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Equity and Open Data: A Powerful Combination

Equity and Open Data: A Powerful Combination

John Newman and April 18, 2012 panel on equity

Panel discusses South Asia's next flagship report

Equity in development and open access to data – two subjects that might at first glance seem to have little to do with each other – were wrapped together through a wide-ranging panel discussion on Wednesday, April 18 at the World Bank’s Spring Meetings.

The common thread, explained John Lincoln Newman, lead poverty specialist for the Bank’s South Asia region, is a flagship report on equity and development in South Asia which will be published as an e-book to allow for greater access to the data behind the report.

Using interactive publishing tools, readers will be able to manipulate the data to focus on their areas of interest and view videos embedded in the report.

“The challenge is, how can the World Bank best promote open debate in a world of open data and open knowledge?” Newman said.

Newman gave a “sneak preview” of the report, due out in March 2013, showing how a chart that at first looks like a tangle of spaghetti can be broken down by region, indicator, or time to enable informed analysis.

South Asia Chief Economist Kalpana Kochhar (left), who introduced the panel, previewed the content of the report, noting that it will focus on equity, or equality of opportunity, not only on equality of outcomes.

The difference, explained panelist Marcelo Giugale: “Equality would mean that we all make the same salary. Equity means we make the same salary relative to something – education, drive, our endowments.” Giugale is sector director, poverty and economic management for the Bank’s Africa region.

In the past, he said, the Bank focused on equality because there was no easy way to measure equity. Inequality is often measured using the Gini Index, developed 100 years ago by Italian statistician Corrado Gini.

In 2008, the World Bank created a new measure called the human opportunity index, or HOI. That, combined with more real-time, continuous panel data, now makes it possible to measure equity, and Giugale predicted that equity will be the wave of the future.

Several panelists noted that politically, equity is much less controversial than equality. That’s because “opportunities diverge early in life,” said Louise Cord, sector manager in the poverty, gender, and equity group for the Bank’s Latin America region.

Equality of opportunity starts early in childhood – or even before birth, with prenatal care. People across the political spectrum agree that children should have access to safe drinking water, adequate food, and a high-quality education – factors that are crucial to their future success in life.

“When we try to talk about redistribution of income or wealth, there is always debate. It’s much easier to get consensus around equality of opportunity,” said Jaime Saavedra, sector director for poverty reduction and equity.

Neil Fantom, manager in the Bank’s Development Data Group, said the interactive report on equity will fit in well with the goal of making the Bank’s data available to all.

“When we open our data, others can take it and do new things with it,” he said, citing Google and Gapminder as organizations that have done so.

The first South Asia regional flagship report, “More and Better Jobs in South Asia,” was released in 2011 and is available online. View a video of Kochhar discussing the series.

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