The city of La Paz in Bolivia is piloting a new tool called Barrio Digital—or Digital Neighborhood—to communicate more effectively and efficiently with citizens living in areas that fall within Barrios de Verdad, or PBCV, an urban upgrading program that provides better services and living conditions to people in poor neighborhoods.
The goals of Barrio Digital are to:
Increase citizen participation for evidence-based decision-making,
Reduce the cost of submitting a claim and shorten the amount of time it takes for the municipality to respond, and
Strengthen the technical skills and capacity within the municipality to use ICT tools for citizen engagement.
Education is a ‘black box’ -- or so a prevailing view among many education policymakers and researchers goes.
For all of the recent explosion in data related to learning -- as a result of standardized tests, etc. -- remarkably little is known at scale about what exactly happens in classroomsaroundtheworld, and outside of them, when it comes to learning, and what the impact of this has.
This isn't to say that we know nothing, of course:
The World Bank (to cite an example from within my own institution) has been using standardized classroom observation techniques to help document what is happening in many classrooms around the world (see, for example, reports based on modified Stallings Method classroom observations across Latin America which seek to identify how much time is actually spent on instruction during school hours; in many cases, the resulting data generated are rather appalling).
Common sense holds various tenets dear when it comes to education, and to learning; many educators profess to know intuitively what works, based on their individual (and hard won) experience, even in the absence of rigorously gathered, statistically significant 'hard' data; the impact of various socioeconomic factors is increasingly acknowledged (even if many policymakers remain impervious to them); and cognitive neuroscience is providing many interesting insights.
But in many important ways, education policymaking and processes of teaching and learning are constrained by the fact that we don't have sufficient, useful, actionable data about what is actually happening with learners at a large scale across an education system -- and what impact this might have. Without data, as Andreas Schleicher likes to say, you are just another person with an opinion. (Of course, with data you might be a person with an ill-considered or poorly argued opinion, but that’s another issue.)
side observation: Echoing many teachers (but, in contrast to teaching professionals, usually with little or no formal teaching experience themselves), I find that many parents and politicians also profess to know intuitively ‘what works’ when it comes to teaching. When it comes to education, most everyone is an ‘expert’, because, well, after all, everyone was at one time a student. While not seeking to denigrate the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, or downplay the value of common sense, I do find it interesting that many leaders profess to have ready prescriptions at hand for what ‘ails education’ in ways that differ markedly from the ways in which they approach making decisions when it comes to healthcare policy, for example, or finance – even though they themselves have also been patients and make spending decisions in their daily lives.
One of the great attractions of educational technologies for many people is their potential to help open up and peer inside this so-called black box. For example:
When teachers talk in front of a class, there are only imperfect records of what transpired (teacher and student notes, memories of participants, what's left on the blackboard -- until that's erased). When lectures are recorded, on the other hand, there is a data trail that can be examined and potentially mined for related insights.
When students are asked to read in their paper textbook, there is no record of whether the book was actually opened, let along whether or not to the correct page, how long a page was viewed, etc. Not so when using e-readers or reading on the web.
Facts, figures and questions scribbled on the blackboard disappear once the class bell rings; when this information is entered into, say, Blackboard TM (or any other digital learning management system, for that matter), they can potentially live on forever.
And because these data are, at their essence, just a collection of ones and zeroes, it is easy to share them quickly and widely using the various connected technology devices we increasingly have at our disposal.
A few years ago I worked on a large project where a government was planning to introduce lots of new technologies into classrooms across its education system. Policymakers were not primarily seeking to do this in order to ‘transform teaching and learning’ (although of course the project was marketed this way), but rather so that they could better understand what was actually happening in classrooms. If students were scoring poorly on their national end-of-year assessments, policymakers were wondering: Is this because the quality of instruction was insufficient? Because the learning materials used were inadequate? Or might it be because the teachers never got to that part of the syllabus, and so students were being assessed on things they hadn’t been taught? If technology use was mandated, at least they might get some sense about what material was being covered in schools – and what wasn’t. Or so the thinking went ....
Yes, such digital trails are admittedly incomplete, and can obscure as much as they illuminate, especially if the limitations of such data are poorly understood and data are investigated and analyzed incompletely, poorly, or with bias (or malicious intent). They also carry with them all sorts of very important and thorny considerations related to privacy, security, intellectual property and many other issues.
That said, used well, the addition of additional data points holds out the tantalizing promise of potentially new and/or deeper insights than has been currently possible within 'analogue' classrooms.
But there is another 'black box of education' worth considering.
In many countries, there have been serious and expansive efforts underway to compel governments make available more ‘open data’ about what is happening in their societies, and to utilize more ‘open educational resources’ for learning – including in schools. Many international donor and aid agencies support related efforts in key ways. The World Bank is a big promoter of many of these so-called ‘open data’ initiatives, for example. UNESCO has long been a big proponent of ‘open education resources’ (OERs). To some degree, pretty much all international donor agencies are involved in such activities in some way.
