My experiences with field work thus far have been nothing if not adventurous. I seem to attract broken glass – a rock the size of a small coconut crashing through my 3rd floor window in Zanzibar, for instance, or the windows of my taxi being broken with baseball bats by an armed mob in Mali. Just the other day, my boss and I came within inches of dying in a fiery plane crash – we were on our way back to the main island of Zanzibar from Pemba island in a tiny 12-seater Soviet-era plane, and were just about to land in a strong crosswind when the engine on my side failed. We managed to land, somehow, and taxied to a stop right there on the runway to wait for a vehicle (ironically, it ended up being an ambulance) to take us to the terminal.
With a data revolution upon us and as we strive to keep up in this new age of participation, what counts matters and is acted upon. If advertisers can mine our online behavior, how we use our phones and where we spend to influence our consumer choices, then surely we can design smart social programs based on gender-disaggregated data that will narrow the gaps between men and women in social and economic life, right? These and other questions were posed at an event today on “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap."
What was inspiring was that two heavy-hitters – World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – spoke eloquently about the power of data to maximize results and shape policies, whether in terms of higher productivity on farms in Africa, better social safety net programs in Peru, or more effective peace and reconciliation initiatives in post conflict countries.
Can a new set of brains bring a new set of solutions to water problems? Water is at the heart of some of the world's most pressing development challenges. For example:
- human development: diarrhea kills more children than AIDS, malaria and TB combined.
- energy security: hydropower is the only renewable energy source currently deployed at scale
- food security: agriculture will face increasingly powerful demands to allocate water to urban, industrial and environmental services.
- urban development: droughts and floods will grow more intense and frequent in cities.
Life before the web was neatly compartmentalized. Research was produced by researchers who wrote articles for academic journals; news was written up by professional journalists who wrote for newspapers and talked on news broadcasts on the TV and the radio; policy was made by politicians and policymakers behind closed doors in smoke-filled ministries in capital cities; and entertainment was crafted by professionals and delivered in theaters, cinemas and on the TV.
With just four years to the target date of 2015, progress on the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been slow. Measuring progress has been hampered by the lack of quality and timely data; this is especially true when measuring progress toward goals that rely on civil registration for their information, such as Goal 4 on reducing child mortality. Available data in the new edition of World Development Indicators show that of the 144 countries for which data are available, more than 100 countries remain off-track to reach the MDG 4 by 2015.
It’s 1988. I’ve just started my career as a statistician in the British Civil Service. One of my first tasks: find data to compare the major aid donors of the world: how much they give, and the size of their economies.
But twenty three years ago there isn’t a computer on every desk. There is no internet, no World Wide Web. So no email, no instant messages, no Google. Communication is by letter (in quintuplicate, I should add), fax, phone – and more than an occasional telex. And getting hold of some data means spending a few happy hours in the statistical annex of the departmental library, digging out the latest statistical publications.
Rising food prices have once again grabbed everyone’s attention. Prices for some basic foods are nearing the 2008 food crisis levels. In the post ‘Soaring Food Crisis’, Paul Krugman analyzes the data from USDA World supply and demand estimates, and blames the current price spikes on global harvest failures. However, the main question still remains unanswered – is another food crisis afoot? Answers to this and some other concerns are addressed in the latest World Bank Flash and also in the World Food Program’s ‘Rising Food Prices: 10 Questions Answered’ piece.
Should 16 year old Africans vote? Why not… Africa has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world…where more than 20% are between the ages of 15- 24, argues Calestous Juma in an insightful post on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog. Speaking of Africa, in an interesting post, ‘Do informed citizens hold governments accountable? It depends…’ (Governance for Development blog), Stuti Khemani from the World Bank’s Research Group examines the impact of radio access on government accountability in Benin.
Major funders of public health research – the World Bank included – have today issued a joint statement to champion the wider sharing of data to achieve better public health worldwide.
|Mother and boy being attended to by Health Education nurse. Sri Lanka. Photo © Dominic Sansoni / World Bank|
This is a great step forward: advances in public health throughout the decades, perhaps like no other discipline, have been underpinned by careful research based on data. An early and celebrated example is the epidemiologist John Snow’s study of the relationship between the water supply and cholera outbreaks in central London in 1854, which used public data to establish the link between contaminated water and the disease. More recently, the mapping of the human genome was completed by a global collaborative effort based on the sharing of effort and data.
In many fields and in many countries, sharing of data is fast becoming normal practice (www.data.gov). An environment where data are open, freely available and easily accessible to all can provide tremendous benefits for development. At the World Bank we opened our databases last April. And there are great examples of agencies starting to routinely provide access to their datasets, which were previously closely guarded, such as data collected through household surveys.
New Year’s resolutions are always of the lofty – but often short-lived kind. I will go to the gym more often, lose more weight, or volunteer more often than I do now. One resolution made by a number of us in the Research Group of the Bank – and elsewhere, has been to find a way to get more people excited about investing in data collection and analysis on trade. I recognize this is not the most glamorous of topics at any time of the year – but nonetheless a resolution as important as any made each year for decades as the calendar turns another page.
Here is why 2011 is different and resolutions made can be kept, however, and why data and research should be high on anyone’s development and trade agenda.
There were a number of high level dialogues in 2010 and 2011 related to global finance, trade, and development issues. These included the High Level Summit on the MDG’s in September 2010 and the G20 Summit in Seoul in November 2010. These events provided important opportunities -- in the post-crisis environment – to inform priorities going forward on aid effectiveness and trade. The President of the Bank, Mr. Zoellick, outlined in October 2010 -- in a very high profile speech at Georgetown University – a new vision of development economics which included new ways of looking at and advancing research tied to make aid more effective and inclusive.