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World Bank frees up development data

Richard Fix's picture

Open Data. Sharing our data with the world. We launched the 2010 World Development Indicators today. Except this year we launched it on data comes from many different places -- other international agencies, countries, and other groups. The WDI pulls it all together in one place, year after year, to draw a statistical image of the world.

Since I joined the Bank, I have worked with a team of economists, statisticians, and others to produce a new WDI each year. Every April we unveiled a new edition that revealed new facts about development. It was our chance to describe development by the numbers. But the numbers were not enough. There was a need for more. We needed to explain the numbers, make it easier for others to pull knowledge from all these facts. The essays, the detailed descriptions and definitions of the data were a step in the right direction. But we needed to do more.

As the web came of age, there were more and more possibilities. We made the database available on CD-ROM to make it easier to share and to use. Then we made it available online through a subscription, It was an experiment.
We developed more and more tools for people to see the data in different ways and in different combinations. They could use the Data Visualizer to watch a time-series reveal itself on their screens. We used maps and charts to highlight different aspects of the complexity of development.

That experiment has taken us to today. The WDI database and many others are now being made available on the web for everyone to explore, use, and share. We were surprised and pleased when we had our first 100 subscribers. That 100 grew to more than 24 million registered users around the world who could dive into the WDI database and find answers or form new questions.

It is said that knowledge is the application of information. That is true about the Open data initiative. We knew that people wanted the data. We wanted to find the best way to get it to them. We knew that we had many different types of users. The researcher, the academic, and the development practitioner we knew. The student, the curious, the media, and the application developer also wanted the data. But each has a different need and uses the data in different ways.

Today we open up the Bank’s data, not just the WDI, for all users. By sharing it openly, we are encouraging its use. We are determined to keep improving this site and making it better for all users.


Submitted by Anonymous on
Hats off on this initiative and to the entire team in DECDG. It is not easy to let an old business model go and everyone worked with enthusiasm toward this new exciting innovation. Well done!

Submitted by Susan Stout on
This is a fantastic initiative -- a true public good. Congratulations to all.

Submitted by Gianni Ruta on
Congratulations on making the data available to all! Knowlege is a non-rival good and has many spillovers. For this reason, free access is certainly doing a service to development. A practical question and a curiosity though: even if development data is becoming a public good, it still costs money to produce it (and to keep the quality high). Since users are no longer paying for it, who is? And how? I hope there are answers to these questions, otherwise we may face a tragedy.

Submitted by Sulekha Patel on
This is a great initiative bringing a lot of good will for the Bank. However, I hope that in the Bank "free data" doesn't become synonymous with "cheap data" of low quality. Users come to the Bank for quality data. Quality data requires resources and expertise and investment in developing standards and tools and maintaining partnership with a large network of data providers. Obviously, the loss of revenue from sales of this data would be a huge loss for small units like the Data Group to absorb. How all this will be sorted out remains to be seen but for now all of us associated with this line of work feel tremendously proud for getting the Bank to such a leadership position.

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