Data scientist may be the sexiest job of the current century, and everybody in the world may be crying hoarse over the growing shortage of data scientists, but if you are leading an international development project or an international development agency, chances are you don’t have a data scientist on your team and you likely aren’t looking for one. That’s a problem.
What will it take to make open data the default for all public data? How can developing countries leverage new data sources from the private sector? What can public and private organizations do to improve the quality of data collection, especially in developing countries? These were among the questions discussed during the World Bank’s recent official Spring Meetings data revolution event, “Talking about a Data Revolution,” as well as at an afternoon session with guests from the private sector. Some observers pointed out that the challenge is not always whether data is open, but whether data exists at all. If the data is accessible, and can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, then it's truly open.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim delivers closing remarks about the importance of using data for social good.
Bank data experts and open data specialists from the public and private sectors called for more experimentation and stronger partnerships. “Why are we development organizations only talking amongst ourselves, when the private sector is already using data to innovate?” asked Haishan Fu, Director, World Bank Group’s Development Economics Data Group (DECDG).
Where can you find the top trading partners for your country? Where can you find the top products exported to and imported from Indonesia? Where can you find just about any type of trade data?
The answers to these questions (and more) are available at our recently revamped World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) site: wits.worldbank.org. In previous versions of the site, users needed to login and query the data themselves. You still can. And many still do to conduct much more detailed and sophisticated research and analysis on trade. But if you want to quickly look up or browse trade statistics like total exports, tariffs applied, top export, and import partners, the data has been pre-calculated and made available as Open Data.
“Thanks to the data I found on WITS, I successfully completed my PhD. Really easy-to-use site and great upgrades.”
– User in India
Although the World Bank collaborates with international agencies that work with external debt and debt-related statistics (the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others), the World Bank has the international mandate to collect external debt data, and we maintain comprehensive external debt information.
What sparks a revolution? And what helps keep the transformational power of a revolution alive? When Jim Yong Kim became World Bank Group president less than two years ago, he stated that one of his first priorities was to position the World Bank Group as a “solutions bank.” Most recently, during his speech last Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kim discussed the Bank’s efforts to invest in effective infrastructure, including data systems and social movements to empower the poor.
These three words – solutions, data and the poor – from my perspective, point to this: the data revolution needs to be transformational and we must act now. Unless we fully embrace this data revolution as a bold, timely opportunity to engage citizens, identify successful case studies, leverage global partnerships and technology, strive to learn from the private sector and truly aim to be innovative, we just may miss out on keeping this revolution alive. And while it is good news that the UN High Level Panel Report on the post-2015 development agenda confirms that the data revolution is high on the political agenda, we must also gather evidence and vigorously commit to an inclusive plan to meet this goal.
Four years ago the World Bank Group opened its data to the public hoping innovators would find new ways to use the data. At the same time, a growing number of governments were also opening up their data – to be more accountable, and to spur economic activity around the data. Today, the open data entrepreneur has emerged. About 500 companies that use open data in their business have sprung up in the United States alone, and similar businesses are cropping up all over the world, even in countries with limited data — let alone open data.
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Open data is important, but how is open data being used around the world to improve the quality of life and advance development objectives?
Open data continues its ascent as a popular concept, entering mainstream consciousness and being implemented more broadly around the world. We need to look no further than Google search trend analysis to observe open data’s rise in netizen interest -- now even rivaling interest in international development.
Corporations do them monthly.
Presidents and Prime Ministers check them daily.
Surveys and polls. They drive decision making across all sorts of organizations, corporations, governments and even palaces. Polls inform a range of strategies, whether related to how countries build support for reform, to how organizations move the needle on behavior change (think smoking, HIV, and drunk driving), to how companies choose the colors of a box of cereal and decide on the jingo that is intended to sell that cereal (crafted specifically to never leave your memory)!