My experiences with field work thus far have been nothing if not adventurous. I seem to attract broken glass – a rock the size of a small coconut crashing through my 3rd floor window in Zanzibar, for instance, or the windows of my taxi being broken with baseball bats by an armed mob in Mali. Just the other day, my boss and I came within inches of dying in a fiery plane crash – we were on our way back to the main island of Zanzibar from Pemba island in a tiny 12-seater Soviet-era plane, and were just about to land in a strong crosswind when the engine on my side failed. We managed to land, somehow, and taxied to a stop right there on the runway to wait for a vehicle (ironically, it ended up being an ambulance) to take us to the terminal.
Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and Crowdsourcing—2011 has certainly been the year in which the use of social media and technology has captured the world’s attention.
From Tahrir Square in Egypt to the Anna Hazare movement in India, citizens have demonstrated that they want voice and accountability. Innovations in social media, mobile phones and inter-active mapping are powerful tools to mobilize citizens and to provide people with a voice—thus broadening the political debate.
However, key questions remain unanswered: What role can these innovative tools play to encourage governments, donors and foundations to become more transparent, open and accountable? Can the use of social media and cell phones empower people and marginalized communities, and close the feedback loop, allowing citizens to directly report back on project results and participate in decision-making processes about the use of public funds? These are a few issues that emerge when analyzing the potential transformative power of technology on development.
Is open data just a glorified form of publishing or can its benefits go beyond transparency and reusability? How do you take open data beyond the realms of traditional publishers and data sources and spur people affected by the data to participate and contribute new ideas/data about development (and in effect become open data/development partners)?
The question has been central to World Bank Finances where we recognize the power of transparency but also believe that open data products must reach beyond their traditional audience and stimulate non-traditional uses of open data. Putting this sentiment into action has however been a challenge, and it may be too early for us to claim that we have definitive answers.
New content aims to bring app developers and programmers together with the World Bank's open climate data.
On December 2nd, 2011 the World Bank Group announced the launch of a new “Apps for Climate” competition, to discover extraordinary ways to use open climate data. The competition encourages scientists, software developers, development practitioners and others to create applications that use open data to help solve the development problems that climate change poses. It aims to promote innovative use of open climate data – for example, through apps that help understand and manage weather-related disasters, to agriculture, food and water supplies, rising sea levels and other climate related development challenges.
Renowned British economic historian Niall Ferguson in his new and dazzling history of Western ideas, Civilization: The West and the Rest, argues as his central thesis that the West developed six killer “apps”—referring to the popular software applications for smartphones and tablets—that caused the West to dominate the global stage for the last 500 years. These key institutions and complexes of ideas, such as “competition,” “property rights,” “the Work Ethic,” were what led the West to preside (relatively unchallenged) over global politics, economics, and culture, despite the fact that the civilizations of the Orient were much more advanced than Western Europe in the 1400s, which was plagued by disease and war. Over time, however, the West has become, as Ferguson puts it, a “template” for the Rest (i.e. non-Western countries), which have been copying (or downloading) the apps and are now on the verge of overtaking the West in terms of economic strength and size, led by China.
Improving the Impact of Development Assistance Starts With Geography
Where are World Bank projects located and are they making a tangible difference in the lives of developing country communities?
An expanded version of the Mapping for Results (M4R) platform was launched during the 2011 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings to better enable donors, governments and citizens in answering these pressing questions.
Figure 1: World Bank financed activities in Nepal with poverty map.
Overlaying indicators on poverty, education and health with geographic locations of World Bank financed projects, the M4R platform helps policy makers and civil society groups visualize the distribution of projects, identify beneficiaries and monitor results on development outcomes. Building upon the initial foundation laid in October 2010, the new M4R platform expands the number of countries mapped from 79 to 144, including more than 30,000 locations related to active World Bank-financed projects.
What kinds of countercyclical policies make the most sense during financial crises? Can going ‘beyond Keynesianism’ by investing in infrastructure restart worldwide demand and help avoid a double dip recession? How can you sort good industrial policy from bad? Is it more important to focus on pragmatic development lessons from other emerging market countries, or should researchers spend most of their time on randomized control trials and experimental approaches to evaluation? These and many other questions were explored during the first year of ‘Let’s Talk Development,’ which we launched on September 28, 2010.
We went live with this blog on that day because it was when World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick delivered a speech on ‘Democratizing Development Economics’ at Georgetown University. This blog aimed to attract commentary and insights on breakthrough solutions to development challenges as well as to transmit some of the newest thinking taking hold in the field of development economics.
Is open data useful only to developers and researchers? Can 'average' users use open data to answer questions they have?
One of the (undeserved!) knocks against open data is the presumption that its core audience is technical and that the only people who can truly take advantage of open data are developers who can tap into APIs to build applications that then make sense of open data for lay audiences (unless the audience happens to be researchers in which case they probably have the necessary tools and the forbearance to troll through vast amounts of raw material). Viewed through this prism, open data is only effective via infomediaries.
On July 8th 2011, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenyan Open Data Initiative, making key government data freely available to the public through a single online portal. The 2009 census, national and regional expenditure, and information on key public services are some of the first datasets to be released. Tools and applications have already been built to take this data and make it more useful than it originally was.
This is, so far, the story of open government data in many other countries; what's special about Kenya?
Since its inception, the World Bank’s Open Data initiative has generated considerable excitement and discussion on the possibilities that it holds for democratizing development economics as well as for democratizing the way that development itself is conducted around the world. Robert Zoellick, in a speech given last year at Georgetown University, expounded on the many benefits resulting directly from open data. Offering the example of a health care worker in a village, he spoke of her newfound ability to “see which schools have feeding programs . . . access 20 years of data on infant mortality for her country . . . and mobilize the community to demand better or more targeted health programs.” Beyond this, Zoellick argued that open data means open research, resulting in “more hands and minds to confront theory with evidence on major policy issues.”
The New York Times featured the Bank’s Open Data initiative in an article published earlier this month, in which it referred to the released data as “highly valuable”, saying that “whatever its accuracy or biases, this data essentially defines the economic reality of billions of people and is used in making policies and decisions that have an enormous impact on their lives.” The far-reaching policymaking consequences of the data are undeniable, but the New York Times touches upon a crucial question that has been overshadowed by the current push for transparency: what about quality?