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Join us on the geospatial way to a better world

Wael Zakout's picture
Kris Krüg Flickr CC

Disruptive technology, supported by location-based – or “geospatial” – databases, is on track to change our lives, transform economies, and shake up big and small businesses. In fact, this is already happening in cities and communities around the world, thanks to fast-developing mobile technology and the growing speed of mobile communications.

For example, a Cairo-based startup called “Swvl” is disrupting commuting in the In the Middle East and North Africa region by mapping out commuters’ travel directions and enabling app-based, affordable bus rides that can compete with on-demand ride-hailing.

Mapping for sustainable development: The Open Data for Resilience Mapathon

Lorenzo Piccio's picture

On Wednesday, November 14, we joined more than 170 volunteers at the World Bank’s Washington, D.C. headquarters to draw little red boxes on a map of Alajo—a small town in the coastal metropolis of Accra, Ghana.

Some might find tracing a map of a city 8,500 kilometers away to be a surprising way to spend an afternoon, but there are good reasons for it. The boxes represented buildings, and they will go on to become invaluable geospatial data that will help the residents of Accra prepare for and respond to flood risk. Home to over two million people, Ghana’s capital city is highly vulnerable to flooding. In 2015, torrential rainfall left much of the city underwater—affecting 53,000 people and causing an estimated US$100 million in damages.

In just a little over two hours, the volunteers made over 3,000 edits to the map of Alajo, complementing the work of local teams in Ghana that are leading data collection efforts in the field. Once validated by more experienced mappers, the data collected will help guide improvements to Accra’s solid waste disposal management system, and also inform the upgrading of settlements vulnerable to flooding.

Open Cities Africa: Collaborative mapping to build resilient societies

The rise of local mapping communities

Vivien Deparday's picture
More than 150 people participated in the SotM Africa conference in 2017. (Courtesy of SotM Africa)
More than 150 people participated in the SotM Africa conference in 2017. (Courtesy of SotM Africa)

There is a unique space where you can encounter everyone from developers of self-driving cars in Silicon Valley to city planners in Niamey to humanitarian workers in Kathmandu Valley: the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. It comprises a geographically and experientially diverse network of people who contribute to OSM, a free and editable map of the world that is often called the “Wikipedia of maps.”  

What is perhaps most special about this community is its level playing field. Anyone passionate about collaborative mapping can have a voice from anywhere in the world. In the past few years, there has been a meteoric rise of locally organized mapping communities in developing countries working to improve the map in service of sustainable development activities.

The next opportunity to see the OSM community in action will be the November 14th mapathon hosted by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI). Mapathons bring together volunteers to improve the maps of some of the world’s most vulnerable areas, not only easing the way for emergency responders when disaster strikes, but also helping cities and communities plan and build more resiliently for the future.

The Goods, the Bad, and the Ugly: Data and the food system

Julian Lampietti's picture
Photo Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock.com

The business of agriculture and food is driven by data, making it the treasure trove of today’s agri-food system. Whether it’s today’s soil moisture, tomorrow’s weather forecast, or the price of rice in Riyadh, every bit of data can improve the efficiency with which the world’s 570 million farmers put food into the mouths of its soon-to-be eight billion consumers. Digital technologies are facilitating the flow of data through the food system, shrinking information asymmetries and fashioning new markets along the way. How can we ensure these new markets are appropriately contested, and the treasure does not end up in the hands of a couple of gunslingers? Is there a public sector’s role in generating and disseminating data that on the one hand encourages innovation and competition and on the other reduces opportunities for market capture? One place to look may be at the crossroads of internet and public goods.

We all remember from econ class that public goods can’t be efficiently allocated by markets because they are non-rival and non-excludable. There are precious few examples of true public goods – national defense, clean air, and lighthouses come to mind. That is, at least until Coase’s in “The Lighthouse in Economics” argued that lighthouses are excludable because it was possible to temporarily turn-off the lighthouse when a ship sailed by that didn’t pay their port fees.

