Last week, I participated in GE’s global conference, ‘Disrupt or Be Disrupted’. The theme of the event was simple. As barriers to entry fall in nearly every industry, no company is safe or immune from being disrupted in a fundamental way. It’s no longer uncommon that industry leaders lose their edge in months, and wither to irrelevance in record time. Unless corporates have the courage to embrace and empower their ‘creatives’ they don’t stand a chance in sustaining their competitive advantage.
Last year I wrote a couple of posts on coping with information overload using an iPad, one in July and the other in December. The iPad world continues to develop apace, so here's a quick update, this one - as requested - complete with links to the apps.
International development apps
In my last post, I covered three World Bank apps: InfoFinder, which allows you to search in the Bank's documents and reports database, DataFinder which gets you into the Bank's data vaults, and WB Finances which shows you what the Bank is doing in its operational work. The Bank's latest iPad app is the 2012 World Development Report which contains the text of the report plus various additional features. While not an iPad app, the Bank's Open Knowledge Repository is quite iPad-friendly and a great way to search for and access World Bank publications.
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.
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?
The Sunday Business section of the New York Times prominently featured an image of a huge vault overflowing with bits and bytes. It was a story about the Bank’s Open Data initiative and claimed that datasets and information will ultimately become more valuable than Bank lending. It’s a powerful idea and one that sounds similar to the knowledge bank articulated by Jim Wolfensohn nearly ten years ago. But there is an important distinction between the two. This is not about the World Bank as the central repository of knowledge sharing its knowledge and wisdom with clients from the South. Instead, it’s about “democratizing development economics” in that it levels the playing field on knowledge creation and dissemination and opens the development paradigm to participation from researchers and practitioners, software developers and students, from north and south.
It's important to have an international forum where leading thinkers can exchange ideas about how to reduce poverty and how to promote growth in low income countries. I'm delighted that, since its inauguration 22 years ago, the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) has served this purpose by connecting leading thinkers, practitioners, and students. Now more than ever, we need active and constructive debate about job creation, reducing inequality, empowering women, and improving our approaches to human capital formation and training youth. TheDevelopment Economics Vice Presidency that I lead is enthusiastic in its continued support for this forum.
For people to benefit from development and escape poverty, they need to broaden their opportunities. That's why we chose 'Broadening Opportunities for Development' as our overall theme for this year's conference happening from May 30-June 1 in Paris.
We’ve read a good deal recently about the democratization of research. UNESCO’s Science Report 2010 showed a growth in the developing-country share of science research. As UNESCO Director General Irina Bokovo put it in her Foreword:
“The distribution of research and development (R&D) efforts between North and South has changed with the emergence of new players in the global economy. A bipolar world in which science and technology (S&T) were dominated by the Triad made up of the European Union, Japan and the USA is gradually giving way to a multi-polar world, with an increasing number of public and private research hubs spreading across North and South.”