to be working with these change-agents to open up the space for conversations that are politically feasible; rather than pushing “against closed doors” as it were. This means that we ourselves also have to be committed- with the understanding that this is a long-term effort.
  4. Coherence– everywhere you look in Nepal there are fantastic groups working on technology, openness, transparency and civil engagement (Young Innovations, Saferworld, Open Nepal, to name but a few). It is an exciting time to be working in civil society on these issues. There is readiness outside government, but we need to find the mechanisms to bind them all together to form a collective effort- too often we are disparate and as a result, less effective. At the same time, we are guilty of speaking to each other in an echo chamber- without bringing in much more diverse perspectives (trade unions, for example, or academia) to ensure the gains in transparency benefit everyone. After all, transparency for only a few means continued opacity for many.  It is unclear whether the diversity of organizations we need are ready for the OGP- we need to work harder to make sure they are included.

Over the next few months we are going to build on this initial meeting by convening similar discussions with other groups- including the government, media and other more varied civil society groups. The idea is to conduct an OGP readiness assessment of sort and a stakeholder mapping to understand which actors can best play which roles in the open government movement in Nepal. We are bringing in a full time researcher to help with this, supported by CIPE, and the OpenGov Hub Kathmandu will serve as the venue for the process. This is all well-timed ahead of the OGP meeting in Paris- where we expect the open government agenda to take another important step forward at the global level. There has never been a more important time for this work- and here in Nepal we are working hard to play our part.

This is a crosspost; originally published on OGP Blog

Taking Nepal’s experience global – LIG joins hands with DataShift and Civicus for ICSW 2016

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 | Permalink

Quincy Wiele in Bogota, Colombia

As the potential of citizen generated data (CGD) to shape policy begins to be understood globally, new platforms are emerging all around the world that enables pioneers of this new thinking to build networks, learn from and interact directly with each other. I was honoured to recently represent the Local Interventions Group at one such gathering held in beautiful Bogota, Colombia. While reaching Bogota was a challenge in itself (total flight time was close 25 hours alone!) it was an immensely enriching experience both personally and professionally speaking.

The 5-day conference was divided into two separate but interrelated conferences; the DataShift Jamboree, held between 23rd to 24th April 2016 and the proceeding International Civil Society Week which began on the 25th and ended on the 28th of April.  Both conferences presented a unique opportunity for The Group to highlight some aspects of its work, namely our flagship initiative, Follow the Money.

The first presentation was at the Jamboree. This group comprised of various representatives from organisations who had received direct support from DataShift to carry out a study on the impact of citizen generated data in Argentina, South East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and Nepal (which we carried out). After presenting the findings of our research, I then spoke very briefly about Follow the Money which has received support from DataShift in the past.

I then had the opportunity to present on Follow the Money to a much wider audience on the first day of the ICSW 2016 conference. With an interactive setting, I received important bits of advice on how to take Follow the Money further. Furthermore, we are now in prelimary talks with an NGO to see if there is any scope for Follow the Money to be applied in Ecuador after their own recent earthquake.

Along with ensuring accountability during a cathartic period in Nepal’s history by empowering people at the local level, Follow the Money also seeks to place people at the centre of decision making in a post disaster setting. We are firm believers that by placing local communities at the centre of decision making, we can increase the likelihood of successful and sustainable development projects.

I concluded my trip by spending many hours wandering the streets of Bogota, a vibrant and colourful city that has emerged successfully from decades of unrest. Wide streets decorated with immense and highly beautiful bits of art criss-cross a city with an abundance of museums, art galleries and theatres.

While returning to Nepal (only 21 hours return), I had plenty of time to piece together all the information I had received over 6 days on how to forward Follow the Money.  From methodology to visualisation, there is plenty we can improve on. With that said, the enthusiasm I received along with the sheer interest of the attendees reinforces my belief that programmes like Follow the Money are absolutely vital to improving, and over the long term ensuring, accountable and transparent governance.

