In my last post on the Bank’s Open Archives program, I wrote about how the Archives of the World Bank Group (WBG) is striving to make information easily accessible to the public, and maximizing the impact of the WBG’s open initiatives. By enabling access to the oldest and only multiregional development archives, we reveal the experience of generations of development practitioners and their counterparts to help inform the decisions of today's development community.
Until recently, archives users — including academics, development partners, and other researchers — had to travel miles, sometimes even across continents, to be able to access records kept in the World Bank Group Archives. But now, users will no longer have to be in Washington, D.C. to look at declassified materials.
In April 2015, as part of its commitment to transparency and openness, the World Bank Group launched its Archives Holdings website. This is a state-of-the-art platform, which maximizes the public’s online access to a vast amount of original primary source material in the custody of the Archives.
Created using the Access to Memory open source software, the website facilitates a faster, more efficient, and personalized online service delivery model. The software serves as a catalog that provides basic information about the resources of the Archives, and it is equipped with user-friendly finding aids compliant with the International Standard for Archival Description. The website delivers an increasing quantity of digitized records from the early 1940s onward, making them available for the first time to public users who cannot come to the Archives reading room in Washington, D.C.
A new phase of openness began five years ago on July 1, 2010, when the World Bank launched its Policy on Access to Information, which provides access to any information in the Bank’s possession that is not on a list of exceptions. The policy has served as a catalyst and has created an ecosystem of transparency initiatives to make World Bank information and data available to the public. In the years since 2010, the Bank has applied the principles underpinning Access to Information to accompanying initiatives such as Open Data, the Open Knowledge Repository, Open Finances, and Open Contracting, among others. The spectrum of transparency and innovation even extends beyond these initiatives to include the World Bank’s vision on Open Government.
Open approaches are paramount to development. But while access to information and technology are important to the development process, they are only part of the equation in finding solutions. A crucial part of the process lies with global citizens who can – and do – utilize the information and data to engage with and better their communities.
Something Is Changing
Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.
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.
- open data
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.
Eighteen 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.
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.
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.”