Counting what we cannot see! – The Data Commons

April 27th, 2018 by | Permalink

Anita Devkota & Anu Dongol in The DataShift

How has Nepal fared in disaster accountability? Not better than Haiti!

March 22nd, 2018 by | Permalink

Quincy Wiele & Anu Dongol in Kathmandu

Two months after the devastating earthquakes of June 2015, 56 government and non government organizations met in Kathmandu and deliberated on how much assistance was needed to fund Nepal’s recovery. Although the Government of Nepal had estimated over $7 Billion was needed, the conference concluded with $4.1 Billion pledged, in grant and low interest loans.

For LIG, Nepal’s fiscal challenges are often self created and not strictly due to a lack of resources. In the years prior to the earthquake, district governments had been returning up to 60% of their budgets back to the central government at the end of the fiscal year because of an inability to spend within the time frame. Such chronic under utilization has also translated into the earthquake response as well- an early investigation carried out by LIG revealed that up to 55% of allocated relief funds were unaccounted for after the earthquake.

Allegations of misuse of funds, fake victim names and relief hoarding by a small number of unscrupulous officials have dogged the government’s response for the past three years, difficulties that have been further compounded by the inability of communities to access correct information on government planning and spending.

To shine some much needed light on the government earthquake response and assist authorities increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the government’s response in providing housing entitlements, LIG implemented the Follow the Money project in the most heavily damaged district- Sindhupalchowk and in the epicentre of Gorkha to track financial flows from the capital down to the village level for the purposes of rebuilding homes and to collect and amplify citizen grievances on the government response by using various accessible technologies.

Financial tracking was done from Kathmandu and from the district headquarters. The total amount of funds committed to each district is collected from the Financial Comptrollers General Offices in Kathmandu and from the District Financial Comptroller to see how much money has been allocated/received and spent as well as to identify how many beneficiaries have been identified and how many have received their first, second and third instalments. By looking at how much has been allocated and how much of that has been spent, a clearer picture of how efficient/effective the reconstruction effort has been begins to appear.

Citizen grievances  have been collected via an SMS platform and by two Front Line Associates and a District Coordinator based in each district. Front Line Associates visited affected communities and talked extensively to the victims to see if entitlements were being received and if they had not, why had they not.

These grievances were then digitally mapped on the Relief Gaps Atlas. The data clearly shows that public grievances on the response are primarily centred on receiving entitlements in a timely fashion and complaints around engineers and the government’s response. Only a small percentage of earthquake victims have received the final instalment and rebuild successfully, a strong indication that the government’s response needs significant improvements.

The verified data is now being used for advocacy purposes with the government to help ensure all earthquake victims in the two pilot districts receive their entitlements and have the information they need to act as citizen watch dogs and hold elected officials accountable.   

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

December 14th, 2016 by | 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

May 4th, 2016 by | 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

February 17th, 2016 by | 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

June 23rd, 2015 by | 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

May 8th, 2015 by | 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.


1.) M4D2012_Hellstrom_Karefelt(1).pdf

2.) _weby2wvJO.pdf


Photo Credit:

Lenneke P., Creative Commons License

LIG Leads the Way in Low-Tech with OpenGov360

March 25th, 2015 by | 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 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

January 25th, 2015 by | 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:

Searching High and Low for Better Governance

September 26th, 2014 by | 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 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.