Certain online circles have been buzzing about last week's quiet release of the World Bank's new open API, or application programming interface, which gives open access to vast amounts of the Bank's economic data that date back more than 50 years. The news was first announced by the third-party creator of the API, and has been widely discussed on other blogs and Twitter.
The goal of the API is to make it simpler for third-party programmers to create applications that make the World Bank's economic data globally accessible and easy to understand.
I'll leave the specifics of what an API is and how they work to the others, but a quick example is the thousands of games and other iPhone applications (advertised by Apple as "apps") that have been created from its API. Apple couldn't have developed so many apps on its own and instead made it easier for others to create them.
Other than the fact that the API was re-launched, this news won't mean much to non-computer programmers like me ... at least at first. That is, most of us won't be able to see the direct results of the API until programmers and developers start to create mashups, widgets and other applications that make it easy for the rest of us to access, understand and visualize the data.
New and innovative uses of the World Bank's valuable data will hopefully be an eventual result of the API. Irakli Nadareishvili, who was on the team that created the API for the Bank, writes on Phase2's blog, "What you can do with actual code and integration with other tools is probably only limited by imagination."
I recently gave a talk about the importance of strengthening the public sphere in programs designed to build good governance. In this conceptualization, the public sphere is that space where free and equal citizens discuss, debate, and share information about public affairs in order to influence the policies that affect the quality of their lives. Existing at the cross-roads of media, civil society, public opinion, and state institutions, the public sphere forms an essential element of good governance and accountability.
During the talk, a question arose about whether the public sphere model actually discounted issues such as accountability in favor of building consensus between civil society, media, and government. In my view, this is absolutely not the case, but I can see how such questions arise.
The reason I chose such a title is due to the difficulty of mainstreaming (i.e., understanding and institutionalizing) the emerging conception of communication in development required to support and address the challenges in the current process of democratization, especially when dealing with governance issues.
My attention has been tickled by the news that at the recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, donors apparently agreed to launch an initiative known as the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Under the initiative, according to the DFID press release on the subject, donors have agreed to give:
- Full and detailed information on all aid in each country affected
- Details and costs of individual projects and their aims
- Reliable information on future aid to improve planning by recipient governments.
I hope the initiative will be seriously implemented. But it will not be easy. And the main reason it will not be easy is that the instinct of the technocracy that dominates every aspect of international development is to be non-transparent.
As a first-time blogger on this site, I will focus on bringing experiences and reflections on how communication plays a key role in initiatives related to governance, a role even more fundamental than that played in other kinds of development programs. Before digging more into this, I would like to illustrate and hopefully clarify one term that, due to its broad and multifaceted connotation, is used too frequently in an ambiguous manner: communication.