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New data and research help measure a decade of urban expansion across East Asia

Chandan Deuskar's picture
How do you measure something when there’s no agreement on how to define an indicator?  How do you compare urban data when the word “urban” doesn’t have the same definition in every country? And what happens when cities stop counting the population that starts to spill over the municipal boundaries?
 

 

Amid the rescue and recovery in Greece: Corruption-hunting – putting promises into practice

Christopher Colford's picture



After the drama,
 the dénouement. Crisis-watchers who were riveted to last week’s continuous flow of breaking-news bulletins from Brussels – as the European Union and Greece furiously negotiated (often through diplomatic feints and calculated disclosures to the press) a fragile accord on the latest stages of Greece’s debt crisis – are now awaiting the next high-intensity, high-anxiety step in the prolonged process: the scrutiny of the list of proposed reforms that Greece has agreed to submit to still-wary EU officials by Monday.

Whether this week’s list of proposed reforms, being drawn up by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, proves to be enough to satisfy the skeptics in the Eurogroup is the next question for Eurozone-focused analysts. Continued haggling over the details seems likely over the next week – and, ominously, the remainder of calendar for 2015 looks unforgiving. Even if an accord can be solidified this week, many observers dread that anxieties will be inflamed again within four months, when the EU’s brief extension of its financial rescue package for Greece will have run its course – just at the moment when Greece will be facing a midsummer deadline for paying large installements of its vast international debts. Another bout of brinkmanship this summer may revive fears of a possible disorderly exit from the Eurozone. With the fragile Greek banking system vulnerable to potential runs by depositors, the situation will surely command the attention of financial-sector crisis managers for months to come.

Throughout the white-knuckle phase of this Greek tragedy, the Bretton Woods institutions have had a constructive role to play in trying to resolve various aspects of the crisis. The International Monetary Fund has been a central pillar of the rescue operation, joining the European Central Bank and the European Union as part of the so-called “troika” (or, as it is now phrased more mildly in EU parlance, “the institutions”) serving as the rescue overseers. The World Bank Group has been involved in the situation, as well – although in a less-visible role that involves Greece’s long-term recovery rather than its short-term rescue. By providing, not financing, but technical expertise to Greece, the Bank Group has been helping strengthen the country’s investment climate – an area where, according to recent editions of the “Doing Business” report, Greece has made some notable progress in recent years.

As the Eurogroup and Greece this week consider Varoufakis' list of proposed policy reforms, one important concern is certain to be on everyone’s agenda: enforcing stronger steps to fight corruption and ensure good governance. In an anticorruption cri de coeur last week, an Op-Ed commentary in the New York Times by Gregory A. Maniatis explained, and deplored, how that beleaguered country’s chronic “corruption by elites siphoned off countless billions” that should instead have been used for pro-growth investment.

“Practically every time Greece made a purchase — be it of medicines, highways or guns — a substantial cut went into the wrong hands,” wrote Maniatis, who is a senior fellow at the Open Society Foundation and the Migration Policy Institute and an adviser to the United Nations. “As a result, monopolies and oligopolies led by politically connected families choked competition and controlled much of the country’s banking, media, energy, construction and other industries.”

An estimated 20 billion euros (about $22.8 billion) are lost every year due to pervasive corruption in the Greek economy, he wrote – and such a coddled “kleptocracy set a tone of impunity that enabled lower-level graft” in a “cycle [that] became self-perpetuating, as oligarchs tightened their stranglehold over the political system.”

Noting that Transparency International ranked Greece “at the bottom among European Union members” in its Corruption Perceptions Index – “tied for last with Bulgaria, Italy and Romania” – Maniatis questioned why “graft prosecutions are rare” in Greece. Every act of corruption, after all, requires two-way complicity: “In order for someone to receive a bribe, someone else has to pay it,” he noted. Perhaps legal watchdogs, in both Athens and Brussels, have not been diligent in monitoring the behavior of major European companies that might be engaging in bribery.

Maniatis’ suspicion suggests that the troika's crisis-management program may have overlooked a corrosive threat to Eurozone stability: “Why wasn’t Brussels focused at least as much on corruption as it was on debt? If the European Union’s absence on this front was lamentable before the crisis, it was inexcusable afterward. Officials from the so-called troika essentially took up residence at the Greek Finance Ministry in 2010, but rarely visited the Ministry of Justice.”

