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Why DC is the place to be this weekend if you are interested in big data for development

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If you haven’t registered yet for the Big Data Exploration event at the World Bank on March 15-17, you really should. After stops in Venice, Vienna, and a pre-event at Washington DC, data divers assemble at DC this weekend to take another crack at issues related to poverty measurement, plus fraud/anti-corruption in operations and to demonstrate whether and how practitioners can use big/open data to get results for traditionally knotty development problems (which are relatively difficult or expensive to resolve using standard techniques).

We started a few weeks ago with what seemed like unrealistic hope -- and incredibly enough, things are still on track at the moment. And here’s what we think makes the DC event so exciting:

1.   The questions are becoming more precise, which means you can have a greater impact. As we have been reminded frequently, data - big, small or otherwise - isn’t very useful unless you ask the right questions. We started with big ideas - and the ideas are still full of ambition - but we are beginning to narrow them down into answerable, meaningful questions, thanks to the help of our experts and the feedback we received at earlier events. Here are some of the questions we’ll explore - it’s still a tentative list, and will likely morph substantially during the event (after all of you have weighed in!) but it gives you an idea (and there will likely be additional pitches during the event as well). Our experts will be there to answer your questions and provide you with insights into the issues that keep them awake at night! Beginning to answer some of these questions will be a big win and a great contribution to development efforts

2.   You will have more data to look at - thanks to the poverty and fraud/anti corruption experts and specialists, and of course our partners at QCRI, UNDP, UNDB, and Global Pulse, we should have quite a varied and interesting list of datasets to work with (apart from all the open data in the world). Some already on the list include:

  1. A large Twitter dataset in Arabic (translators will be at hand during the event)
  2. Retail data from Colombia
  3. Supermarket price data from South Africa
  4. Paved roads map from the Bank
  5. Contracts data from the World Bank
  6. Contracts data from multiple agencies via UNDB
  7. Text messages from East Africa (Text to Change)
  8. The UNDP’s workforce data from 2008-2012
  9. UNDP program budget and expenditure data by station from 2008-2011
  10. And much more

Just having a catalog of these data sources is a nice start; let’s see what you can do with it

3.   There is a growing, global community of practitioners you can connect with - it’s been fantastic to see how many individuals/groups have participated in the data dives already and how many more you are likely to meet this weekend. Patrick Meier from QCRI will be here, Irina Stavenscaia and Erdal Esin  from UNDP will join us, we expect that Anoush Tatevossian from Global Pulse will be here, and you will meet a large number of folks from the Bank (Wolfgang Fengler, Neil Fantom, Aleem Waljee, Nobuo Yoshida, Amparo Ballivian, Simon Robertson) among them). We’re also thrilled that Benjamin Renoust (all the way from France!) will continue his social networking analysis of Bank contracts, Marc Maxson will take another shot at auditing the world, and we’ll also build on some of the work started during the International Open Data Day. We like to think that this is the beginning of a global community that could help bring together  those who are interested in the intersection of bigdata and development issues. And, btw, we happen to believe that data scientist for development might not be such a bad career option for the future!

Yes it’s going to be as fun, as exciting, and as meaningful as it sounds. Bring your ideas, your data, your insights, your connections to the event and see what happens to them when they meet real questions and people committed to answering them. See you there.


Prasanna Lal Das

Lead Knowledge Management Officer, Trade & Competitiveness

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