The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), together with other agencies are working towards Singapore’s vision to becoming the world’s first smart nation. That’s why World Bank Group colleagues were eager to hear from Mr. Chan Cheow Hoe – IDA’s Government Chief Information Officer (CIO) – and his team during their visit to World Bank on September 24, 2014, about their vision of a “smart nation”.
Mr. Chan opened the conversation by offering his understanding of the basics: what is “innovation”? Innovation, according to him, is a means to very concrete ends: solving people’s problems. When pursuing innovation in certain areas of life, we should first ask ourselves “what problems are we going to solve?” The answer to this question should guide our search for technologically enabled solutions.
A “smart” nation is one whose government employs innovative technologies to effectively respond to its peoples’ needs, improving their social and economic prospects. It does so inclusively, so that all sub-segments of the population benefit. This citizen-centric approach is the key to understanding governance in a smart nation; unlike business entities, the government cannot choose its customers and must serve all citizens. In doing so, the government has to deal with diverse subjects and issues, which adds complexity to the task. For this reason, the government should have a long term view and plan.
Earlier this month, the Government of Rwanda convened a “Smart Rwanda Days” conference, bringing together participants from seven countries. During the two-day event, attendees were asked to “take the pulse” of digital development across Africa – as well as within their own countries – and then set concrete roles and responsibilities for current members of the Smart Africa alliance (Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Gabon). The event was co-sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union, the African Union and several private-sector companies.
- More on Smart Africa: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/07/17/imagining-a-smart-country-Rwanda
- More on Smart Rwanda: http://smartrwandadays.rw/spip.php?rubrique1
- International Telecommunication Union
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- Information and Communication Technologies
- broadband policy
- Private Sector Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
Over the past several years, I have attended many Open Data-related events in Washington, DC and elsewhere. But as far as I remember, no one has addressed the opportunities and potentials of Open Data for greater government accountability, citizen engagement, empowerment of the poor, and inclusive rural growth as speakers and presenters did in early September in Hyderabad, India.
Being transparent — through Open Data in this context — is an achievement itself. Transparency has been at the center of attention of the Open Data movement for some time. However, as many of us know, being open is a means to an end — the more important questions are what to open, as well as for what purpose, for whom and how.
On the morning of September 4, 2014, I was sitting in a packed conference room for a workshop with high-level government officials, members of the project implementation unit, civil society organizations, academics, IT firms, and media. We were all blown away by the opening speech delivered by the Honorable KT Rama Rao, Minister of IT and Rural Development for the Government of Telangana, one of India’s 29 states. This opening speech set the tone for the workshop on Open Data Solutions for Rural Development and Inclusive Growth.
“There is almost nothing that government can or should do alone,” said one of the panelists at a recent global webinar on the future of digital government.
This was just one of the many signals of the disruptive and creative impact that digital platforms, dynamic connections and cross-sector co-design and participation are having on the role and practice of governments. While some are resisting, the outcomes that many predicted in the early days of e-government are now possible through “silo-busting,” merged back-office infrastructures and focused collaborative relationships with civil society, businesses, citizens and communities. To some degree, this reflects Professor Carlotta Perez’s creative construction phase of a revolution (also described in this paper) and reinforces two critical success factors: execution and deployment capabilities.
Eight senior government leaders from the World Bank-sponsored High–Level Experts, Leaders and Practitioners (HELP) network, together with participants from 35 countries, led a discussion on the challenges and opportunities associated with digital government.
Cities are becoming the new ecosystems for innovation. Recent studies on venture capital (VC) investment in the United States reveal that innovation is moving from suburbs to downtown areas. Today, San Francisco hosts more VC investment than Silicon Valley and New York – a city where the innovation startup scene was merely anecdotic 10 years ago – has become the third-largest technology startup ecosystem in the United States, with more than US$2.4 billion VC investment in 2011.
This trend is not unique to the United States. Start-ups are surging in other major cities around the world, including London, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, Mumbai, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, to name a few.
New technology trends have reduced the cost of technology innovation. Cloud computing, open software and hardware, social networks and global payment platforms have made it easier to create a startup with fewer physical resources and personnel. If in the 1990s, an entrepreneur needed US$2 million and months of work to develop a minimum viable prototype, today she would need less than US$50,000 and six weeks of work (in some cases, these costs can be as low as US$3,000). This trend is allowing entrepreneurs to take advantage of cities’ agglomeration effects: entrepreneurs “want to live where the action is,” where other young people, social activities and peers and entrepreneurs are. They look for conventional startup support, such as mentor networks or role models, but also for nightlife, meet-ups, social activities and other potential for “collisions” – a combination best provided by cities.
