After closely monitoring the situation with the spread of COVID-19 and holding discussions with the communities, Accountability Lab realized that the fake news and rumors were rapidly spreading on the ground. These rumors ranged from health hazards to other inaccuracies around the government’s preparedness and actions that created distrust between communities and the government. It was absolutely critical to ensure that essential, validated information reached citizens and the government to help them navigate their responses during the pandemic in a responsible manner.
Based on the similar experience after the massive earthquake in Nepal in 2015, Accountability Lab Nepal started the Coronavirus CivActs Campaign. It is an open, people-powered pandemic response mechanism that uses multi-way communication to gather validated information and debunk rumors about coronavirus in Nepal. By providing the public with facts, the CCC ensures a better understanding of public needs during the pandemic and helps ensure that programs and policies are inclusive and responsive. Here is the link to the video.
Although reaching the communities in person is still not an option, drawing on the post-earthquake experience, the Lab is using its network of youth leaders whom we call Community Frontliners from various backgrounds - including social activists and journalists across the provinces - to collect rumors, concerns, and questions, and disseminate the validated information back to the communities. These networks are gathering concerns from the communities by tracking social media and calling people who do not have access to the internet, and then sending it to the Lab’s core team in Kathmandu. The team in Kathmandu, which has access to the internet and contact with various government bodies, conducts research and contacts experts to find answers to these concerns and brings together all the information creatively with infographics and pictures in bulletins, which are easy to understand. To make it accessible to everyone, the bulletins are published in three different languages - Nepali, Maithili and English. They are disseminated back to the communities by their existing networks through social media, email, websites, phone calls and WhatsApp. Furthermore, various local radio stations have supported the Lab in spreading these messages in dialogue form to make them more interesting.
Through this process we have been able to publish 61 Bulletins as of this date, with 500+ issues covered. It includes the most recent information on government mechanisms and decisions. Over time, we have also discussed larger governance issues through the CivActs program including financial transparency with “Follow the Money”, local governance, labour migration, gender issues etc. through the bulletins. One of the keys to the success of the campaign is collaboration with 50+ organizations who are supporting us through their expertise on different issues and sharing the information from CCCs in their network. The bulletin has been highlighted in various national and local media outlets including BBC Nepali for being one of the leading CSOs to do so in Nepal. Also, the data from Follow the Money was used by Karobar Daily to show the gaps in government spending.
CCC Supporting Local Government
The chief of Ward no. 8 of Dhangadhi Sub-metropolitan city shared with our CFA, “The bulletin that Alab Nepal has been publishing regarding COVID-19 is very relevant and appreciable. It has supported us in eliminating the rumors and concerns of ordinary citizens and understanding the public’s needs. The people are being introduced to facts and realities through the campaign. It is very insightful and should be retained in the coming days as well.”
CCC promoting Accountability
Our CFA from Province 2, shared about the irregularities in the tender on the purchase of health equipment by Jaleshwar Hospital, which was published in their website, during his Facebook live session. Following that, the hospital shortly took down the website which received a lot of public attention and has since been largely discussed on social media. Similarly, a few social activists from the same Jaleswar Municipality reached out to the local government asking for financial details on holding center expenses after the province-wise expense data had been published in our bulletins. This shows that the bulletins urge the public to raise their voices and question the accountability of their government.