World Bank posts data for crowdsourcing solutions

Tuesday - 4/27/2010, 7:45pm EDT

Carl Hanlon, manager of corporate communications, World Bank

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

The World Bank Group recently made many of its statistical databases available to the public online in the hopes of enlisting the help of a global community to affect change.

The site is called data.worldbank.org and is a place for global crowdsourcing, among other things.

This has required the cooperation of several governments and groups, many of them speaking different languages, and includes some 2,000 indicators that could be of help to researchers, journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), entrepreneurs, and even students.

Carl Hanlon is manager of corporate communications at the World Bank and explains what they've managed to accomplish so far.

"What we've done, in essence, is thrown open the doors on thousands of indicators that really tell what life is like for many of the poorest people in the poorest countries -- everything from life expectancy to infant mortality, school enrollment and some [other] indicators people are familiar with -- GDP, GNI and so on. These numbers and statistics really tell a story about conditions in some of the more challenging countries, and the emerging economies, as well."

The interface online is very user-friendly, Hanlon said. He explained that the data is arranged in a variety of ways, and a user can search by country name for information on health, education, environment, standard of living, cost of living and other indicators.

"We really think that for researchers, for policy makers, for people that do work in development, especially, this provides them with a very rich database of information to help them, first of all, determine what conditions are in countries to help them form policies, and then to track and measure and monitor improvements over time."

The website also comes with a variety of interfaces that allow a user to manipulate the data in any way he or she wants. The information is also available for download in XML, and chart and graph form.

The site is part of the World Bank's broader Access to Information policy that will deploy July 1.

"We're basically opening up much more of our information and our reports and the business we conduct at the Bank. This is sort of a step in that direction, whereby we're saying -- 'We have these databases, previously they were available through subscription to libraries and universities and so on'. [Now] we want everybody to have access to this information because we do want to hear what people think of the information [and] we want feedback on it."

The Bank will also soon have an apps for development competition, where it will ask people to create new ways to interpret the data in the hopes of increasing overall world knowledge about what's happening in developing countries.

"[For example] with the recent disaster that struck Haiti, we took aerial photographs of the destruction after the fact. What we did was invite a whole bunch of different groups to come in and look at that data. . . . They all came together globally and interacted with the data and quickly started to do some assessments on the damage. . . . We really got a jump start on the damage and needs assessment that we were having to do anyway and came up with an $11.5 billion needed for rebuilding in Haiti. That's just one example of how, when you throw it open to the crowd and the experts, you can further the work you have to do by letting people get access to the information."

Since launching data.worldbank.org, Hanlon said the bank has gotten a great deal of positive feedback from governments and groups across the globe, but there's also a great deal of excitement throughout the Bank itself.

"Everybody is really excited about it. This is a knowledge institution. We have experts from around the world who really apply their knowledge and share it across countries and across regions to try and improve the situation on the ground for some of the poorest people in the poorest countries. When you share the information, get feedback from others, you obviously come up with better solutions."