When you think of Afghanistan, what thoughts come to mind—suicide attacks, insurgency, women wearing burkas, the Taliban, or probably, dusty dirt roads? These images, while still relevant in much of the country, often miss exciting development happening in another side of Afghanistan, the side where Afghans are beginning to engage in dialogues and exchanging ideas about data and development. Opening up data provides access and availability, universal participation and further enables the reuse of data in a transparent and innovative manner in the search for development solutions. Sounds nice, but what does this mean in the context of Afghanistan?
After several months of planning with the Central Statistics Organization (CSO), the World Bank Office in Kabul, co-organized Afghanistan’s first open data event: a two-day seminar held on the 13th and 14th November, 2012. The primary objectives were to improve data dissemination, foster national dialogue and inspire partnerships between the users and producers of statistics and in the process to raise awareness on the Bank’s various open tools and resources.
On our way to the open data event, the streets buzzed hectically with men pushing carts of dried figs, buses filled with passengers peering through windows, motorcycles with men taking their daughters to school, and as we made our way through traffic, we were greeted by enthusiastic Afghans ready to participate, engage and learn about Open Data and Open Development.
The team participated in a public forum and delivered technical training on the Bank’s open data tools and resources to a mix of audiences including, government, media, civil society, academia and the donor community. This event created a space for a dialogue and interaction for the first time on this topic among various audiences which raised their interest for better coordination and alignment of data between other line ministries and the CSO. For example, participants asked questions such as, “Can the CSO breakdown GDP by provinces?” “How can data be exported?” “What is the education level of the head of household?” “Can data for several provinces be compared at the same time?” Some participants even questioned the inconsistency and discrepancies of the various data shown. The Open Data event drove curiosity about new data, initiated new knowledge from combining data sources and identified areas where progress is still needed to collect data and improve the statistical system.
The event was structured so that it also provided an opportunity for other development partners to showcase their work and products. For instance, we heard about the DFID supported and CSO led Geographical Information System (GIS) community, which promotes better sharing of GIS products across the Government. At the end of two-day event, it was strongly conveyed that such an event should not be a one off intervention; rather it should be used as a starting point to foster knowledge sharing, collaboration and openness for a broader and targeted engagement in Afghanistan, including experiences from other countries, such as Kenya and Moldova.
Afghanistan is on the cusp of developmental growth with continued assistance, the World Bank together with the international community can effectively help Afghans in scaling up the open development dialogue that benefits all Afghans.