Our Short Experience With Disaster Accountability in Nepal

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 | Permalink

Patrick Xu, Harvard University

Austin Wu, a fellow Statistics concentrator and good friend, and I devised a senior research project based off of our existing interests: can we study how data has been used in the disaster relief process, and how data can effectively improve and eventually optimize disaster relief? Given the intensity of damage of Nepal’s most recent earthquake disasters, as well as the coincidental timing, Austin and I began to reach out to NGOs delivering aid in Nepal to begin to build a narrative of how data can be used to aid in the disaster relief process. After a string of emails, we were put in contact with Pranav Budhathoki and Narayan Adhikari, and we arranged an agreement for Austin and I to help with a 5-day analytics project for their two organizations. Now, nearing the end of the project, we reflect on what has been an incredibly positive experience.

Swamped with survey data, Patrick trying to figure out work, and life in general too we suppose!

We met early on our first day to discuss the project, and we were warmly greeted by a number of the members of the team. Pranav detailed the “Follow the Money” questions within the surveys, and he tasked us to analyze those questions to the best of our ability. This hands-off approach remained a consistent theme throughout our stay at LIG, as Pranav always opened himself up to questions, but allowed us to figure out and analyze what we deemed most important.

All in all, Austin and I analyzed five main questions and any relevant sub-questions that followed. These questions all focused on citizen perception of disaster relief and aid. We started off with basic methods, such as averages and trends, to explore potentially interesting avenues. This exploratory analysis proved to be crucial for our learning process in Nepal: for example, it revealed the prevalence of perceived corruption in Nepal, which Austin and I had underestimated heavily before entering the country. Another example that surprised us was the sheer number of NGOs in both Kathmandu and Nepal in general – later, we would learn from our colleagues that a good number do not actually serve the purposes for which they state.

After detailing the trends and summarizing our basic findings for these five questions, we started to explore a very interesting idea: can one predict satisfaction based off of a small set of factors? Can we then optimize these factors to optimize satisfaction? Our research shows that we can somewhat confidently predict satisfaction, which is very interesting. This latter question, however, evidently will take much more work to even begin to answer, but we believe that it may be at the crux of perfecting the delivery of aid after a disaster.

In addition to the work we have done, we have learned a ton from simply listening to our wonderful colleagues talk about their experience and knowledge of the region. We primarily spent time with Quincy and Sara, employees of the Local Interventions Group and Accountability Lab, respectively. Through these conversations, we have learned an incredible amount on a variety of topics we really had very little exposure to previously, such as the corruption in Nepal, the effects of the trade blockade, aid delivery in rural areas, the ulterior motives of NGOs, the problems with the aid and voluntourism industry, and finally their thoughts on how to do good well. These discussions have taught us an incredible amount, and opened our eyes to many ideas that we had never even considered.

Another wonderful experience during our time here was Integrity Idol: it was incredible to see Narayan and his team put together an event that seeks to fight corruption by “naming and faming” honest workers in government. Although the event was in Nepali and neither Austin nor I speak the language, we gained a lot from the experience by simply seeing how many excited people there were, banding together to try to fight corruption by celebrating honesty. Throughout our stay here, Austin and I have realized how large of a problem corruption can be, and how corruption can truly inhibit and cripple the growth, if not survival, of a country. At points, we questioned what could be done in a country where corruption was so rampant, so it was inspiring to see one of the wonderful solutions that Narayan and his team at the Accountability Labs put forth. This event pushed Austin and I to think more about what can be done, and think outside the box on potential solutions.

Austin and Patrick, somewhere in here, before they left on a jet plane ...!!

Finally, Austin and I have also loved our experience with the Local Interventions Group: everyone in the office has been incredibly considerate and welcoming, and the workplace is so enjoyable. We have been greeted with mid-afternoon snacks on the rooftop, random mid-day tea breaks, mini celebrations over a working heater or the revival of WiFi, and more, reminding us that while the work we do is incredibly important, we can also have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. With Sara working furiously with data entry, or Quincy staying up late at night to finish an important report, one final message we have gleaned is that while truly impactful work is difficult, it is possible and enjoyable with perseverance, teamwork, and good hearts. The work oftentimes comes without fame or glory, but it is incredibly fruitful. It takes true dedication and love to push the world to eventually become a better place.

 

The Group’s founder wins Echoing Green Global Fellowship

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Permalink

Quincy Wiele in Kathmandu, Nepal

Echoing Green today announced the 2015 class of 52 emerging social entrepreneurs who will  receive coveted Fellowships to help launch their social good enterprises and Local Interventions Group founder Pranav Budhathoki has won the prestigious Global Fellowship.

