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Information and Communication Technologies

'Open' Vs. 'Public' Data -- The Big Difference

Tom Grubisich's picture

You can have access to terabytes of "public" data, but it may be next to useless.  That was one of the lessons of the recent "Aid Challenge 2010" Data Camp at the World Bank Institute which explored ways to use data to make development aid more effective.

Doug Hadden, Vice President/Products at the financial management software company FreeBalance, explained:


"The major difference between open and public data is [that with open data] you have the ability to re-use it.  Data in document format is effectively useless.  By making [data] open...people can analyze, compare, and benchmark it, and find patterns that you did not realize."


The day-long event -- a mixture of BarCamp, ignite talk, and hackathon -- brought together developers, data producers and visualizers, and practitioners and other members of the development community to give a big push to the gathering effort to bring more transparency to what governments do in their aid development programs.

Aid Transparency Data Camp-Students for Development

Soren Gigler's picture

How can we better track aid flows? Which donor is working where in the DRC, Afghanistan, CAR, Peru  or Bolivia? How can we better analyze the spatial distribution of aid flows within countries?  How can we use mobile telephony to enhance the social accountability of international aid programs?  These were some of the questions 45 students from the College of William & Mary, Georgetown University and George Washington addressed during the aid transparency data camp which we organized jointly with the Aiddata Initiative last Monday, March 8.

How 'Big Data' Can Benefit the Public Good

Aleem Walji's picture

Patrick Svenburg, co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, tells "Developers for Development" audience: "There's no shortage of big ideas in the world.  It's the action part that's often lacking."


“Big Data” –- the billions upon trillions of bytes of digital information that are pumped into cyberspace every nanosecond –- has a single, secular mission: to keep growing. Now, software developers – the not-so-nerdy techies who keep Big Data growing at its feverish rate –- are striving to channel Big Data into the public good.

On Monday at the World Bank, developers came together with the development community -- in person and virtually through Skype video -- to figure out how to do that.

The entire "Developers for Development" can be seen on B-Span, the World Bank's webcasting service.

The afternoon event, which attracted an auditorium-ful of in-person visitors (many of them curious staffers from risk management and ICT at the World Bank) and many more via the live webcast that was offered in English, French, and Spanish, started with developers showing what's already been achieved since the first CrisisCamp about data and the public good was convened in Washington with CrisisCommons-World Bank co-sponsorship in June 2009.

The first demo was about the on-the-fly proliferation of CrisisCamps internationally in response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in February.

Learning Where You Least Expect It

Aleem Walji's picture

I was recently re-reading the December 2009 Issue of the Harvard Business Review. The issue featured a Spotlight on Innovation and I was struck by a credo used by Ken Bowen, the founding scientist of CPS Technologies (maker of an innovative ceramic composite). It reads

“The Insights required to solve many of our most challenging problems come from outside our industry and scientific field. We must aggressively and proudly incorporate into our work findings and advances which were not invented here.”

As counter-intuitive as it may seem for a chemist to learn from a poet or an economist to learn from a biologist, there’s also something incredibly simple about this insight. If it were obvious, people would have seen it already.  And yet what is most elegant is often what is most simple (but not necessarily obvious). It’s why lateral thinking is so powerful and why children, precisely because they are playful, see connections between things, that just don’t occur to us wiser folks.

It’s in the spirit of non-obvious connections, continuous learning, and seeking insight from wherever it can be found that I approach the development space. Who would have thought that the introduction of the mobile phone would do more for increasing access to financial services, reducing travel times, and arguably lifting people out of poverty than perhaps any technology in the previous three decades? What’s the role of the mobile phone going forward, beyond voice, as a platform to link people to new knowledge, increase social accountability, and reduce the impact of man-made and natural disasters? It may require a little imagination to think of how a simple phone could help answer those questions but we’re seeing examples all over the world of each. From Ushahidi to M-Pesa to Datadyne, we might look beyond the usual suspects and think of groups like MobileActive as a source of game-changers in the development space.  

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

Tom Grubisich's picture

Countries are rated how effective they are in human development, governance, and doing business.  What if they were rated by their capacity to achieve success in all key areas of their national mission?

Ratings would measure progress in such mission "how-to's" as knowledge sharing, stakeholder participation (especially at the local level), and program results vs. objectives.

The U.N. Development Programme has singled out what it calls major successes in capacity development in 19 nations that included the Least Developed Countries of Laos, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.  But there's no comprehensive capacity rating of all 49 LDCs, much less all 145 countries classified as developing.  Even the UNDP ratings of 19 countries are based only on selected initiatives in those countries.

Mapping capacity -- horizontally across countries all the way from the national to local levels -- would, no question, be a major undertaking.  But if public, private, and nonprofit development actors collaborated, especially by mobilizing advances in networking technology, the job would not seem to be insurmountable.  Perhaps it could begin with the LDCs and go forward from there.

Multi-layered, continually updated capacity maps could be an important new tool especially for the poorest countries and their development donors in closing stubborn gaps toward achievement of 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  The maps could also be a big help to all developing countries and donors in responding to locally diverse impacts of climate change.  And that's just for starters.

