Where can you find the top trading partners for your country? Where can you find the top products exported to and imported from Indonesia? Where can you find just about any type of trade data?
The answers to these questions (and more) are available at our recently revamped World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) site: wits.worldbank.org. In previous versions of the site, users needed to login and query the data themselves. You still can. And many still do to conduct much more detailed and sophisticated research and analysis on trade. But if you want to quickly look up or browse trade statistics like total exports, tariffs applied, top export, and import partners, the data has been pre-calculated and made available as Open Data.
“Thanks to the data I found on WITS, I successfully completed my PhD. Really easy-to-use site and great upgrades.”
– User in India
Something Is Changing
Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.
While many may have heard the statistic “Cities are home to 50% of the world’s population”, few realize that it leads directly to a sobering and much less hyped conclusion: we face an urgent need to understand how our cities work.
Cities are now the defining human organizational structure on earth, but what do we know about these creations? Sadly, not enough. Which is why collecting and disseminating high-quality data about cities and how they function is of critical importance.
Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) has recently taken a giant step in this direction by making our 2013 data set on over 100 large cities, their greenhouse gas emissions, and their actions on climate change available for free download in CSV files via our website. This effort—made possible by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and our long-term partnership with C40—brings our voluminous data into the public domain for the first time.
Although the World Bank collaborates with international agencies that work with external debt and debt-related statistics (the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others), the World Bank has the international mandate to collect external debt data, and we maintain comprehensive external debt information.
What sparks a revolution? And what helps keep the transformational power of a revolution alive? When Jim Yong Kim became World Bank Group president less than two years ago, he stated that one of his first priorities was to position the World Bank Group as a “solutions bank.” Most recently, during his speech last Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kim discussed the Bank’s efforts to invest in effective infrastructure, including data systems and social movements to empower the poor.
These three words – solutions, data and the poor – from my perspective, point to this: the data revolution needs to be transformational and we must act now. Unless we fully embrace this data revolution as a bold, timely opportunity to engage citizens, identify successful case studies, leverage global partnerships and technology, strive to learn from the private sector and truly aim to be innovative, we just may miss out on keeping this revolution alive. And while it is good news that the UN High Level Panel Report on the post-2015 development agenda confirms that the data revolution is high on the political agenda, we must also gather evidence and vigorously commit to an inclusive plan to meet this goal.
After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)
I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)
Four years ago the World Bank Group opened its data to the public hoping innovators would find new ways to use the data. At the same time, a growing number of governments were also opening up their data – to be more accountable, and to spur economic activity around the data. Today, the open data entrepreneur has emerged. About 500 companies that use open data in their business have sprung up in the United States alone, and similar businesses are cropping up all over the world, even in countries with limited data — let alone open data.
So far, this open data-fueled sector is still small, but it promises to take the delivery of useful information to a new level as it grows. In the United States, businesses are using utilities data to promote energy efficiency, education data to help find the best schools, and health data to allow people to check symptoms and make doctor appointments, to name a few examples. A 2013 study by McKinsey & Co. estimates open data could help generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value for the global economy.
But can open data entrepreneurs help tackle global challenges and make a difference in developing countries, including in the poorest and most fragile countries? A recent World Bank event explored that question, bringing in one of the private sector pioneers in the use of open data, The Climate Corporation, along with Metabiota, a for-profit firm tracking emerging diseases in developing countries, and Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now and the lead on a New York University-based project, Open Data 500.
- open data
Corporations do them monthly.
Presidents and Prime Ministers check them daily.
Surveys and polls. They drive decision making across all sorts of organizations, corporations, governments and even palaces. Polls inform a range of strategies, whether related to how countries build support for reform, to how organizations move the needle on behavior change (think smoking, HIV, and drunk driving), to how companies choose the colors of a box of cereal and decide on the jingo that is intended to sell that cereal (crafted specifically to never leave your memory)!
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.
First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system. The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa). Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry. Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.