Pranav will receive seed funding, mentoring and leadership development opportunities to support his innovative solutions to global problems. Of 3,629 applicants, 52—just over one percent—were selected.

The 2015 class includes Fellows like Collette Flanagan, a recipient of Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Fellowship, who founded Mothers Against Police Brutality to challenge police use of excessive and deadly force; Echoing Green Global Fellow Samuel Pressler, founder of the Armed Services Arts Partnership, which provides a therapeutic outlet for war veterans and service members through expressive arts programs; Jehiel Oliver, Echoing Green Global Fellow and founder of Hello Tractor, the “Uber for Tractors” which makes tractor usage affordable to marginalized farmers in subSaharan Africa; and Stephanie Speirs and Stephen Moilanen, Echoing Green Climate Fellows whose Solstice Initiative aims to make renewable energy available to all Americans, including low-income renters who are currently locked out of the solar market.

The Group is proud to be among the cohort of such distinguished fellows from all over the world.

ABOUT ECHOING GREEN – Echoing Green has invested almost $40 million in seed-stage funding and strategic assistance to nearly 700 world-class leaders driving positive social change in more than sixty countries. Echoing Green also supports the Fellow community long after their initial funding period through ongoing programs and opportunities at critical points in their careers. Fellows receive up to $90,000 in funding for two years, participate in leadership development events, receive mentorship from leading business professionals and, most importantly, become part of a global network of leaders. Founded in 1987, Echoing Green’s past Fellows have included the founders of Teach For America, City Year, Citizen Schools, One Acre Fund and SKS Microfinance.

The Mobile Power in Your Hands

Friday, May 8th, 2015 | Permalink

Ashley Hinson in Calais, Maine, USA

Since Ushahidi was developed in 2008 after the election in Kenya, the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has dominated the conversation about free and fair elections. Crowdsourcing has been called “the most important activist technology,” and there’s no question why. “Having a voice” was considered a primary concern in a major survey, after basic necessities and income generation. While we know that there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to ensuring true democracy, there is much more to crowdsourcing than meets the eye.

See, crowdsourcing is more than a buzzword, and ICTs go beyond cool technology.  The approach of collecting data reflects a whole new model of development – A model of engagement, equal voice, accountability and transparency.

We want the political process to work for us, but for this, we must be involved in the process.  The fact is that when people are engaged in an election, or a large development project, they are more likely to take stock in the outcome. What better way to get citizens involved than to ask for their suggestions from the very beginning – in the most important stage of the process?

Wouldn’t it be nice to engage people in a survey post-voting to further strengthen aspects of elections that need consideration? If citizens are expected to vote, and governments are expected to serve, establishing a direct channel of communication is critical.

Beyond serving as a reliable center for reporting violence and other issues (see previous blog post) during the upcoming elections, LIG hopes that crowdsourcing data will develop new norms of behavior. Participation should not stop at the polls. The point is to encourage citizen involvement on the day of elections, but also before and after the election – to create a safe, accessible venue for expressing concerns, including the reporting of violence associated with political processes – anytime, anywhere.

Current debates surround the challenges of getting enough reliable data and finding ways to verify all the information that comes in – especially during times of high activity, such as a national election. Luckily, we’re talking technology – where constant improvements, adjustments, and customizations are the name of the game.

We believe that information in itself is of immense value. It’s a two-way street – we need people to share experiences of their participation in the political process, and we’ll compile that information in a way that’s meaningful.

There are definite challenges. But, we’ll figure out the kinks – the servers, identifying reliable data, etc.  After all, technology is made for tinkering. This also means finding creative ways to engage people, while simultaneously, creating an environment of trust.

What if I told you that the key to free and fair elections is within arm’s reach? Well, if you believe in the legitimacy of public opinion and the strength of technology, then you just might be holding the power in your hands at this very moment.

Links:

1.) http://www.texttochange.org/sites/default/files/newsfiles/ M4D2012_Hellstrom_Karefelt(1).pdf

2.) http://panos.org.uk/wp-content/files/2011/03/heart_of_change _weby2wvJO.pdf

3.) http://www.localinterventions.org.uk/blog/archives/52

Photo Credit:

Lenneke P., Creative Commons License

LIG Leads the Way in Low-Tech with OpenGov360

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Permalink

Craig Beyerinck, Kathmandu

 

As part of its desire to see open government available to all, LIG has launched OpenGov360° – a site dedicated to encouraging low-tech ways to deliver open government to the global South. This initiative is for anyone interested in using low-tech approaches to open government, and exists as a database for the latest trends, news and stories from the field.

