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The World Bank Promotes Development Through Opening Up Government Data

Elena Kvochko's picture

The global open data movement is gaining momentum, as more and more countries are looking into the benefits of releasing government data to the public, encouraging the re-use of data and the creation of new applications based on this data. Increasing numbers of entrepreneurs rely on public data in their business activities. Opening up data is a “victory for those of us who believe that the best way to get value from data is to give it away”, according to the Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes. Her statement came at the December 2011 announcement of the EU’s Open Data package. The European Commission estimates that the Open Data initiative will generate an additional €38billion of economic activity annually. How best to open up data, what datasets to start with, how to stimulate job creation using public data, and how to cope with dataphobia - were some the key questions addressed at the international workshop “Opening Up Development: How Can Countries Start and Run Open Data Ecosystems?” hosted by the World Bank.  In April 2010, The World Bank also launched its own Open Data initiative to provide free and easy access to development-related statistics and indicators.

Vice-President of the World Bank Institute Sanjay Pradhan in his opening remarks said that citizens throughout the world want voice and accountability from their governments. With over 70% of adult population in the developing world owning a mobile phone, even the poorest population can have their voices heard.  The governments should proactively disclose their data and encourage their citizens to “co-create” solutions. Opening up data is a process, not an event – there has to be a “steady pipeline of high-quality data’. In Kenya, opening data to a two-way exchange created immediate value - nearly 75% of clinics and schools were populated on the official maps by volunteers.  

Head of State Chancellery of the Moldovan Government Victor Bodiu confirmed his country’s commitment to change and innovation in the public sector. The World Bank’s Governance e-Transformation project is helping Moldova achieve this goal through providing the necessary capital and expertise. By 2020, Moldovan government committed to become completely paperless. In April 2012, the government will presents its action plan for the Open Government Partnership. Moldova has already launched the Open Data portal with over 150 datasets. Furthermore, government agencies in Moldova were tasked to release at least 3 datasets on a monthly basis.

The Minister of Information Society of Macedonia Ivo Ivanovski indicated that his country plans to work with the World Bank on creating open society and transparent government. Ivanovski noted the importance of calculating the total cost of ownership of open data and open government, as taxpayers will bear the ultimate cost. He believes that the information released by the government should be valuable for the private sector to create additional business opportunities. The Minister emphasized that although technologies become less expensive, knowledge becomes increasingly costly. He stressed the value of knowledge sharing in rolling out open data ecosystems.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications of Kenya Dr Bitange Ndemo, who is the driving force behind the country’s open data initiative, said that Kenya is encouraging government departments to open up data to stimulate public innovation. The country is now formulating its action plan for participation in Open Government Partnership, its freedom of information law and the legal framework to ensure that citizens will be able to obtain the data.

Randeep Sudan, Lead ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank, outlined recommendations for a comprehensive open data ecosystem that governments should pursue. He underlined the need for a holistic approach towards open data and using the example of Brazil. The open data leadership, one of the most important elements, is given to the Ministerial Committee, which has a cross-cutting oversight and coordinates the efforts of other ministries in Brazil. Open Data is supported by the right policy and legal framework, which is exemplified by the law 131 mandating real-time exposure of government expenditure data. Brazil assigned the ownership of the open data agenda with the Office of Comptroller General and National Planning Ministry. National Councils in Brazil were tasked with ensuring proper citizens engagement.

Randeep Sudan indicated that open data can become a powerful tool for job creation and innovations. Open Data initiatives need data to be digitized. Instead of using large organizations, this could be implemented through employing innovative microwork platforms to split up the tedious digitization work into small tasks and distribute them among a large number of people. Governments can also share their data storage infrastructure with small companies developing innovative applications and services on top of open public data.

The World Bank can help the countries which are embarking on 'the Open Data journey' in many ways. Randeep Sudan presented the High-Level Experts, Leaders and Practitioners group consisting of through-leaders and high-level functionaries in governments who can provide consultation to the Word Bank clients. The World Bank can finance the establishment of the necessary infrastructure, provide advisory support with regards to laws, policies and regulations, as well as help establish new business models.

Al Kags, a prominent Kenyan writer and entrepreneur, underlined the importance of ensuring that citizens begin using data, of facilitating knowledge exchange, encouraging applications development and ensuring that the user community (private sector, academia, media, interested citizens) is linked to the developers community. 

The main challenge for Moldovan government, as presented by the speakers, is that open data is driven by supply rather than by demand.  The solution to that is seen through greater promotion of open data and better communication of its benefits to citizens. At the same time, building capacity among the government officials remains key. Lack of skills and digital tools are slowing down data release by the Ministries in the country.

Robert Hunja from the World Bank Institute noted the importance of ‘post-launch activities” and the need to define what “success in open data would mean”.  Theresa Pardo, the head of Center for Technology in Government at University of Albany, echoed this point saying that the organizations have to be clear about “the value they create by releasing their data”. She noted government agencies need to understand the context, focus on capacity development and governance of data. Pardo shared a recent example of how New York City used their open 311 data and combined it with the weather data to determine origin of the maple syrup odor. Randeep Sudan gave another example: the risk management industry in the United States is 50 times larger than in Europe due to the availability of comprehensive and open weather data.  Finally, Aleem Walji (The World Bank Institute) reinforced the point that the World Bank along with other involved stakeholders need to understand what value open data can bring into the developing world that can radically improve people’s life, and not only serve as a “vitamin”.

Despite concerns about data protection, lack of demand for open data and financial constraints, international experience has shown that releasing data can be a powerful tool to reinforce government-citizens-businesses relations and serve as a next step in government information management processes. Since September 2011, 50 countries have made public commitments to the principles of transparency, citizens’ participation, accountability, technology and innovation, which form the basis of the new Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative and the number of participating countries is expected to grow further.