Social Entrepreneur -- With an Emphasis on 'Entrepreneur'

Tom Grubisich's picture

We're hearing more and more about the "social entrepreneur" as the development community looks for new ways to achieve better results, especially with many developing countries struggling to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals and at the same time cope with destructive climate change.

Ashoka, itself a pioneer in social entrepreneurship, has a pretty good definition:

"Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change."

But maybe the definition should also emphasize a special breed of social entrepreneurs -- those who tackle major social issues by launching projects that seek to be profitable.

When Fast Company magazine in 2008 honored 45 nonprofit social entrepreneurs "who are changing the world," it also tipped its hat to 10 for-profit companies with social missions.

Trying to change the world with a project funded by development donors can be maddeningly frustrating.  Even with a successful pilot, a nonprofit company is likely to encounter repeated funding snags and gaps in its quest for sustainability and replication.

Joel Selanikio was a Marketplace 2003 winner with the innovative idea to collect health-care data with hand-held computers.   DataDyne, the company that pediatrician Selanikio and his partner, technologist Rose Donna, co-founded, is a not-for-profit limited liability corporation (LLC).  Its personal digital assistant -- EpiSurveyor -- was an immediate success in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.  But Selanikio had to keep making the rounds of donors for each step of his growth.  He was the model of the "ambitious and persistent" social entrepreneur -- but: "I got tired wearing out the knees of my trousers" making successive proposals to development donors, he said in an interview.

Knowledge leaves the universities... fast.

Edith Wilson's picture

Big changes happening in education:  Great article on Innovating the 21st century University by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  And take a close look at the New York Times Knowledge Network, a brand- new approach that combines a global brand, knowledge, university partnerships, on-line learning, and vast marketing expertise. Think what this could look like in five years, and what is now possible to deliver to the developing world.

Maybe this explains why last week Alex Herder, a 25-year old friend and entrepreneur in animation about difficult topics like HIV prevention, told me, "You know in ten years, no one is going to be paying tens of thousands of dollars for four years at a university." I am beginning to believe him.  Think how that would level the playing field between rich and poor -- and it's already well underway.

Here's how it all connects to the Development Marketplace mission.  Innovation depends on knowledge.  Lack of access to knowledge has always been a severe constraint for developing countries.  But the signs are clear -- university-level education is becoming much more available to a global audience.  Aleem's post two days ago about the decentralization of knowledge frames the changing situation nicely. 

The opportunities and challenges for those of us based in organizations such as the World Bank Institute engaged in capacity development and training delivery to developing nations are enormous.  Can we keep up?  Even more importantly, will we lead?

 

How 'Civic Hacking' Answered Haiti Disaster

Tom Grubisich's picture

From the tragedy and wreckage of the Haitian earthquake come amazing lessons about how information technology and social media can bring help and hope to people trapped in catastrophic circumstances.

A good place to see how this is happening is the Social Entrepreneurship website.  Crisis camps of "civic hacking" throughout the U.S. and abroad are quickly producing base-layer maps that connect Haiti's thousands of orphans with potential adoption families, mobilizing speakers of Creole (photo), and delivering myriad other tech-driven emergency assistance with few layers of action-delaying bureaucracy.

The camps were set up by Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of tech professionals.  The first CrisisCamp was actually held well before the Haiti earthquake -- in July 2009, at the World Bank.  Participants (scroll down to "Attendee List") included a rich cross section of representatives -- public, private, nonprofit -- from the sometimes rivalrous world of development aid.  "Us" and "them" suddenly became "we."

Civic hacking's Haiti successs stories are producing a flexible template for how emergency assistance can be delivered in other disasters, including those where climate change is at least a secondary cause, like storms and flooding.  Civic hacking's lessons will surely be extended to development aid in general, especially in countries with weak capacity.  Information technology can deepen and broaden capacity, and fast, as the proliferation of cellphones in Sub-Sahran Africa, South Asia, and other developing regions has been proving for years.

Knowledge in the era of decentralization

Aleem Walji's picture

Working in the innovation space actually means thinking a lot about how we source and organize knowledge. That's definitely an area that is changing fast. Here's how I am thinking about what this means for the World Bank.

We're moving away from a world in which knowledge is centralized and resides primarily in any one organization, even an organization as complex as the World Bank or even a university. Web 2.0, particularly interactive platforms such as blogs and other social media tools, now makes it possible for a wide range of actors to co-create, critique, and share knowledge in a variety of ways. What that means for institutions that aim to be knowledge centers is that they will have to source knowledge from wherever it lies (infrequently in one place), interact with it (critique it, interpret it, build upon it), and connect increasing numbers of people to it.

Why Climate Adaptation Has to Begin at Home

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 finalists focused on community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change because the struggle against intensifying drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels in developing countries often must begin not in national ministries but at home.  Why that's so is summed up cogently in this slide show from CARE, the global  organization that focuses on helping the poorest individuals and households  The slide show was presented at the pre-Copenhagen U.N. climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, but it's as relevant today as it was then.  Maybe more so.

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