LightsON movement: A volunteer driven digital initiative to map civic utilities in Nepal

-Aashutosh Karki

 Published:April 2,2019 2:14 pm

The initial challenge was on how to collect those data and sensitize new audiences on open data. The team brainstormed over the key informations that would be brought from the street. We agreed to collect data on location, condition of the light (if it is working, not w...

Photo Credit: Youth Innovation Lab

The spirit of volunteerism has brought many changes in human lives. From alleviating pain to giving hope to face tomorrow, volunteering can truly change and transform lives. It is also a way of giving back to your community while learning civic skills, developing practical knowledge, and initiating efforts to solve societal problems.

In past, volunteerism was primarily limited in making donations, providing relief, rehabilitation, and being voice for change. However, with digital technology the horizon of volunteerism has expanded beyond to capture new opportunities. Today, volunteers with technical skills can help to solve societal problems from any part of the world using tech tools—the term for such digital contributors is -‘Digital Volunteers’.

Youth Innovation Lab (YI-Lab) on March 2, 2019 organized an event in collaboration with NAXA to celebrate Open Data Day 2019 with an aim to map urban utilities inside Kathmandu Valley.

Start from Street

Fig 1: Streetlights photo around Sankhamul Area

YI-lab, NAXA and Digital Volunteers discussed together to pick a pressing urban issue. One of the members referred to the paper published by Stephen on “the influence of Street Lighting on Crime and Fear of Crime” pointing out the importance of street lights in crime reduction. Hence, the team agreed unanimously on mapping street lights and later named this initiative as -LightsON movement.

The initial challenge was on how to collect those data and sensitize new audiences on open data. The team brainstormed over the key informations that would be brought from the street. We agreed to collect data on location, condition of the light (if it is working, not working or broken), the source of light (electric or solar), type of pillar, and a photo to support evidence.

What are we trying to achieve?

Fig 2: Aashutosh Karki, Campaign Co-ordinator explaining volunteers about the LightsOn campaign.

The concept of OpenData is new to a large extent of audience and there are only handful of institutions dedicated on OpenData. With LighsON campaign we wanted to sensitize new audience on Opendata, especially college students. College students represent the youth who can contribute to open digital platform through crowdsourcing and also, make the most of open data.

Crowdsourcing of urban utilities can be a powerful resource to drive urban development, especially in the context of haphazard cities, such as Kathmandu. However, data collection is another major challenge for digitization of these urban utilities. In Kathmandu lack of spatial information has hindered evidence-based urban development; for an example,in periodic maintenance of street lights. The major goal of LightsON movement is to map street lights of Kathmandu valley and to pressurize the responsible government agencies for periodic maintenance of such utilities. LightsON movement is an important milestone to set a benchmark for mapping other civic utilities and to advocate on data driven advocacy in Nepal. This link -  shed light on our initiative.

What is OpenData for me?

Wikipedia is an easy and widespread example on Opendata for someone who hears the term for the first time. It doesn’t ask users to login or signup to view its content and above all, information in Wikipedia can be openly edited by users. This enables users to update the necessary information time to time.  However, we at YI-lab acknowledge OpenData as something more powerful and capable of ensuring civic/bureaucratic accountability.  I advocate for OpenData as something not limited in its scope to editable information but responsive to transparency, tracking public budget expenditure and participation of people for the reliability of information.

Challenge in Crowdsourcing

Taking forward LightsON campaign was a challenge. The students in the first college were excited to be oriented on a novel subject matter. But, when we asked these students whether they would contribute to this campaign, out of 30 students present only four raised their hands. I understood then, that requesting individuals to invest their time for whatever exciting the cause, is still going to be very challenging. We started brainstorming over new strategies to convince people to volunteer. The reluctance seen in the interactive session in the first orientation made us realize the importance of certification which would validate volunteering and thus, allure them to be the part of the movement. The other incentive would be a small gift to acknowledge the individual’s importance. It was then decided to issue certificates to contributors adding 25 street light points and a campaign T-shirt to individuals contributing 50 street light points. By incentivizing value for their time, hard work invested, and contribution made towards OpenData, more students got inspired to join the movement. This led to a dramatic growth in the collection of street light data in the system. After visiting other colleges, the street light data grew by 200-300 points after each orientation. This was a head start for LightsOn campaign and it became a ceiling for other college students to beat.

Fig 3: Reaching out to prospective DigitalVolunteer for LightsOn campaign

Open Data Day

Open Data is a global volunteering movement where Nepal started celebrating since 2012. This year marking international Open Data Day, March 2, YI-Lab and NAXA launched this campaign with an ambitious plan to collect 10,000 street lights engaging 100 Digital Volunteers. The event at Nepal Administrative Staff College was organized to spread the message and to make a joint declaration to make this a long-term movement.


Join the LighsOn movement to start mapping urban utilities inside Kathmandu Valley. Visit!



The YI-Lab is a collaborative platform and experimental pop-up to catalyze and mobilize the creative energy of young people between 15-29 to co-create solutions for inclusive development.


Tukucha Marg, Gairidhara, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal


Copyright © 2020 Youth Innovation