Warning of the threat that corruption poses to sound development and shared prosperity in every economy, Maniatis’ essay brought to mind the recent World Bank Group-hosted forum by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance, with the theme of “Ending Impunity: Global Knowledge: Local Impact.” As many speakers at the ICHA forum in December 2014 pointed out – and as many countries that are struggling with eradicating corruption continue to find – a profound mindset-shift is needed to change an economy that tolerates a culture of corruption into an economy that demands a culture of compliance. By insisting on good governance standards, private-sector firms, no less than public-sector agencies, have the duty to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy for graft in every country where they conduct business.

Eradicating pervasive corruption from a long-graft-ridden economy may be a years-long challenge – if it can be achieved at all. So, while strict anticorruption measures are almost certain to appear on Varoufakis’ list of proposed policy reforms for Greece, enacting and enforcing them – and promoting a culture that recognizes corruption as Public Enemy Number One for development – seems likely to require near-permanent vigilance.

Those who wish Greece well in its long struggle to renew its economy – along with those who wish the European Union success in its half-century-long trajectory toward integration and stability – will surely applaud their forthcoming steps
toward promoting good governance and adopting stronger anticorruption safeguards. Along with all nations that seek to eradicate corruption, Greece and the EU can draw on the substantial body of knowledge developed by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance – an indispensable resource in the global quest for good governance that helps promote shared prosperity.



Keeping momentum toward India's digital future

Deepak Bhatia's picture
The Government of India has recently announced the Digital India program, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. In addition, the Government has an ambitious plan to upgrade 100 cities into Smart Cities by 2014, and the Swachh Bharata Abhiyan national initiative is focusing on a green and clean India by 2019.

The emphasis of all these programs is on leveraging the innovative potential of ICT, mobile and new media Technologies to achieve these visionary activities. In addition, the Neeti Ayog (Erstwhile Planning Commission) is working on a framework to set up a state-of-the-art data mining center and develop ICT tools that can help make use of Open Data for national planning purposes.

Teams from World Bank’s Transport & ICT and Urban Development teams are closely partnering with the Government of India (both at the federal and state levels) to help achieve these goals. The World Bank plans to be the key knowledge partner in both the Smart Cities project and the Open Data initiative. Bank specialists have been actively supporting these activities through knowledge events and workshops that are focused on sharing global best practices and technology trends.

On the road to Open Data: glimpses of the discourse in India

Isha Parihar's picture

Recently I attended an India Open Data Community meeting organised by the World Bank in New Delhi that brought together government officials, academics, corporates, developers and a few development sector professionals to discuss social and economic Open Data opportunities in India and the emerging partnerships forming around them. 

Organized at the highly regarded Indian Institute of Technology, the meeting was focused on three key areas; experiences of institutions using open data around the world, how organisations need to prepare to tap into the growing potential of Open Data, and how to build and strengthen the community of data users and providers. The aim was to help assess the challenges and opportunities for extracting and using open government data in India, and to then communicate these at a subsequent National Conference on Open Data and Open API. 
 
India – Open Data opportunity
One of the key speakers at the meeting was Professor Jeanne Holm, a senior Open Data consultant at the World Bank and former evangelist for Data.gov in the US. In a brief presentation, she summarized the key reasons for governments’ willingness to open their data. These include improved internal efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, innovation, economic growth and better communication with citizens and other stakeholders.

She highlighted some key observations about the opportunities for Open Data in India: the availability of a vast resource of data; a stable, open source platform for open government data; rich technological expertise and knowledge; and opportunities to design specific data sciences programmes in educational institutions. A rapidly growing community of open data enthusiasts in India, DataMeet, is also shaping the discourse on data and its civic uses and exploring engagement opportunities with a wide spectrum of Open Data users.

Which countries could be affected by plunging oil prices: a data perspective

Siddhesh Kaushik's picture
Tumbling oil prices continue to dominate the headlines. Although oil prices have started to rise earlier in the week, this issue is still of concern to many oil-exporting countries.
 


