Since its inception, Chautari’s core objective has been to enhance the quality of public dialogue in Nepal, particularly in matters pertaining to development, democracy, civil liberties and social justice.

Martin Chautari (henceforth Chautari or MC) began as an informal discussion group in Kathmandu in 1991, allowing development professionals, social activists and academics to meet every two weeks to share insights and experiences related to development and society in Nepal. The founders of this discussion group included the Nepali power engineer Bikas Pandey, the Norwegian engineer Odd Hoftun and the Norwegian academic Martin Hoftun. In 1995, the name ‘Martin Chautari’ was adopted in memory of Martin Hoftun, who was tragically killed in an airplane accident in 1992. After being managed by the Centre for Social Research and Development for six years, in 2002 Chautari became registered as a separate non-government organization (NGO) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Its office is currently located at 27 Jeet Jung Marg, Thapathali, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Since its inception, Chautari’s core objective has been to enhance the quality of public dialogue and the public sphere in Nepal, particularly in matters pertaining to democracy, development, pluralism/diversity, civil liberties, social justice and academic research. Even as other activities – research, research training, publications and a library open to the public – have been taken up, Chautari’s discussion seminars continue to be its most-known work. Premised on their democratic potential, MC currently organizes scheduled discussions and seminars on Sundays and Tuesdays with speakers and topics drawn from a wide social spectrum. Chautari's discussion and seminar series is the oldest, continuously running such series related to Nepal organized by any institution anywhere in the world. It also organizes thematic discussions, workshops, seminars, and conferences in different parts of Nepal.

In addition to the discussion series, Chautari also conducts and supports research, with its main concentration being on the democratic process, media, education, and history of material and cultural transformations in Nepal. Since 2009, Chautari has also extended its research to policy issues. 39 policy briefs on various themes have already been published. In executing its research project, MC has trained a new generation of researchers through an informal but rigorous mentoring program that allows the young researchers to immerse themselves in all aspects of the research enterprise.

MC also publishes books. 113 books in its Chautari Book Series and three other books as a co-publisher have been published since 2001. It is also the editorial home of the semi-annual journal Studies in Nepali History and Society (established in 1996) and the Nepali language annual journal Samaj Adhyayan (Studies of Society, established in 2006 as Media Adhyayan).

Since 2006, Chautari has opened its reference library and media archives to the public. This has allowed MC to provide access to all of its holdings of reference items to students, journalists, activists and researchers. The library’s current holdings total more than 22,000 books, theses, and reports. The library also holds an extensive hard-copy collection of journals, magazines, and newspapers published from Nepal. A new reading room was opened in 2009 for the benefit of public users.

All five components – the discussions, research, mentoring, publications and library – feed into each other and form an intrinsic part of MC’s primary goal: strengthening the social contract between the state and citizens. MC’s activities contribute to expanding and making inclusive the Nepali public sphere by promoting analytically rigorous research and informed dialogues amongst public intellectuals, journalists, academics, social activists, development practitioners, policy makers, and politicians.

Chautari is a chairperson-led organization where executive decisions are made by a seven-member executive committee that is accountable to the general body of 45 members. Its research programs and allied activities are coordinated by program/task groups which report to program coordinators or research directors.