Introducing the online guide to the World Development Indicators: A new way to discover data on development

World Bank Data Team's picture

The World Development Indicators (WDI) is the World Bank’s premier compilation of international statistics on global development. Drawing from officially recognized sources and including national, regional, and global estimates, the WDI provides access to almost 1,600 indicators for 217 economies, with some time series extending back more than 50 years. The database helps users—analysts, policymakers, academics, and all those curious about the state of the world—to find information related to all aspects of development, both current and historical.

An annual World Development Indicators report was available in print or PDF format until last year. This year, we introduce the World Development Indicators website: a new discovery tool and storytelling platform for our data which takes users behind the scenes with information about data coverage, curation, and methodologies. The goal is to provide a useful, easily accessible guide to the database and make it easy for users to discover what type of indicators are available, how they’re collected, and how they can be visualized to analyze development trends.

So, what can you do on the new World Development Indicators website?

1. Explore available indicators by theme

The indicators in the WDI are organized according to six thematic areas: Poverty and Inequality, People, Environment, Economy, States and Markets, and Global Links. Each thematic page provides an overview of the type of data available, a list of featured indicators, and information about widely used methodologies and current data challenges.

Understanding Niamey’s flood risk through open source mapping, drones, and modeling

Vivien Deparday's picture



For thousands of years, the Niger River has been the lifeblood for not only Niger, but also its neighboring countries in the Niger River Basin. Yet, even as many Nigeriens depend on the mighty waterway for food, water, and livelihoods, the Niger River also poses a severe flood risk to the West African country during the rainy season. In the third quarter of 2017, widespread flooding due to heavy rains claimed the lives of over 50 people and displaced nearly 200,000.

Need better maps? Take it to the crowd!

Charles Fox's picture
A detailed map of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Open Street Map
Amateur mappers the world over have long known that they can support global development, from the comfort of their homes, through one simple tool: OpenStreetMap (OSM). What has been less clear is how we can build this effort into the fabric of World Bank operations.

OSM has revolutionized geography. It is the ‘Wikipedia’ of mapping: anyone can edit the map by tracing features such as roads and buildings against free, high-quality satellite imagery. In contrast to other map services, the platform is entirely open:  anyone can download a layer of the roads and buildings that make up the map. It is built for the people, by the people, in all regions of the world. It epitomizes the best features of open digital collaboration: leading-edge technology made freely available to all, regardless of location. Because everyone can contribute, OSM maps are often much more complete than commercial alternatives—especially in areas that are hard to survey, such as informal settlements].

The World Bank makes frequent use of OSM for research purposes, and occasionally supports one-off initiatives to complete OSM maps in specific areas, e.g. after natural disasters (Nepal and Haiti are recent examples). But we have put less effort into nurturing the community of altruistic mapping volunteers who make OSM so special, and play a critical role in keeping the map updated over time.

A recent series of initiatives, however, is bucking that trend.
 

No, 70% of the world’s poor aren’t women, but that doesn’t mean poverty isn’t sexist

Carolina Sánchez-Páramo's picture
“Seventy percent of the world’s extreme poor are women”. If you’ve encountered this statistic before, please raise your hand. That is a lot of hands. And yet, this is what we call a ‘zombie statistic’: often quoted but rarely, if ever, presented with a source from which the number can be replicated.

How Maputo is driving new forms of collaboration between citizens and city governments

Eva Clemente's picture
The true test is whether open data leads to improvements in public services.


Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, celebrated its 130th anniversary in November. But that’s not its only milestone: This year, it became only the second city in sub-Saharan Africa to have its own open data platform—one of many exciting results to come out of its Open Data Roadmap.

What's the cost of open government reforms? New tool can help you find out

Daniel Nogueira-Budny's picture
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Advocacy around open government reforms to date has largely revolved around the intrinsic value of transparency, accountability, and participation. In a resource-constrained environment, development practitioners, policy makers, and citizens increasingly have to be more judicious. Adopting new methods or tools – such as open contracting mechanisms, open data dashboards and participatory budgeting – is not free. How can we measure the instrumental value of open government reforms?


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