There is no doubt that increased ‘openness’ of various sorts can help make many processes and decisions in the education sector more transparent, as well as have other benefits (by allowing the re-use and ‘re-mixing’ of OERs, teachers and students can themselves help create new teaching and learning materials; civil society groups and private firms can utilize open data to help build new products and services; etc.).
What happens when governments promote the use of open education data and open education resources but, at the same time, refuse to make openly available the algorithms (formulas) that are utilized to draw insights from, and make key decisions based on, these open data and resources?
Are we in danger of opening up one black box, only to place another, more inscrutable back box inside of it?
The World Bank has initiated and contributed to many activities in support of Open Access over the years including:
• June 1997 - Launch of Documents and Reports (D&R). Previously known as World Development Sources (WDS), D&R contains more than 240,000 publicly available World Bank documents and enables the sharing of the institution's extensive knowledge base and operational documents.
• April 2010 – Launch of the Open Data Initiative, making World Bank flagship databases and hundreds of other datasets freely available to the public.
• July 2010 – Launch of Access to Information Policy (AI), a landmark shift regarding how and which information the World Bank makes available to the public. By setting the default classification to one of maximum disclosure (with a limited set of exceptions), tens of thousands of previously undisclosed information – including projects under preparation and implementation, analytic and advisory activities, and Board proceedings – are now available to the public through D & R. And there is an App for that too (the World Bank InfoFinder)!
• August 2011 – Launch of Open Finances, presenting publicly-accessible data related to the Bank’s financials available in a social, interactive, visually compelling, and machine-readable format.
• April 2012 – Launch of the Open Knowledge Repository (OKR), the Bank’s official Open Access repository that contains Bank publications since 2000. Prior publications are available to the public through D&R.
• July 2012 – Launch of the Open Access Policy. The policy mandates Bank's publications and their associated research data to be made freely available, with no restrictions on use and reuse. It governs works published or funded by the Bank and works written by Bank staff and published externally.
In this video, representatives from the World Bank, GEF, and City of Johannesburg discuss the impact of geospatial tools on urban planning.
Many urban residents these days will find it hard to imagine a life without mobile apps that help us locate a restaurant, hail a cab, or find a subway station—usually in a matter of seconds. If geospatial technology and data already make our everyday lives this easier, imagine what they can do for our cities: for example, geospatial data on land-use change and built-up land expansion can provide for more responsive urban planning, while information on traffic conditions, road networks, and solid waste sites can help optimize management and enhance the quality of urban living.
The “urban geo-data gap”
However, information and data that provide the latest big picture on urban land and services often fail to keep up with rapid population growth and land expansion. This is especially the case for cities in developing countries—home to the fastest growing urban and vulnerable populations.
June 9 is International Archives Day, and I would like to mark this day by reflecting on the contribution of the World Bank Group Archives to the “memory” of the development community. As such, I am talking with Giovanni Zanalda, director of the Duke University Center for International Studies/Global Areas. Giovanni is a faculty member in the Departments of Economics and History at Duke and specializes in financial history, history of development, and emerging markets. He has been a user of the WBG Archives in different phases of his career and with different focuses, and we have asked him to share his user perspective.
An active player in the transparency space, the World Bank just released its fifth Access to Information (AI) Annual Report. The report presents the evolution and progress of the Policy on Access to Information (the Policy) since it was launched on July 1, 2010, provides a variety of statistics, and highlights a range of transparency activities carried out in fiscal 2015. Since 2010, the Bank has pushed the frontiers to disclose more information and twice revised the Policy to keep abreast of evolving public demand—in 2013 to clarify declassification of certain Board transcripts, and in 2015 to align the treatment of the documents and records of the Board of Governors with the treatment of those of the Executive Directors. The following are select highlights from the past five years.
Enhanced information access. The Policy has provided the public with access to a broad range of historical and current information on operations, research, corporate matters, and Board decisions. The Bank has also received and responded to more than 3,000 access to information requests. The number of requests declined from 700 in 2010 to 474 in 2015, due to the Bank’s proactive and systematic efforts to disclose information online. The main entry points to the Bank’s wealth of information are the Projects and Operations portal, which provides detailed information on lending operations, and the Documents and Reports repository, which contains more than 200,000 documents that are freely accessible to the public. Further, the Archives Holdings website offers a growing collection of digitized records dating to the 1940s.
Governance structure and appeals. The Policy has established two robust bodies to manage the appeals process—the AI Committee and the external AI Appeals Board. A new chair of the AI Committee was appointed last fall, Stefan Koeberle, Bank director of strategy, results and risk. In 2015, the membership of the AI Appeals Board was renewed with the selection of a new member and the re-appointment of two previous members. The number of appeals submitted to these bodies has been low, possibly indicating that proactive disclosure and the system for responding to requests are working well. The appeals mechanism ensures that the Bank implements the Policy effectively.
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).
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.