NepalMap: Opening up data on Nepal

As a child Ravi Nepal wondered how many people lived in Dhanusa, his home town in southern Nepal.  "I asked my parents but they had no idea of the exact number", said Ravi, Co-founder of Code for Nepal. Years later while studying at college in the United States his childhood curiosity revived. "I wanted to look up data on Nepal to help me write a research paper. I managed to find some data online but I found that often it was incomplete, or would only include broad national averages. I could find out how many people lived in the country but was not able to find out how many people lived in each district, for example". He looked up the Nepal census data but found that it was only available in PDF format, which meant that he was unable to analyse quickly or conveniently. He decided that he did not want others to experience these challenges and so he resolved to make it easier for people like him to find, access and use data about Nepal. This is where the idea was born for NepalMap - a web app developed by Code for Nepal that opens up data on Nepal.

Like many countries in the world valuable data regarding people resides with the government. Data collected by the government is usually considered the most authentic data for use by media, civil society and state actors, and so is in high demand. However, in Nepal the majority of this data are not accessible to the public and the data that is available is 1) difficult to find - because they are fragmented and not available in one place, 2) difficult to understand- because they are not organized properly, 3) difficult to use- because they are often in PDF format which prevents easy analysis.  These issues make it challenging for people in Nepal to use data in their work.

NepalMap uses data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, and other official sources, to create user-friendly data visualizations on key demographic issues. Importantly it allows people to download the constituent data in open format, including in CSV, Excel, GeoJSON and KML formats. This has effectively opened up government data in Nepal on a range of topics, from literacy levels and school attendance to home ownership and construction materials. At the moment the tool disaggregates data at the District, Municipality and Village Development Committee level.

In addition to opening data, NepalMap is an interesting example of how data can be integrated and organized for easier understanding. According to Ravi "Most of the data presented in the NepalMap are extracted from the Nepal Census 2011. The data was then cleaned and sorted by the Code for Nepal team. Presenting this data visually has made it more usable, understandable and shareable by everybody". This allows people to easily find out how many people live in a particular district in Nepal. "We are aiming to make the tool a data users' best friend. They can analyse the entire census data at a local level and make sense of it", says Ravi.  He hopes that journalists, researchers, and students will find NepalMap helpful when they are looking for data, and that entrepreneurs and businesses can better understand an area in which they are looking to do business. It appears to be working - according to Ravi there were over 9000 page views in the month after NepalMap was launched in mid-October 2016.

How to use NepalMap’s open data 

1. Finding location specific data: Type in a name of a district you want to find out about from the NepalMap search field and select the desired location from the dropdown menu. You can also use your current geo location to find the place. To drill down data on smaller units such as village development committee and wards you can hover your cursor over the map and click on the desired location to get access to the pool of data about that place. 


2. Comparing data from two locations: To see how one district, VDC or city, is performing in comparison to another in various areas you can compare data side-by-side.


3. Finding issue specific data: To find an individual dataset without going through any locations type the key words into the search function and select from the dropdown menu.


4. Compare subnational with national level data: To see how a district or a particular location fits into the larger national picture look at the pre-computed statistics presented alongside each data point. For example, as demonstrated below you can compare Kailali district data with country level data.


5. Get a quick insight via visualizations-: If you want to get a quick insight into the data you are looking at, the graphs and charts on the district profile pages will be very useful.


6. Embed  graphs and charts: The data in the NepalMap app is downloadable which allows you to create your own map, but if you want to just copy the map into your own website you can simply copy a code and paste it into your software application.