A news item from Computer Weekly casts doubt. A recent report notes that, in the United Kingdom (UK), poor data quality is hindering the government’s Open Data program. The report goes on to explain that – in an effort to make the public sector more transparent and accountable – UK public bodies have been publishing spending records every month since November 2010. The authors of the report, who conducted an analysis of 50 spending-related data releases by the Cabinet Office since May 2010, found that that the data was of such poor quality that using it would require advanced computer skills.
Far from being a one-off problem, research suggests that this issue is ubiquitous and endemic. Some estimates indicate that as much as 80 percent of the time and cost of an analytics project is attributable to the need to clean up “dirty data” (Dasu and Johnson, 2003).
In addition to data quality issues, data provenance can be difficult to determine. Knowing where data originates and by what means it has been disclosed is key to being able to trust data. If end users do not trust data, they are unlikely to believe they can rely upon the information for accountability purposes. Establishing data provenance does not “spring full blown from the head of Zeus.” It entails a good deal of effort undertaking such activities as enriching data with metadata – data about data – such as the date of creation, the creator of the data, who has had access to the data over time and ensuring that both data and metadata remain unalterable.
We are launching a co-creation and crowdsourcing effort on “Open Data Solutions for Rural Development and Inclusive Growth in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.” This is linked to an ideation workshop on September 4 in Hyderabad, which will bring together key stakeholders from these two Indian States, including government officials, development practitioners, health, education, agriculture, retail and other subject matter experts, entrepreneurs, ICT firms, and academic and research institutions.
You can follow the discussions online via Twitter, ask questions and engage with us on (http://www.twitter.com/worldbankict), using the hashtag #data4impact. You can also follow us on our Facebook page.
The workshop will consist of two parts. The first part will focus on knowledge sharing of global and Indian good practices, successful solutions and lessons learned, as well as collecting feedback from participants and discussing priorities for the Open Data initiative in the rural space. There will be presentations by government officials and World Bank experts with examples from around the world, in India and within the two states.
Last month, it was time for the project's third phase: a competition to surface new ideas for mass transit options, road safety and mobility information. This event, called the MueveTT Innovation Challenge, brought together 14 teams of people to brainstorm ways for the government, companies, universities, organizations, citizens, and others to work together toward the vision of smart cities.
However, citizens of the European Union (EU) who live in rural and economically disadvantaged areas have little access to broadband Internet, and therefore miss out on the wide range of opportunities it offers. Today, only 18 percent of rural households in Europe have access to these services.
As a result of these gaps and challenges, the European Commission is partnering with the World Bank and others on a new “Connected Communities” initiative. This large-scale project will connect towns and cities to broadband partnerships and operators, offering critical advice and specific business models to finally bring fast Internet to underserved communities.
What interventions are needed by governments - and by the World Bank - to stimulate and support the realization of the economic benefits of Open Data for everyone? How do we prioritize what kind of data is needed? These were some of the simmering questions that were posed at last Wednesday's World Bank Live event. A collaborative effort among World Bank global practices and units – Transport and Information & Communications Technologies (ICT), the Development Data Group (DECDG), Open Finances, External and Corporate Relations, and others – this global policy dialogue event served as an opportunity to listen in on leading experts explaining and debating the latest evidence of the economic benefits of Open Data and how it can be applied to advance socioeconomic growth in the developing world.
From the short videoconference presentations we heard from five country officials, we learned that Open Data is already making an impact.
Examples of Open Data's use and impact in India, Russia, Macedonia, Ghana, and Mexico
We first heard from Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary (eGov) at the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of India. "Ever since India launched its Open Government Data Platform, we've witnessed more government participation and interest – across ministries and state governments," stated Kumar. He also pointed to an often underappreciated result of open data programs: increased data sharing among government agencies.
"Open Data is a major source for growth in Russia, especially for Internet and IT companies," commented Ekaterina Shapochka, Advisor to the Russian Minister of Open Government. She also added that Open Data could help increase the quality of government services to its citizens.