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‘Open Development’ Signals New Direction for World Bank Group

Available in: 中文, Español, العربية, Français
  • In move toward transparency, Bank opens vault of data, seeks collaboration on development research.
  • Bank doubles number of development indicators to be made publicly available, to 4,000.
  • Open Forum event, Apps for Development competition invite discussion on aid, development solutions.

October 5, 2010 – Six months ago, the World Bank Group was widely praised for opening its vault of development data for all to use. As leaders gather for the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings this week, the Bank is deepening its commitment to an ‘open development’ agenda that is swiftly moving the institution in a new direction. 

The new approach means the World Bank will continue freeing up and making data easier to search, download and use, so researchers, civil society and local communities “can come up with their own findings – and double-check ours,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a speech last week on ‘Democratizing Development Economics.

The other major change goes to the heart of the World Bank's business: development research. Zoellick announced the Bank would open the doors of its “ivory tower” and seek more collaboration and input from country clients, researchers and others outside the Bank. 

“No longer can the model solely be to research a specific issue and write a paper hoping someone will read it,” said Zoellick . “The new model must be wholesale and networked. It must increasingly open information and knowledge to others by giving them the tools to do the economic research themselves.” 

4,000 Indicators Now Public

To that end, the World Bank is doubling the number of development indicators publicly available to developers through its API (Application Programming Interface) – from around 2,000 last spring to 4,000 this week. New datasets are also being added, including data on the Bank’s projects in developing countries. As a pilot exercise, the activity locations of over 1,000 Bank projects have been geo-coded, and those data are being provided as part of a new API for projects.

The Bank is also hosting an online Open Forum during its 2010 Annual Meetings (Oct. 7-8) that will webcast development discussions on open data, jobs, and development aid, and invite comments and questions from the online audience.

The Bank is encouraging client governments and others to roll up their sleeves as users. It is doing this both by making economic modeling and analytical applications more accessible, and by hosting a competition—Apps  for Development—to  provoke innovative development solutions. In addition,  the Bank is releasing new tools to help visualize and analyze data and track aid flows, and is partnering with Google and  Microsoft to make data even more user-friendly. 

The goal of all this is more evidence-based decision-making and better results. But another benefit may be a more transparent, accessible and flexible World Bank that can more easily tap into communities of knowledge to help solve development problems. 

“The new data tools and website improvements will make it easier for researchers and software developers to obtain, visualize and analyze data,” says Shaida Badiee, Director of the Development Economics Data Group. “This is about putting the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of development into people’s hands.”

“I think what's been happening around us is a fundamental shift in the distribution of knowledge. Innovation is happening all around us, and we can tap into it,” adds Aleem Walji, Practice Manager for Innovation at the World Bank Institute (WBI). 

“We no longer need to frame the question, do all the research and write all the papers. If we can frame the right questions and make our data sets available, others will work with us to find answers.’” 

Apps for Development: A Call for Innovation 

The Bank is encouraging a community of software developers to form around its open data by hosting its first-ever global competition, Apps for Development, which officially opens October 7.

The competition invites people to mash up Bank data with their own data, or data from other sources.

“Let an ecosystem evolve around our data,” says Walji. “What others will do with our data will be much greater than what we could do ourselves.”
And while data have always been the most sought-after information on the World Bank website, few envisioned its power to effect change at the Bank.

“Two years ago we were cautious about even providing an API to outside audiences,” says World Bank Web Program Lead Nicole Frost.  “Here we are, two years later, giving away all of our data, not only to Google but to other partners as well, and now it's part of our strategic vision -- that's a huge shift.  We've definitely changed how we think and how we operate.”

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