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Open Knowledge

Talking development in two hundred years of books

Martin Ravallion's picture

  Photo: istockphoto.com
How long have we been talking about “economic development”? And what about concepts like “economic growth,” “poverty” and “inequality”? How old are they in the literature, and how has the frequency of their use changed over time?

We can now answer such questions thanks to a new software tool, the Google Books Ngram Viewer, introduced in a research paper by Jean-Baptiste Michel and others (13 authors are listed, plus the Google Books Team); the paper has just been published in the journal Science, and was picked up in the New York Times. The authors have formed a corpus of over 500 billion words (360 billion in English) from over 5 million books spanning 1800-2000.

Open Data and Public Sector Debt

Shaida Badiee's picture

The volume of public domestic debt issued in developing countries has grown substantially in recent years, but consistent data on the domestic debt of developing countries have not been generally available until now. As part of the Open Data Initiative, the World Bank is launching an online, quarterly, Public Sector Debt database developed in partnership with the IMF, which will allow researchers and policymakers to explore questions about debt management in a comprehensive manner. The database promotes consistency and comparability across countries by standardizing the treatment of public sector debt, valuation methods, and debt instruments, and by identifying, where possible, the debt of central, state, and local governments as well as extra-budgetary agencies and funds.

International Open Data Hack Day: What Are You Looking For?

Aleem Walji's picture

As December 4th approaches, I’m getting excited for the International Open Data Hackathon and even more excited to see World Bank challenges and data featured in an event that will span 50 cities (and counting ) over 6 continents.  It’s thrilling to consider what hackers and users working together might mash-up and what role we (as data providers) can play in giving people access to clean and interoperable data sets for their using. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

Having recently traveled in India and after meeting development folks of various stripes from economists in Delhi to social entrepreneurs in Hyderabad to geeks in Bangalore , I’m struck again by how important local data remains. It’s one thing to talk about global economic trends and macro indicators but quite another to understand what’s happening in one Indian state, say Andra Pradesh, compared to its neighbors. Imagine a citizen group comparing rainfall data between states, at the district level, compared to crop yields over two decades. That’s when things get interesting and potentially useful to users.

Views from the Economic Research Forum in Egypt

Ahmed Galal's picture

Ahmed Galal is currently Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum, a regional research institution covering the Arab countries, Iran and Turkey.

As someone who values the role of knowledge and strong endogenous research capacity in advancing the cause of development, I was very impressed by the speech Robert Zoellick, World Bank President, gave on September 29 at Georgetown University. The speech, on development economics research and the role of the World Bank, stimulated an interesting debate, with Dani Rodrick being favorable, Bill Easterly critical and Nancy Birdsall somewhere in between.

Photo: www.istockphoto.com

From my perspective, the speech is refreshingly critical of the “one size fits all” approach to reform, honest about the evolution of thinking within the Bank, and open-minded about the new research agenda for development. It hits target by advocating research that is policy relevant. And it calls for “Democratization of Research” and a new role for the Bank as a knowledge broker and facilitator. All these are in line with the views of many researchers in the developing world, myself included.

Openness in the Service of Development, Results, and Poverty Reduction

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Transforming the World Bank from a mid-20th century organization to an agile, 21st century entity motivated by a drive for ‘Open Development’ requires user-friendly shared data sites, a willingness to be held to high standards of transparency and accountability, a move toward telling results stories in compelling ways, and a ceding of ground from proud in-house research to ‘Democratizing Development Economics’.
All of the above requires both showmanship and visionary leadership, not something the staid World Bank is usually known for.

The 2010 Annual Meetings may be a tipping point where a giant bureaucracy shakes off a bit of the weight of its own rules and constraints and actually displays some agility, and, dare I say, a bit of color and plumage. Indeed, what delegates streaming to our Washington headquarters for this year’s Annual Meetings see may actually hit some of them like a jolt of development caffeine. 

This year, there is a “jumbotron” television screen facing Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Bank’s Main Complex greeting passersby and staff alike with compelling short films of results achieved by IDA, the Bank’s fund for the poorest. Entering the building’s sleek glass, metal, and stone atrium, visitors and staff see a new path of big, brightly colored circles highlighting IDA facts, spanning the entire Atrium floor, saying things like:

Wholesaling Research for Development

Martin Ravallion's picture

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” K’ung Fu-tzu (Confucius) , circa 500 BC.

   Photo: istockphoto.com
The World Bank’s analytic work can lack transparency to users—not least for those who would be affected most by the policies derived from that work. Civil society groups often suspect that the Bank dresses up advocacy as analytics. This perception stems in no small measure from the large entry costs users face in replicating and understanding the analysis. 

This concern about how we do research at the Bank—and elsewhere—can be thought of as the outcome of a traditional “retailing model.” That means researchers investigate a specific issue over a period of time and produce a research product—a paper or volume—on their findings. This is then disseminated to the public, including other researchers and policy makers. 

Much has changed since this retailing model first emerged. Dramatic changes in information technology have expanded the use of data, which makes more openness in research feasible.

It is time, then, to think about a new “wholesaling model,” under which the emphasis switches to producing the tools for others to do the research and providing open access to those tools.

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