Evidence-based policymaking in NepalMany developing countries have yet to enhance their policy formulation and implementation capacity.
The growth trajectory of a country is guided by the policies it prepares and implements to meet the expectations of the people, the vision of political parties and the expertise of bureaucracy. It should primarily be based on factual data and identified problems of a particular sector. Evidence-based policymaking is accepted based on research findings and the development of the targeted sector. Developed countries are way ahead in policymaking while developing and least-developed countries are yet to enhance their capacity.
Policymaking in Nepal is plagued by the tendency of policymakers to make hasty and ambitious policies but fail to implement them. While facts, figures and findings are the mainstay of effective policies, Nepal lacks sufficient grassroots evidence for policy formulation. This remains the main hindrance to creating and implementing evidence-based policy in Nepal. As a result, the entire policymaking process of the country bears widespread criticism as “making policies in aggression and implementing them in regression”.
Evidence-based policymaking in Nepal is still in its infancy and has yet to materialise its efforts. On the one hand, data availability is significantly lower; on the other, capacity constraints in policymaking are prevalent. The systemic culture of push and pull of research for policy-making has not developed yet, given the unsatisfactory status of research and development.
We have a few research institutions, including the Policy Research Institute, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Institute of Foreign Affairs, Nepal Health Research Council and academic institutions. However, there is a need for coherence in their findings and policy formulations. Additionally, these institutions are suffering from institutional capacity constraints. Nepal also lacks an apex research body that coordinates with the three tiers of government in research and development, including vertical and horizontal cross-cutting issues.
Most research institutions in Nepal were established before the country embraced federalism in 2015. So, it is necessary to envisage and develop institutions that focus on research at the provincial and local levels. If the planning and policymaking of provincial and local levels are not coordinated with the federal level, achieving development goals would be a far cry. Aside from harmonisation among the three tiers of government, the policies should be informed by up-to-date facts and figures that reflect the image and development trajectory of the ground reality. Simply put, a greater emphasis on demand-driven policymaking rather than a supply-led approach should be prioritised as it reveals the true demand of the targeted sector where policy intervention is needed.
Room for improvement
The institutional capacity of policymaking bodies exhibits a massive room for improvement, be it at the federal, provincial, or local levels. In Nepal, the National Planning Commission at the federal level prepares periodic plans, and the provincial level has provincial planning commissions. At the local level, there are local planning units. Though the National Planning Commission has been active since 1956, provincial and local planning bodies have been operating only after 2017 with the first elections of three tiers of governments in the federal set-up. The provinces and local planning bodies are yet to develop their full capacity. Besides, the federal and provincial sectoral ministries involved in sectoral policy-making also struggle with institutional constraints. The human capital engaged in planning and policy-making processes is more generalist than sector-specific experts. Even though consultation and participation of stakeholders is an essential aspect of Nepal’s policy-making process, it seems cosmetic rather than meaningful.
Nepal is nearing the end of its 15th periodic plan and on the verge of the 16th, but a pleasing picture of results delivery is yet to be found. For a plan to succeed in Nepal, there should be strong inter-linkage between the annual budget, the medium term expenditure framework and periodic plans. The problem seen in federal-level planning and budgeting is also reflected in provincial and local levels. The commitment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 necessitates properly internalising SDGs into our planning and budgeting process. The linkage should be established through facts and figures rather than sweet-sounding jargon. The pork-barrelling prevalent during budget preparations at all three levels of government has aggravated Nepal’s evidence-based policy making ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the practice of policy review is almost nonexistent in Nepal. Policies are rarely based on past experiences and learning; instead, they are sudden expressions of short-term needs. Periodic review and policy evaluation are essential to evidence-based policymaking because feedback can improve policy.
Learning from Sweden
An excellent example of evidence-based policymaking is Sweden’s Vision Zero Initiative. The initiative started in 1997 to address the issues of traffic accidents in the country and successfully minimise them. Following its triumph, Europe and other countries adopted it, yielding astounding results in traffic safety. The success emanates from an evidence-based policy-making process with comprehensive data collection related to traffic accidents. The initiative analyses high-risk areas and situations based on available data and carries out targeted interventions, including road designs, strict traffic regulations, launching awareness campaigns, etc. A continuous evaluation system of the targeted intervention eventually leads to adaptation and improvement. The Vision Zero Initiative takes evidence as the foundation of targeted interventions.
Nepal’s policy-making process should be enhanced by giving voice to data rather than lofty words. Evidence-based policymaking should be a departure point for Nepal’s strategic journey, boosting the research and development culture in the government tiers. Other governance stakeholders, including the private sector, should equally prioritise and invest in research and development. The more the segregated data is received, the easier it is for strategic intervention in the targeted sector, which contributes to the overall development agenda of Nepal.