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Open financial data--what next ?

Prasanna Lal Das's picture

 

World Bank Finances quietly went live on July 13 (read the announcement on the World Bank's open data site) and word has been gradually filtering out over Twitter (primarily), Facebook, and the odd online post. Much of the response so far has been positive, and people seem excited about the fact that the Bank has published, in open data format, so much information about the Bank’s investments, assets it manages on behalf of global funds, and the Bank’s own financial statements. We are also delighted to note that people have begun to take advantage of the interactive tools available on the site and are already slicing and dicing data, visualizing it, and sharing it online. The World Bank Finances mobile app comes out in a few weeks and we hope that other developers will take advantage of the API on the website to build their own apps.

One question that many of you have begun to ask already is what next? Part of the answer is simple -- expand the scope of the data and include even more information. We are working very hard on that. Then there is also the question of greater conformity with standards like IATI (
as this post from Publish What You Fund suggests) -- we're on the case here too. We have also been asked about our data quality processes ('open data is not enough' as they say) and while we recognize the odd lacuna, that's an area that we work constantly on. We also need to engage more with developers, civil society organizations, the media, and more -- watch this space with more information soon on that

Some of you have raised a couple of very intriguing prospects. The first one is the idea of using open data as a platform for increasing citizen engagement -- can citizens and other stakeholders share open data through the platform so it becomes a two-way platform rather than another publishing vehicle for the Bank (albeit more sophisticated than some others). That's something we really want to work on and we would greatly appreciate hearing from you about ideas/techniques/cases we should consider. The other exciting idea is about working with governments to make it easier for them to share financial data related to Bank projects. That of course has tremendous potential and there's some work underway already on similar lines that we'd love to tap into.

What else would you recommend? And while we recognize the challenges inherent in each of the ideas above, is there something specific you suggest we watch out for?

Comments

Submitted by Elizabeth L. Kleemeier on
Congratulations on this great initiative. Your ideas for building upon this go far beyond anything I could imagine, but sounds great, too. For my work, the most interesting thing would be the ability to show how the money is being spent by sub-sector or theme. For instance, how much is the Bank spending on water supply in Africa? in Burkina Faso? the ability to then drill down and see what projects comprise that spending.

Submitted by prasannalaldas on
Thanks Elizabeth. Love your suggestion and it's something we hope users can eventually do. Meanwhile, the upcoming mobile app will partially address the question. It will allow users to see a list of projects filtered by sectors or themes and the financial activity associated with each project. Not exactly what you suggest but a start...

Submitted by Ifte Islam on
It may be obvious, but – the value of financial data can only be unlocked when you know how to keep audience engaged and also better empower users to use open data in the context of broader development policy and program perspective. I’m just not sure this nut has been cracked yet. Sure, kudos to the team for sharing such a wealth of information available in innovative ways. On going forward, there are more nuances biases and risks to account. If anyone is thinking that suddenly researchers (presumably they are the main users) will move out from their comfort zone and abandon their traditional and tested way of crunching data, they’ve got more challenges coming. I say we need to walk before we run, and start measuring and quantifying engagement trends. Need to understand what works and what doesn’t, and perhaps offer canned data models that would help easy consumption.

Ifte - agree. Engagement is going to be crucial and we hope to eventually appeal to a broader audience than have typically been attracted to open data (http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/open-data-and-the-average-citizen-building-the-youtube-of-data) - fingers crossed that we'll have some success. We also see the value of the 'canned' pages that you suggest (one set is at https://finances.worldbank.org/facet/countries). As you say these are very early days indeed and a lot will depend on what we are able to learn from what does and doesn't work for people who come to the site, or what they talk about it in other venues. We are all ears to please do keep the feedback coming.

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