 

Here, participants will to come together to discuss and share ideas, read about the latest trends in open government and hear cases from the field in the global south. on how open government initiatives can be made to include greater amounts of people. Keep checking http://360.localinterventions.org.uk to stay informed about the different initiatives that LIG will be pursuing under this programme and to share your own ideas how to make open government available to the masses.

Open Data Reinforcing Good Governance

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Permalink

Craig Beyerinck in Bend, Oregon, USA

The terms ‘open data’ and ‘good governance’ are popular buzz words of the modern day, but what do they mean? Looking specifically at the term ‘open data’, it is important to define what data is being opened.  In this case, it is the data that governments, NGOs and other actors produce in their work. The general idea of open data is that data should be freely available to anyone who wishes to use or republish it. Good governance is easier to understand as a term because of its lack of specificity. It is used to denote instances where public institutions are completing their tasks in ethical and accountable ways. This concept is based on the notion that government should be able to meet the needs of all citizens, not just specific groups. The eight characteristics that are widely considered to constitute good governance are that it is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and that it follows the rule of law.

The concept of open data and good governance seem relatively straight forward to many, especially to those based in the Western world, i.e. those who provide aid to the developing world. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific underlines the fact that major donors of financial assistance increasingly rely on good governance indicators to decide whether they should provide aid a specific country. As such, it is important for developing countries that are looking to receive external funding, to work towards, and be able to show that they are working towards good governance.

Ideas on how to achieve these goals are as plentiful as there are people interested in development aid. But, when you consider again the concepts of open data and good governance, it becomes apparent that they can become mutually reinforcing. The open provision of data on government activities goes a long way to proving the accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency and following of the rule of law requirements that make up good governance as an overarching concept. Open data can also help different actors, including the government, become more responsive, effective and efficient because all data that each entity produces is available to every other entity, making it possible for each to build on the other’s work. And, since all data is available for public scrutiny, the government will use its money more effectively.

For Nepal specifically, the benefits of adopting open data and the resulting good governance are vast, and, due to the popularity of these two concepts, it is quite easy for Nepalese institutions to latch onto this momentum. Dong this would benefit local society in two ways. First, it would make government more accountable. Second, as a result, Nepal will become more attractive to foreign aid donors thus increasing the money available for development funding in Nepal.

For more information on open data and good governance please visit:

http://www.localinterventions.org.uk

http://opengovernmentdata.org

http://www.opendatanepal.org

Searching High and Low for Better Governance

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Permalink

Ashley Hinson & Craig Beyerinck, Kathmandu

Around the world there are countless initiatives that seek to promote more open and democratic government. Success for these programs means allowing citizens direct access to their governments via open communication and reciprocity.

Today’s increasing population and ever decreasing funding for government programs demand greater efficiency, which is why citizens need to be involved.

It is time for the eyes and ears of civil society to give feedback to government on the services being provided to them so as to allow for better allocation oftime and resources. After all, who better than the intended beneficiaries of government activities to report on their effectiveness?

Currently, the most popular strategy for this type of engagement is technology – mainly mobile. It’s easy to understand the popularity of this idea because,according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, there were 6 billion mobile telephone users (and 2.1 billion internet users)worldwide in 2011.

With an estimated world population of just over 7.1 billion people however, many still remain voiceless. Nepal, for example,has an estimated 18.1 million citizens who have access to mobile phone technology out of a total population of 30.4 million (10% of whom have access to the internet).

Looking at these numbers, it becomes clear that technology should not be the only medium to increase transparency. So what can be done?

Local Interventions Group is a southern non-profit that works with data-driven solutions for smarter governance in a country where around 40% of the population does not have access to mobile technology. Implementing both high and low-tech programs to increase good governance and make citizen/government communication more inclusive is the only answer in a country like Nepal.

Making use of new technologies for this purpose is an inspired use of available resources and can, in fact, lead to improved governance. This being said, we see the importance of making sure that populations with little technological access are not left behind by initiatives that seek only to implement technology-based better governance projects.

So, what does success look like in Nepal?

