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Does “Rational Ignorance” make working on transparency and accountability a waste of time?

Duncan Green's picture

Guest post from Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America (gosh, they do have august sounding job titles, don’t they?)

As the poorest half of the planet sees that just 62 people have more wealth than all of them, collective frustration at extreme inequality is increasing.  To rebalance power and wealth, many in our community are turning to transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion.  Interrogate that “development consensus,” however, and opinions are fractured over the benefits and costs of transferring power from the haves to the have-nots.

Social Media Information OverloadIn truth, our theories of change often diverge.  Most development organizations may agree on the need to advocate for more Investment, Innovation, Information, strong Institutions and Incentives, but some organizations are genuinely committed to only one of those “I’s”, and that can be problematic:  Oxfam often finds itself choosing and moving between the relentless positivity of politically benign theories of change (e.g. we just need more “investment” or “innovation”), the moderation of those who focus exclusively on transparent “information” with no clear pathway to ensure its political relevance, and the relentless negativity of activists that think the only way to transform “institutions” or realign the “incentives” of elites is to beat them up in public.

Oxfam’s challenge is to be both explicit in our theory of change and show sophistication and dexterity in working across that spectrum.  If Oxfam’s theory of change is based on a citizen-centered approach to tackling global systemic challenges like extreme inequality, then our opportunity may be engaging the “rational ignorance” of citizens and consumers.
 

New data on Climate Investment Funds and their results

Martin Craig Hall's picture
Readers of this blog site will know that open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed – it’s legally open and technically open.  Readers of this blog may not know that the $8.3 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIF), are providing scaled-up financing through the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to initiate transformational change toward climate-resilient, low-carbon development in 72 countries worldwide.  And this month, for the first time, the CIF is publishing open data on the results of our Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and our Scaling up Renewable Energy Program (SREP).
 

How open are official statistics?

Shaida Badiee's picture

This is a guest post from Shaida Badiee and Eric Swanson, co-founders of the NGO Open Data Watch, which works on a variety of initiatives at the intersection of Open Data and Official Statistics.

Although "open data" has been a popular rallying cry and many countries, states, even cities, have announced open data initiatives, open access to the important data produced by national statistical agencies remains, at best, limited.

To get a baseline measurement, Open Data Watch conducted in depth assessments of the statistics commonly produced by national statistical systems in 125 mostly low- and middle-income countries. Called the Open Data Inventory (ODIN), results are now available online at http://odin.opendatawatch.com. Global results are shown in Figure 1. In 2015 ODIN found only 10 national statistical offices (NSOs) that satisfied more than 50 percent of the criteria for data coverage and openness. Mexico, at 68 percent was the highest scoring country followed by Mongolia, Moldova, and Rwanda. Uzbekistan at 3 percent was the lowest.

An interactive table of all country scores is available here:
http://odin.opendatawatch.com/report/rankings


 

New online resource spotlights debt statistics news and trends

Parul Agarwal's picture
We're thrilled to share the news about our brand new Online Quarterly Bulletin, which features debt statistics news, trends, and events. Laid out in the format of an e-newsletter, this quarter's issue focuses on:
  • Debt statistics products, coverage, and methodologies
  • External debt trends of 2015
  • International debt statistics-related activities and summaries
One area we'd like to highlight is the interconnection of the many types of debt statistics that the World Bank collects, manages, and disseminates.
 
The World Bank collects annual external debt statistics through the World Bank Debt Reporting System (DRS) and publishes it annually in the International Debt Statistics (IDS) publication. This annual data is complemented by our quarterly external and public debt statistics captured through the Quarterly External Debt Statistics (QEDS) database and the Public Sector Debt (PSD) database.  To help illustrate this interconnection, we've created the below graphic.
 


 

New paper: "Milking the Data"

Tariq Khokhar's picture
Quick: how much milk did you drink last year?
 
If you can answer that accurately, you’re either taking the “quantified self” thing a bit far, or you may have been reading some of our research.
 
A new paper co-authored by our colleges on the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team compares different methods for estimating how much milk is being taken from livestock for human consumption.
 
Alberto wrote about this research last year and the work has been published in Food Policy under an open access license. I think the findings are super-interesting - the authors are trying to understand how to accurately find out from individuals “how much milk did you collect from your animals this year?”
 
Simply asking that question isn’t likely to get you an accurate answer, but if you had to rely on questions in a survey, which questions would you pick? The study compares the answers provided by different survey “recall methods” in Niger against benchmark data gathered by actually measuring the volume of milk taken (weighing it in a jug... ) one day every 2-weeks over the course of a year.

New time series of global subnational population estimates launched

Dereje Ketema Wolde's picture

We've just launched a new, pilot global subnational population database featuring time series population estimates for 75 countries at the first-level administrative divisions (provinces, states, or regions). The database has time series data that spans 15 years (2000-2014), with total population numbers for each area and the shares relative to total national population estimates.

What's new about this?
The common data source of population estimates for most countries is a census, often conducted every 10 years or so. Many countries publish annual estimates between census years, but few publish similar population estimates for subnational regions. This database aims to provide intercensal estimates using a standard methodology.

Four ways open data is changing the world

Stefaan Verhulst's picture

Library at Mohammed V University at Agdal, RabatDespite global commitments to and increasing enthusiasm for open data, little is actually known about its use and impact. What kinds of social and economic transformation has open data brought about, and what is its future potential? How—and under what circumstances—has it been most effective? How have open data practitioners mitigated risks and maximized social good?

Even as proponents of open data extol its virtues, the field continues to suffer from a paucity of empirical evidence. This limits our understanding of open data and its impact.

Over the last few months, The GovLab (@thegovlab), in collaboration with Omidyar Network (@OmidyarNetwork), has worked to address these shortcomings by developing 19 detailed open data case studies from around the world. The case studies have been selected for their sectoral and geographic representativeness. They are built in part from secondary sources (“desk research”), and also from more than 60 first-hand interviews with important players and key stakeholders. In a related collaboration with Omidyar Network, Becky Hogge (@barefoot_techie), an independent researcher, has developed an additional six open data case studies, all focused on the United Kingdom.  Together, these case studies, seek to provide a more nuanced understanding of the various processes and factors underlying the demand, supply, release, use and impact of open data.

After receiving and integrating comments from dozens of peer reviewers through a unique open process, we are delighted to share an initial batch of 10 case studies, as well three of Hogge’s UK-based stories. These are being made available at a new custom-built repository, Open Data’s Impact, that will eventually house all the case studies, key findings across the studies, and additional resources related to the impact of open data. All this information will be stored in machine-readable HTML and PDF format, and will be searchable by area of impact, sector and region.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Corruption Perceptions Index 
Transparency International 
2015 showed that people working together can succeed in fighting corruption. Although corruption is still rife globally, more countries improved their scores in 2015 than declined. Five of the 10 most corrupt countries also rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world. Northern Europe emerges well in the index – it’s home to four of the top five countries. But just because a country has a clean public sector at home, doesn’t mean it isn’t linked to corruption elsewhere.
 
An Economy For the 1%
Oxfam
The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.

Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Traffic in DelhiLate last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period


I will come to the outcomes of this pilot in just a moment. Outcomes aside, the Delhi government’s Odd-Even plan has yielded a rich bounty. It sets the template for citizen engagement with a public policy reform experiment: heightened awareness regarding the core issue, mass participation, intense public scrutiny, and a data-driven discourse. Let’s take these one-by-one.


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