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Big Data

From Discovery to Scale: Leveraging big data to improve development outcomes

Michael M. Lokshin's picture

In the last few years, the World Bank has expanded use of big data in more than 150 development projects globally, spanning a wide range of sectors and geographies. Solutions have ranged from using big data to monitor, evaluate, and improve projects—in energy, transport, and agriculture—to poverty diagnostics and understanding how well urban residents are connected to jobs. But, as Haishan Fu, Director of the Development Data Group at the World Bank, has said, “we are just beginning to realize the potential of the data revolution.”

These pilots have taught us that moving from discovery, to incubation, to scale requires a more coordinated and systematic approach. At the World Bank, we found it important to go beyond internal dialogue and assessments. We wanted to listen to and understand the perspectives of our partners in the development and data ecosystems—on current gaps, opportunities, as well as on the role(s) the World Bank should play in order to foster collective action.

Socio-Emotional Skills Wanted! – New Big Data Evidence from India

Saori Imaizumi's picture


We all hear about the importance of “socio-emotional skills” when looking for a job. Employers are said to be looking for individuals who are hardworking, meet deadlines, are reliable, creative, collaborative … the list goes on depending on the occupation. In recent years, it seems, these skills have become equally important as technical skills. But do employers really care about these soft skills when hiring? If so, what type of personality do they favor?

Data analytics for transport planning: five lessons from the field

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
Photo: Justin De La Ornellas/Flickr
When we think about what transport will look like in the future, one of the key things we know is that it will be filled and underpinned by data.

We constantly hear about the unlimited opportunities coming from the use of data. However, a looming question is yet to be answered: How do we sustainably go from data to planning? The goal of governments should not be to amass the largest amount of data, but rather “to turn data into information, and information into insight.” Those insights will help drive better planning and policy making.

Last year, as part of the Word Bank’s longstanding engagement on urban transport in Argentina, we started working with the Ministry of Transport’s Planning Department to tap the potential of data analytics for transport planning. The goal was to create a set of tools that could be deployed to collect and use data for improved transport planning.

In that context, we lead the development of a tool that derives origin-destination matrices from public transport smartcards, giving us new insight into the mobility patterns of Buenos Aires residents. The project also supported the creation of a smartphone application that collects high-resolution mobility data and can be used for citizen engagement through dynamic mobility surveys. This has helped to update the transport model in Buenos Aires city metropolitan area (AMBA).

Here are some of the lessons we learnt from that experience.

Can psychometrics help bridge the gap?

Claudia Ruiz's picture
Traditional credit scores are fairly accurate in predicting future loan performance, which is why lenders have tended to concentrate on clients with already a solid credit history, as screening them is less costly. However, interest in alternative ways to identify potential good borrowers that lack credit history is growing, particularly in countries where a non-trivial fraction of the population remains unbanked.

Technology holds great promise for transport, but…

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: Automobile Italia/Flickr
Not a day goes by without a new story on how technology is redefining what is possible for transport. A futuristic world of self-driving, automated cars seems closer than ever.  While the ongoing wave of innovation certainly opens up a range of exciting new possibilities, I see three enduring challenges that we need to address if we want to make sure technology can indeed help the transport sector move in the right direction:      

The focus is still on car-centric development

The race towards incredibly sophisticated and fully automated cars is well underway: companies like Google, Uber, Delphi Automotive, Bosche, Tesla, Nissan Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have already begun testing self-driving cars in real conditions.  Even those who express concern about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles still agree that this innovative technology is the way of the future.

But where is the true disruption? Whether you’re looking at driverless cars, electric vehicles, or car-sharing, all these breakthroughs tend to reinforce a car-centric ecosystem that came out of the industrial revolution over a hundred years ago.

Leveraging technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
A drone delivery project made Rwanda the first country in the world to use the drone technology at the service of saving lives. © Sarah Farhat/World Bank
A drone delivery project made Rwanda the first country in the world to use the drone technology at the service of saving lives. © Sarah Farhat/World Bank


Billions of people are connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge -- foreshadowing stunning possibilities.  This potential is multiplied by technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data processing, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, blockchain, etc.
 
This so called 4th industrial revolution can help accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, Science, Technology and Innovation, together with Financing for Development, were identified by the UN as one of the two main “means of implementation” to achieve the SDGs by 2030 as it cuts across all SDGs as highlighted by International Telecommunication Union’s Fast Forward Progress Report – Leveraging Tech to Achieve the SDGs.

How big data helped us estimate the impact of an intervention with 0.8% take-up

Claudia Ruiz's picture

When asked if he would like to have dinner at a highly-regarded restaurant, Yogi Berra famously replied “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”. This contradictory situation of very low take-up combined with large overall use is common with some financial products – for example, the response rate to direct mail credit card solicitations had fallen to 0.6 percent by 2012, yet lots of people have credit cards.

