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Five years of investments in open data

Tim Herzog's picture
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This year marks the fifth anniversary of the World Bank’s efforts to help countries launch their own open data initiatives, and harness the power of open data to benefit their citizens. A new report provides insights into how open data is benefitting countries, what strategies are working well, what could be improved.

The report provides the most comprehensive snapshot of Bank-funded open data activities to date. In the last five years, the Bank has provided technical assistance and funding for open data activities in over 50 countries, conservatively estimated at more than $50 million from a variety of sources. In many cases Bank funding has leveraged support from other partners or co-sponsorship by countries and other institutions. Within the Bank, the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) has been the most significant source of funding for open data. The TFSCB has financed over 20 projects in 16 countries, as well as 6 grants for regional and global activities.

Supporting over 45 countries with national and sector-specific open data

Support for open data has taken a variety of forms. To date, 45 Open Data Readiness Assessments (ODRAs) have been completed at national and sub-national levels, which have helped raise awareness and catalyze public and private efforts to advance open data within countries. There are now sector-specific ODRA tools for business, energy, and transport. The Bank has invested in a range of open data learning and knowledge products, including data literacy courses and the Open Data Toolkit, and collaborated with its global partners to support academic research, a series of regional conferences, and open data implementation. The report also found that these initial efforts have catalyzed longer-term project investments, i.e., IBRD loans and IDA credits, with open data implementation components in at least 14 countries.

The report gives several examples of how Bank support for open data is making measurable differences in countries. Here are just two examples:

  • Burkina Faso was the first francophone sub-Saharan country to implement an open data initiative. It conducted an ODRA in 2014 with Bank support, and its open data catalog currently includes over 180 government datasets. In 2015, Burkina Faso released the results of its presidential election as open data in near real time, which contributed to the peaceful transition process.

  • The Philippines worked with the World Bank and the Department of Transport to build an integrated transport database for Metro Manila. The resulting open datasets have been leveraged to build a series of information apps, and prepare a transit efficiency plan that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent.

Lessons learned and working with the global open data community

The report also reflects on lessons learned over the five-year period that the Bank has been supporting open data implementation. Some of my favorite observations:

  • In-country leadership and early advocates are strong indicators of success. This includes not only political leadership, but technical leadership from the National Statistical Office and/or the ICT Ministry. Citizens can have a big impact, particularly at the beginning, in shaping the priorities and demand for data.

  • Many approaches can help build early momentum, including holding citizen workshops, building an open data portal, and aligning open data with development objectives and plans. However, many high-impact benefits take months or years to develop, so “quick wins” should be accompanied by longer-term, sustainable strategies and planning.

  • In countries where quality data is in short supply, open data is particularly beneficial to researchers and the private sector. Government itself is also a key beneficiary, as open data makes it easier to find and exchange information between ministries.

  • There is a strong case for continued Bank support of open data. The report recommended the Bank-wide adoption of an “open by default” data policy, incorporation of open data into the Country Partnership Framework, and the development of a monitoring and evaluation criteria for open data components of Bank-supported activities

Finally, the report highlights the Bank’s role in the global open data community. We’re a founding partner of Open Data for Development - a global partnership of more than 65 bilaterals, multilaterals, foundations, and NGOs working to advance open data in developing countries. The partnership has successfully created new connections and a body of knowledge that’s informed policies, standards, innovation and research. We’ve also worked with these partners to organize the IODC series of global conferences and various regional events such as ConDatos and the Africa Open Data Conference.