First, the data that is collected through “high-tech” projects (mobiles, internet, etc.) will be disseminated to all in a meaningful way – those that contribute must know that their opinion matters by seeing that the information they shared actually went somewhere – an online platform, for example.

Meanwhile, those who can’t contribute to the dialogue using technology should still be heard by initiatives that go into remote areas to listen to what these people have to say. They can also access the collected information via e.g.info-graphics posted in villages and radio broadcasts.

Lastly, success means that government responds – first through words, then through actions.

LIG is joining the ranks of organizations around the world that seek to close the gap between government and its citizens. We are figuring out how to make the citizen/government connection more meaningful, and more reciprocal using solutions that are a little high-tech, a little low-tech, but 100% inclusive.

1. http://www.opengovpartnership.org/

2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/benkerschberg/2012/03/21/how-crowdsourcing-is-tackling-poverty-in-the-developing-world/

3. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

4. http://www.localinterventions.org.uk

5. http://globalwireonline.org/2013/03/25/how-technology-and-data-support-better-governance/

7. http://www.localinterventions.org.uk/programmes.php?post=22

Part of something big….

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 | Permalink

Emily Warburton in London

First to settle the scores! Our Kathmandu office is schadenfreude-ing over our London related miseries we read. Too bad we don’t have any good comebacks to curse them with!

Moving on…. the idea of foreign aid is not new, it has been around with us forever. Trace back and you go as early as 18th century, when Prussians gave money to their allies.

Lot of money is going to the global south from the affluent north. Every decade or so, new catchphrase is created, donor countries gather around a campfire, hold hands and sing Kumbaya until disillusionment descends and then a new fad, another catchphrase is born. We have heard them all; Impact, Results, Visibility, Inclusiveness etc etc.

But something tells me Open Government is different; and we are part of something big, something historic. As our colleague says, “this is a pull formula in development, where you can pull people to the frontline by arming them with the information that they can use to challenge office bearers and demand better services from the government”.

And being in London is being part of something even bigger, as this city is awash with Open Data initiatives and communities. London has DataStore, UK government has OpenData , and now a spanking new website (pictured), and engineers are developing apps out of data at a breakneck speed in London’s new Silicon Valley, the East End.

Things are progressing slowly. There aren’t many takers even in this city. But there is a lot of positive energy and momentum in Open Government. LIG hopes that in the next few months, we will have come up with concrete Open Data Initiative in Nepal

Opening Pakistan

Friday, June 28th, 2013 | Permalink

Sara Khan in Islamabad

There aren’t many international forums where Pakistan can partake and chip in on equal footing with other countries. Depending upon your own understanding or prejudice for that matter, call it the geopolitical grand design or internal politics that is bogging us down.

There is one notable exception; Open Government Partnership that has snowballed into a massive initiative after US President Obama’s memo on open government. It is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

Over 50 governments have joined Open Government Partnership and not everyone is welcome. In South Asia, only Nepal, India and Pakistan are eligible to join.

This is an asset. It provides the government a unique opportunity to redeem the trust of our own people and also of international community. It will help in relaying the message that Pakistan is dedicated in making everyday governance more transparent and accountable to her own people.

So why do we need Open Government in Pakistan anyway?

• Cases like Rs 26 billion Pakistan Steel Mills corruption can be checked for/nipped in the bud in the future

• Opaque management of US $ 5 Billion per annum that Pakistan receives in aid.

• Pakistan’s federal budget for fiscal year 2011-12 stands at 3.767 trillion rupees. How much of it will go unaccounted for?

• Increased transparency on energy sector and the current crisis that has bogged down the economy as well as impacted ordinary Pakistanis

• Enhance citizen participation and equip people with information about government money so that they can demand better services from the government.

• Institutionalise and deepen/broaden democracy

Local Interventions Group is focusing on two Open Government policy areas for Pakistan; Aid Transparency and Service Delivery. Challenges are enormous and daunting. But opportunities to engage are bigger than ever. The world is embracing Open Government. We lose this prospect at our own peril.

Local Interventions Group’s Open Government programme in Pakistan is currently in research phase. LIG will start scoping and identifying right stakeholders and consulting with them in August 2012. Following a primer-synthesis report in autumn 2012, LIG will launch policy level engagements and devise further programs. Further details can be obtained from our Pakistan Team Leader Sara Khan by writing to her at sara@localinterventions.org.uk