Our world is awash with increasing amounts of data, but potential audiences for this data remain under-served for the most obvious of reasons - the data just doesn’t speak their language.
This has been true for the data on the World Bank Group Finances website which has only ‘spoken’ English since it was launched. Yes, we should have done this earlier but the website, and its associated open datasets, are now available in 5 new additional languages - Chinese, French, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish . The mobile app has been available for some time in 9 languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Indonesian Bahasa, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish) and the new release of the website is in line with the program’s quest to include new audiences and communities in the use and dissemination of open financial data.
When we first launched a couple of years ago, much of the audience for the program consisted of the ‘usual suspects’ - other open data/transparency practitioners, ‘northern’ CSOs and journalists, and academic institutions based in the West. The numbers were fairly stark - over three quarters of the traffic on the site was from North America and Europe, most of the social media activity emanated from the same geographies, and the most active contributors on the site’s interactive social stream seemed to be people we knew (sort of!). In isolation the numbers weren’t bad. They however represented only a segment of the audience we wanted to reach - to be truly relevant, we needed to quickly find a way to break out of the bubble and take open financial data closer to the ground - that’s where the Bank’s projects are and that’s where the data can make the keenest difference.
The offline world was where we started. Data literacy workshops for the media, innovation weeks, ideation sessions with CSOs, roadshows targeted at government officials, students, journalists, the private sector, and project partners with the help of the Bank’s country offices, and open data workshops whenever and wherever possible helped us get the word out to a wider audience. So did the work of numerous partners and supporters in the open data community who generously shared our work with their audiences. The offline theme has continued with our current open data demand research work through which we are trying to better answer the question about the relevance and use of open financial data on the ground. There’s nothing quite like working directly with the people you want to reach but there’s only so much of it that you can (or should) do. You have to eventually find an online way to reach your audience!
Thinking beyond English has been one way out. We made our first promotional video in six languages (the Chinese version was the biggest hit! - other languages included Arabic, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish) but the breakthrough came with the release of the mobile app in 9 languages. The results were fairly immediate -- for the very first time, Asia overtook North America as the continent with the most downloads of the app, and we’ve seen continuously improving downloads from other regions.
So we launch the multilingual version of the website with tremendous anticipation. It’s not been very easy - it’s tough enough to translate instructional text and navigation, but rendering the data itself in multiple languages has been especially challenging. We haven’t quite got it 100% right yet but we’re getting there (and of course we need to add more languages, starting perhaps with Arabic). It will be interesting to see if the same datasets are equally popular across different languages, the kind of visualizations and filters different audience groups create, the impact on social media in local languages, and of course how people apply the data to Bank projects - either to monitor them or to participate in conversations about what works and doesn’t in Bank projects and where the Bank should invest next.
Wish us luck as we continue to try to reach new audiences and make our data relevant and meaningful in terms that make sense to them, and not just to us. Language is only one part of the solution - we need to do much more to make the data itself much more intuitive and germane -- but it’s a start. Tell us what else you have tried or would like us to think about.
You may also be interested to know that 24 country pages on data.worldbank.org are now available in 17 local languages. The country pages, which incorporate data from World Group Bank Finances, include: Albania, Angola, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Germany, Guinea Bissau, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Macedonia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Next up in our blog series - how the program is working to engage data scientists, an update on our mobile app, and separately, can the World Bank do more to encourage private sector use of open data?
For those new to WBGF, World Bank Group Finances is the online access point for IBRD, IDA, and IFC open financial data. The website features datasets that cover loans, contracts, trust funds, investments, and financial statements. A related mobile app, which allows you to “talk” to us more easily about operational and financial data in nine languages, is available for download for Android and iOS smartphone and tablet users at the Google Store and the iTunes Store, respectively. Follow us on Twitter to join and remain engaged in the conversation about the Bank’s open financial data.
To access all WB open data, please see the data catalog on the larger open data site of the Bank.