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Building a Better Toolbox for Development

Soren Gigler's picture


Every day we are reminded that the challenges faced in eradicating poverty are multifaceted and include complex economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions. For this reason, we work with a number of partners and experiment with many technologies to try and leverage the right community with the right skills and tools to address a given challenge.  

Over the past two years, the World Bank has been experimenting with a number of platforms and partnerships to ‘open’ the development paradigm recognizing that we cannot solve the deep and systemic challenges posed by poverty and underdevelopment by ourselves. Our early work on Open Data and inter-active Mapping has been transformative in shining a bright light on what we know and don’t, where we need help, and what can others can do with our data. We will continue to push for greater access to information for all because we believe it's the best possible way to democratize development. As we continue to learn from one another, let me share how we're thinking about these issues at the moment.         

From Open Data to Open Government

Governments are starting to recognize the value of open data and geo-spatial data for improving the planning, provision and monitoring of public services. As we know, real value also lies in raw data behind tables, graphs, and maps. The numbers, shapes, lines and descriptions that capture our environments are used and re-used in ways we can’t always predict. When Governments have and in turn provide access to statistics and geo-spatial data, policymakers can make better informed decisions enhancing the quality of public services provided to citizens.

The World Bank’s Open Data Initiative represents a major step towards Open Development. Our Mapping for Results initiative developed with GeoIQ makes all underlying geo-spatial data and development indicators fully open and accessible where users can easily download entire datasets or access them through APIs. Similarly, the World Bank’s Climate Change Portal harnesses Development Seed’s Mapbox, which makes underlying climate data fully open. Furthermore, we have supported Open Government Initiatives in countries as diverse as Kenya and Moldova allowing citizens and software developers to re-use public data and create useful applications for private and public good.    

Engaging Mapping Communities 

In Haiti, we partnered with citizen mappers and the wider technology community to improve our response times for post earthquake relief. Our partnership with Open Street Map in Indonesia and recently Tanzania has allowed us to work with citizen mappers to geo-reference map basic social infrastructure like water points, clinics, and schools. Building on this foundation, we’ve collaborated with partners from local government, civic hackers, and civil society using platforms like Ushahidi to listen better to citizen feedback and engage public service providers.

Expanding Access to Geo-spatial Data   

Our agreement with Google enables governments, UN, and non-profits agencies to leverage our partnership to expedite access to raw geo data like the location of schools, water points, and health facilities. In the case of natural disasters and humanitarian crises for example, we know that timing is critical for effective response. Our non-exclusive agreement seeks to improve access to useful geo data for humanitarian response and development planning. 

The agreement is focused on non-commercial use of geo-data but we believe it represents a very important step in expanding access to information. Governments, UN agencies, and non-profits will now have better access to a richer set of geospatial data to address development challenges including humanitarian response. We will continue to strive for all data being open and freely accessible and look forward to engaging with others and advancing the broader conversation to make development more effective and inclusive. 


Dear Dr. Gigler, Thanks for your blog post. Will Google be modifying it's licensing agreement re Google Map Maker so citizen cartographers can use/share their data in ways that can help their own development efforts? And will citizens contributing data to Map Maker be compensated at all if they are not able to own their data? Many thanks for your time. With best wishes, Patrick

Submitted by !i! on
Thanks for all the details Soren. But there is still a question left open to me: If the Worldbank supports Open Data, why did they signed a closed source (as data not accessible for all people) with Google in this case? of course I see the market power of the company, to maybe provide better technology, but with the HOT, OpenStreetMap has a emergency mapping team as well: As you wrote they had good success in mapping for Haiti but at the moment they are activated for a lot of other actions, too. And all their results can be freely accessed by everybody. So why Google?

Submitted by AgnesL on
This agreement comes as a disappointment to humanitarian & development workers as well as the open data advocates and the mapping community. Google has very strict license agreements which can be caricatured by "Give us your data, we'll do with it what we want, and don't you dare try to do anything else with that data." (as nicely synthetised on When encouraging governments, international organizations and NGOs to map infrastructure for disaster preparednes and other development drives, I would expect the an international organization that otherwise seems to stronlgy supports open data to either channel such efforts to an open tool like Open Street Map, or to use its prestige and power to negotiate a particular licensing agreement with Google, as Patrick Meier suggested here:

Submitted by Paul Harper on
It seems a bit wrong to hand over community data to a profit driven corporation like Google with no strings attached. Going with Open Street Map or negotiating the suggested licensing arrangement with Google would be appropriate. To be fair to Google they do have some good initiatives like the Data Liberation Front and Google for Non-Profits.

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