It is also a situation we recently found ourselves in when working on a financial education experiment in Mexico with the bank BBVA Bancomer. They worked with over 100,000 of their credit card clients, inviting the treatment group to attend their financial education program Adelante con tu futuro (Go ahead with your future). Over 1.2 million participants have taken this program between 2008 and 2016, yet only 0.8 percent of the clients in the treatment group attended the workshop. A second experiment which tested personalized financial coaching also had low take-up, with 6.8 percent of the treatment group actually receiving coaching.

In a new working paper (joint with Gabriel Lara Ibarra), we discuss how the richness of financial data on clients allows us to combine experimental and non-experimental methods to still estimate the impact of this program for those clients who do take up the program.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Want a Better, Safer World? Build a Finance Facility for Education
Stanford Social Innovation Review
The global education crisis can seem overwhelming. Today, there are 263 million children and young people throughout the world who are not in school, and 60 million of them live in dangerous emergencies. Fast forward to 2030, and our world could be one where more than half of all children—800 million out of 1.6 billion—will lack basic secondary-level skills. Almost all of them will live in low- and middle-income countries. What’s more, many of those children will never have the chance for an education at all; others who do attend school will drop out after only a few years. Their job prospects will be poor—their likelihood of becoming the entrepreneurs who will drive the next stage of global growth even more uncertain. This is a prediction of course—not a done deal by any means—and yet many low- and middle-income country leaders fear that this grim possibility will become their reality. They understand that lack of quality education will leave their countries unable to gain economic ground or improve the well-being of their citizens. And they realize that large numbers of young people—who should be a huge asset to their countries—can easily shift to the liability column and become sources of instability if they are deprived of their fundamental right to an education.

Business, Human Rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals
Business and Sustainable Development Commission.
Companies’ single greatest opportunity to contribute to human development lies in advancing respect for the human rights of workers and communities touched by their value chains, according to the new paper, Business, Human Rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals, authored by Shift and commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission. People around the world are affected by business activities every day, many very positively. Roughly 2 billion people are touched by the value chains of multinational companies. Yet these same people are exposed to the harms that can also result when their human rights are not respected by business, cutting them off from the benefits of development.

When cities forget about pedestrians, big data and technology can serve as a friendly reminder

Bianca Bianchi Alves's picture
Photo: Lazyllama/Shutterstock
Paraisópolis, a nationally famous slum area in São Paulo, Brazil, is one of those bustling communities where everything happens. Despite being located in the middle of the city, it managed, unlike other poor slum areas, not to be reallocated to make room for more expensive housing or public infrastructure. The area boasts vibrant community life, with more than 40 active NGOs covering issues that range from waste management and health to ballet and cooking. Recently, the area also benefited from several community upgrading programs. In particular, investments in local roads have facilitated truck access to the community, bringing in large and small retailers, and generating lively economic activity along with job opportunities for local residents.

As we continue our efforts to increase awareness around on-foot mobility (see previous blog), today, I would like to highlight a project we developed for Paraisópolis.

While most of the community has access to basic services and there are opportunities for professional enhancement and cultural activities, mobility and access to jobs remains a challenge. The current inequitable distribution of public space in the community prioritizes private cars versus transit and non-motorized transport. This contributes to severe congestion and reduced transit travel speed; buses had to be reallocated to neighboring streets because they were always stuck in traffic. Pedestrians are always at danger of being hit by a vehicle or falling on the barely-existent sidewalks, and emergency vehicles have no chance of getting into the community if needed. For example, in the last year there were three fire events—a common hazard in such communities—affecting hundreds of homes, yet the emergency trucks could not come in to respond on time because of cars blocking the passage.

From data blur to slow-mo clarity: big data in trade and competitiveness

Prasanna Lal Das's picture

Tolstoy's War and Peace was the big data of its time. A memorable moment from the epic novel occurs when Prince Andrei awakens following a severe injury on the battlefield. He fears the worst but, "above him there was nothing but the sky, the lofty heavens, not clear, yet immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds slowly drifting across them. 'How quiet, solemn, and serene, not at all as it was when I was running.'" Time appears to slow down and the Prince sees life more lucidly than ever before as he discovers the potential for happiness within him.

In many ways the scene captures what we demand of big data—not the bustle of zillions of data points as confusing as the fog of war, but sharp, clear insights that bring the right information into relief and help us connect strands previously unseen. The question of whether this idea is achievable is the starting point of a paper about big data on trade and competitiveness just published by the World Bank Group. In it, we asked—can big data help policy makers see the world in ways they haven't before? Are decisions that are informed by the vast amounts of data that envelop us better than decisions based on traditional tools? We didn't want a story trumpeting the miracles of big data; we wanted instead to see the reality of big data in action, in its messiness and its splendor.


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