Strengthening a community of practice on open data

“All around the world, growing emphasis is being placed on establishing collaborative communities at the national, sub-national and sectoral level to drive forward the open data movement and build inclusive data ecosystems” Gaurav Basnyat at the “Building an open data community workshop”, September 2017

As highlighted in our last blog there is growing interest among many of Nepal’s open data actors to advance their collaboration as a community. In early September, a group of these actors gathered together at a half-day workshop to discuss the future of Nepal's open data movement. The workshop brought people together to discuss two key areas – firstly what tangible activities could be conducted collaboratively as community that would capitalize on organizational synergies and grow the impact of open data in Nepal, and secondly, under what collaborative structure can the community of organisations interested in open data operate. In this blog, we share some of the insights from the discussions. 

Workshop on building a community on open data

What can the community do together collaboratively to drive the open data movement?

Key questions raised included - what is the vision for open data in Nepal and what is the role of an open data community in contributing to achieving that? How can the community support the new Government Open Data Action Plan and progress towards membership of the Open Government Partnership? What can the community do together to raise awareness and interest in open data and build the ability for others to share and use it? What can be done together to grow the presence and impact of Nepal’s open data community?

Discussions focused on taking forwards the mutual interests of the open data community through three key areas of activity:

  1. Hosting Joint Activities and Events: Participants expressed their interest in hosting joint events to raise awareness and building capacity of the public and government in sharing open data and making use of such data. It was suggested that raising awareness of the value of data for decision-making and accountability was a key area in which the community could collaborate, whether through radio talk shows, posters, newspaper ads, interactive sessions at educational institutes, or open data day events.
  2. Devising Joint Positions to enable possible campaigning efforts: Tangible activities that were suggested that could be undertaken by the community included having a joint stand as civil society groups on membership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Nepal. It was highlighted that although there have been a lot of discussions by the government on joining the OGP, there have been less discussions among civil society groups on this topic. Other areas where joint positions could be developed could be around the opening of key government data sets, and principles that guide the open data community.
  3. Running a Knowledge Hub and Learning Space: A keen interest was seen in among participants in the need for and value of a community platform for knowledge sharing and learning. It was unanimously agreed that this should be called Open Nepal and build on its existing history and reputation. It was agreed that this information hub would share ideas, information, and knowledge on open data. It would also provide a platform to connect with like-minded organizations working in the area of open data in Nepal and grow the open data community into a movement. It was agreed that the number of groups interacting as part of Open Nepal should be increased to include a larger pool of actors, both within and outside Kathmandu Valley, to help build an inclusive, geographically diverse community of open data enthusiasts.

The workshop was just the start of the conversation, and over the coming weeks the initial ideas raised will hopefully translate into tangible activities that can be achieve collaboratively in the near future.

How can these actors work together as a community?

This second area of discussions centered around the revitalization of Open Nepal as an inclusive open data community of practice and knowledge hub – run by the community for the community. Open Nepal While the Open Nepal initiative has played an important role in stimulating interest in and supporting the growth of Nepal’s open data movement, it has operated for four years without a clear strategy or governance structure. The workshop provided a platform to design as a group the future of the Open Nepal initiative as a collaborative and inclusive community of practice and knowledge hub on open data. Key questions raised included how the Open Nepal website and brand can be used as a way to raise the profile of the groups forming the open data community? What should Open Nepal’s online presence as a knowledge hub involve? How can coordination and governance of the community and the knowledge hub work – both in the shorter term and the longer term? And what are the options for sustainability?

A wide variety of ideas and suggestions were floated in group sessions. With regard to the structure, varying ideas were presented, where the Open Data Community was seen either as a campaign, an informal network, a formal partnership, or a formally registered organization. A loose consensus was formed by those present around the idea of an informal network group that meets regularly and conducts collaborative activities, with some preferring the clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities within this. In terms of operations, all participants stated the need for a coordinator to support the Open Nepal initiative. This, however, raises a key question for the community about the sustainability of such a model.

With greater participation from the open data community in Nepal, the future months will take forward the discussions on the structure, operations and sustainability of Open Nepal as a community of practice and knowledge hub. These discussions are supported by the “Data for Development in Nepal” program implemented by The Asia Foundation in partnership with the Development Initiatives and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. Please watch this space for updates on the discussions. If you are interested in taking part in these discussions please get in touch at info@opennepal.net