Prajwal Bhandari is a civil engineer who graduated from Nepal Engineering College CPS with a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Water Resource Management. He is currently working with Lumanti Support Group for Shelter, a non-profit making organization dedicated to the alleviation of poverty in Nepal through the improvement of shelter condition. His role as a project coordinator for the Nepal Earthquake Recovery and Reconstruction Project requires him to collect and compare data on poor and vulnerable households chosen as project recipients.
What is data to you?
The things needed for further analysis or forecasting or decision making given a situation. It should be specific and is often related to time periods.
Why is data important?
It is a numerical record of history and events. It helps us understand the past, to plan for the future. Data is a basic need for research and analysis.
What kind of data do you need in your work?
As a professional there is a constant need for new and historical data. At present I need data for a construction project, so the data needs to be current for instance the economic status of ward households, and different ethnic groups living in the area. However, depending on the project e.g. irrigation we need long term historical data (time series data). This is important to understand patterns, for instance big floods often occur approximately every 40 years which can be seen from looking at data on discharge per year from rivers etc.
What challenges do you face in obtaining data?
Since we are working with Ward Office directly, so I have not face much problem in obtaining required data for our work. The elected local officials are more cooperative since they need to show ‘development efforts’ to their constituents. Their cooperation often comes with a request for visible aspects of project implementation (a building or bridge etc as opposed to software or training intangibles).
Often the government officials are not willing to share data and often ask for special permission from various other offices before consenting to share it. Often data has to be purchased. Since most of our projects are for the benefit of the country I feel the process shouldn’t be made unnecessarily challenging. I’m glad I don’t have to personally collect data anymore!
What are the key challenges you see in accessing and using data?
When it comes to quantitative data, often there is a lack of authenticity. In case of qualitative data, people are reluctant to share it without the expectation of reciprocity. The challenge in using data is that most people don’t have the skills needed to properly interpret any analysis they perform. Often the use of data is limited to a few graphs and charts.
Describe your first experience in collecting data as a student
My master’s thesis was based on agriculture, gender and climate change. Most of the available data on this topic were based on 10/20-year intervals but that was very less suitable for my research. I needed qualitative as well as quantitative data on irrigation system but I couldn't find it..So, I have to collect data directly from the field (Labdo Dikure in Nuwakot).
My field area was new to me and I didn’t know who to talk to. Initially the people were suspicious regarding my data request. I sat at local stalls, drank tea and got to know some local people who then helped me with my research. Even while helping me collect the data I needed, there was much scepticism regarding the outcome of my thesis. In hindsight they weren’t wrong.
Can you elaborate on your views on thesis writing in Nepal?
Often there is a lot of “jumbling/fumbling” to get desired output from the data even if its not collected properly. There are often attempts to get data to match preconceived ideas instead of documenting/discovering reality.
Even thesis conducted properly with all due diligence just remain on shelves of university libraries. They don’t get published or worked on further, there is no effort or encouragement to turn these ideas into action. Researches conducted (by students), though they have potential, havenot contributed enough to intellectual capital of the country.
Have you used Nepal in Data portal for data purpose?
I haven't used it so far but I have heard that is is very useful and I look forward to exploring and using the data available from it.