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What Can Open Data Entrepreneurs Do for Development?

Donna Barne's picture

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.

So far, this open data-fueled sector is still small, but it promises to take the delivery of useful information to a new level as it grows.  In the United States, businesses are using utilities data to promote energy efficiency, education data to help find the best schools, and health data to allow people to check symptoms and make doctor appointments, to name a few examples. A 2013 study by McKinsey & Co. estimates open data could help generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value for the global economy.

But can open data entrepreneurs help tackle global challenges and make a difference in developing countries, including in the poorest and most fragile countries? A recent World Bank event explored that question, bringing in one of the private sector pioneers in the use of open data, The Climate Corporation, along with Metabiota, a for-profit firm tracking emerging diseases in developing countries, and Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now and the lead on a New York University-based project, Open Data 500.  

Labbing and Learning: Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

Aleem Walji's picture
Also available in: Español | العربية | Français

Aleem Walji, director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, recently gave an interview to Forbes and the Skoll World Forum on all things innovation and development. This blog post highlights some of the key points from that interview.

When I joined the World Bank at the end of 2009, I was asked how we could more systematically support innovation. We started by building on the Bank’s own “access to information” policy, which was foundational for our Open Data initiative. When we made our data available to the world in a machine-readable format, searchable, and reusable, back in April 2010, people came in droves. Within months, we had more traffic to our data catalogue than the World Bank homepage.

Another powerful insight we had was to link maps through “Mapping for Results” with poverty data and project results to show the relationship between where we lend, where poor people live, and the results of our work. While it may sound simple or obvious, even today development partners struggle to map the relationship between projects they fund and poverty indicators in a given country. We quickly realized the value of “mapping aid” and making aid data transparent and comparable. The Open Aid Partnership grew out of that impulse.

Making Open Data Work for Citizens: Four Lessons from Code4Kenya

Christopher Finch's picture

Code4KenyaEighteen months ago we watched President Kibaki launch the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) to broad acclaim and fanfare.  All our initial expectations were very high. Some expected that Kenya’s vibrant ICT community would rapidly embrace open data, that there would be a rapid outpouring of open data sets from government agencies, and that open data would drive more informed development decision making.

However, although Kenya has a strong ICT sector, skilled development professionals, high cell phone penetration, a relatively open media and active CSOs, open data uptake has not been as rapid as some  expected. Traffic to Kenya’s open data portal has been consistent, with the Government’s portal generating around 100,000 page views a month, mostly from Kenya. The number of datasets on the portal has doubled from the initial 200 to more than 400 today, but still represents a tiny fraction of the data in Kenya.

So even in a country like Kenya with a dynamic ICT sector, simply making data available is only one step in a longer process.

Radical Openness at TED Global

Sanjay Pradhan's picture

This summer I was invited to speak at the TED Global conference in Edinburgh, Scotland on Open Development. As you might know, TED features "Ideas Worth Spreading" and this year's global conference focused on "Radical Openness." This was an opportunity to highlight how the traditional development paradigm is opening up in dramatic ways that allows us to achieve stronger development results. 

Today, many of us the world over are working to open up aid, increase transparency, empower citizens, and connect country practitioners to innovative solutions globally -- all of which moves us towards our goal of eradicating poverty. As per TED practice, this is interwoven with the evolution of my own thinking and experience as a development practitioner, since I was a student in India. I want to invite you to share your own innovations in Open Development.

Closing the Gender (Data) Gap: Clinton, Kim Launch New Efforts for Better Gender Data

Donna Barne's picture

The phrase “gender gap” may be well known – but what about the gender gap for data? Today at an event at the Gallup Organization in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim called for better data-gathering on girls and women as an essential way to boost women’s empowerment and economic growth.

“Gender equality is vital for growth and competitiveness,” said Dr. Kim at “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap” in Washington, co-hosted by the State Department and the Gallup Organization.

But the lack of gender-disaggregated data hampers development efforts in many countries, Dr. Kim said.

“We need to find this missing data. We need to make women count.”

Development economics thinks big but also gets practical—postcard from Paris

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

ABCDE 2011, Paris. Photo: OECD
Development is about big systemic changes, complex tradeoffs, political choices and how the fruits of growth are channeled for the greater good. It is also about broadening opportunities – a goal that if neglected can result in frustrated citizens and tumult as we have seen in the North Africa and Middle East.

These were some of the many messages I took away from the ABCDE conference just held in Paris.

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