World Bank Opens Up Development Data

by Richard Fahey on 20/04/2010

Earlier today, the World Bank announced it was opening up its development data to the public and “challenging the global community to use the data to create new applications and solutions to help poor people in the developing world”.

It launched a new website offering free access to more than 2,000 financial, business, health, economic and human development statistics that had previously only been available to paid subscribers.

The data being made freely available includes information from World Development Indicators reports, which track up to 1,000 stats related to global development, including the Global Development Finance report, Africa Development Indicators, Global Economic Monitor and other agency reports.

Speaking about the Bank’s new open data initiative World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick said:

It’s important to make the data and knowledge of the World Bank available to everyone. Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty.

Our experience shows, what gets measured can be changed. That is why it is so important to make this available to everyone.

Broader access [to this data] will allow policy makers and advocacy groups to provide better informed solutions to development challenges and measure improvements more accurately.

The release of this data is seen as an important step in of ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the development process:

The World Bank recognizes that transparency and accountability are essential to the development process and central to achieving the Bank’s mission to alleviate poverty.

[...] Broader access to these data allow policymakers and advocacy groups to make better-informed decisions and measure improvements more accurately. They are also valuable tools to support research by journalists, academia and others, broadening understanding of global issues.

The initiative is recognized as ‘highly significant’ due to the worldwide importance and reach of the data. It can also act as a catalyst for others to engage with the development process:

Opening up the data set to public access hinges on the understanding that together we know more and can do more. It also encourages engaged and talented people everywhere to dig in to the information, look for hidden patterns and previously undetected linkages, so that problems and needs are more likely to be addressed with greater speed and creativity.

Apps for Development

Zoellick also announced the launch of  an “Apps for Development” challenge later this year to give developers around the world incentives to “transform datasets into new applications to help tackle existing development challenges, such as infant mortality , literacy and extreme poverty.”

Speaking about the initiative Hans Rosling, Gapminder Foundation co-founder, said:

It’s the right thing to do, because it will foster innovation. That is the most important thing.

He tweeted about how the “World became better today!”, and hoped the initiative would inspire more tools for visualizing data and set an example for other international institutions.

Open Data

With this new initiative the World Bank is joining a growing “open data” trend; both the United States and United Kingdom have recently opened up large amounts of government data to the public.

The UN’s 2010 E-Government Survey noted the economics and importance of Open Data:

Open data enhances public sector efficiency by transferring some of the analytical demands of government to NGOs, research institutes and the media, which have been found to combine data from various sources in original and inventive ways.

Similarly, governments around the world have used competitions as a means of efficiently engaging with the public to produce innovative applications for the public good, that may not otherwise have been developed internally.

The “Apps for Development” contest also follows in a long line of government related open data development competitions.

The data.worldbank.org site is powered by Drupal, which is fast becoming the new ‘Gov 2.0 site Builder‘ because of its open nature and strong transparency, accountability, participation and collaboration credentials.

The World Bank’s new Access to Information Policy — which takes later this year — should expand the knowledge and experience shared by the bank, by providing more information about projects and programs than ever before. Along with increasing Participation and Transparency at both a policy and project level, the bank is hoping the release of data will encourage collaboration and engagement with global development issues.

The opening up of data is seen by the bank as a means towards fostering innovation in the development process, and utilizing the results towards furthering it’s mission of fighting global poverty.

UPDATE

Federal News Radio Interview with World Bank corporate communications manager Carl Hanlon on the launch of data.worldbank.org

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