(Source: FRED Economic Data)

A recent World Bank Group feature story broke down country by country the potential regional consequences. And according to the Bank Group’s Global Economic Prospects report, the decline in oil prices will dampen growth prospects for oil-exporting countries.

There are various factors that can be used to assess the impact of falling oil prices on countries. One such factor is trade. Countries exporting mostly fuel products will lose export revenue as oil prices drop. The chart below shows the top 15 countries that exported fuel in 2012. You can visualize the data for other years and products using the World Integrated Trade Solution’s (WITS) product analysis visualization tool.

​Using open tools to create the digital map of Cairo’s public transit

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
Follow the authors, Tatiana (@tatipq) and Diego (@canaless) on Twitter 

The first step in any transit planning process involves understanding the current supply and demand of transit services. In most of the countries where we work, understanding the supply of services is a messy, costly and lengthy process, since most cities have little knowledge of bus routes, services and operational schemes.
 
Having a digital map (GIS) and General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) details of a network allows a transit agency to do better service planning and monitoring, as well as provide information to its users. A traditional GIS software approach often requires a team of consultants and months of work.  Last month, however, we were presented with the challenge to use innovative tools do the same work in less than two weeks.
 
This was our first visit to Cairo, Egypt, and there we were tasked with the goal of mapping the city’s entire bus network (approximately 450 formal bus routes) in order to conduct an accessibility analysis with our new Accessibility Tool. At first hand this task seemed daunting, and a few days after arriving we were not certain that we could accomplish it in two weeks.
 
Before our trip, we had agreed on a somewhat flexible work plan, laying out an array of potential open-access, free tools that we could use depending on the scenarios we would encounter, mostly dependent on the availability of data.

Here are 3 challenges for open data in fragile states

Sandra Moscoso's picture



While inroads have been made in many countries, some of the challenges that arise when opening, consuming and sharing data in fragile states and situations are similar to those arise in any context. In many countries, data scarcity, quality of source, and data capacity and literacy make it difficult to not only publish data, but also make it accessible to broad audiences. 
 
The following additional challenges (and in some cases, solutions) come to light in the fragile context:

Funding The Data Revolution

Claire Melamed's picture

A revolution starts with an idea, but to become real, it has to move quickly to a practical proposition about getting stuff done.  And getting things done needs money.  If the ideas generated last year, in the report of the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group and elsewhere, about how to improve data production and use are to become real, then they will need investments.  It’s time to start thinking about where the money to fund the data revolution might come from, and how it might be spent.

Getting funding for investment in data won’t be easy.  As hard-pressed statistical offices around the world know to their cost, it’s tough to persuade governments to put money into counting things instead of, say, teaching children or paying pensions.  But unless the current excitement about data turn into concrete commitments, it will all fade away once the next big thing comes along, leaving little in the way of lasting change.

Next step for the Data Revolution: financing emerging priorities

Grant Cameron's picture

Last August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked an Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) to make concrete recommendations on bringing about a Data Revolution in sustainable development.  In response, the IEAG delivered its report, and among other items, recommends, “a new funding stream to support the Data Revolution for sustainable development should be endorsed at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development,” in Addis Ababa in July 2015.

Three Issues Papers for Consultation

To support this request and to stimulate conversation, the World Bank Group has drafted issues papers that focus on three priority areas:

  1. Data innovation
  2. Public-private partnerships for data
  3. Data literacy and promotion of data use

The papers aim to flesh out the specific development needs, as well as financing characteristics needed to support each area. A fuller understanding of these characteristics will determine what kind of financing mechanism(s) or instrument(s) could be developed to support the Data Revolution.

How does open data play out in fragile states

Sandra Moscoso's picture
#ARTF's Ditte Fallesen describes the opportunities and challenges around #opendata in Afghanistan
#ARTF's Ditte Fallesen describes the opportunities and challenges
around #opendata in Afghanistan. Photo: Sandra Moscoco

​There's a lot of energy around the role of open data in development. There are talks of data fueling 'smart cities,' citizen engagement in planning and budgeting, public transparency and accountability, entrepreneurship (even without open data), and more. 
 
These show the promise of open data, which doesn’t come easy in stable governments. But how does open data play out in the context of fragile states and conflict situations? 
 
Last year, we asked ourselves these questions and reached out to the aid community.


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