DorobekINSIDER: A whole new World (Bank) of open data

Wednesday - 4/21/2010, 2:00am EDT

Regular listeners to Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris got a preview of the announcement by the World Bank that they are opening up its treasure trove of data.

The World Bank has posted its data at http://data.worldbank.org.

From the World Bank’s release:

Recognizing that transparency and accountability are essential to development, the World Bank Group is now providing free, open, and easy access to its comprehensive set of data on living standards around the globe — some 2,000 indicators, including hundreds that go back 50 years. The data will be available in Arabic, French and Spanish in addition to English.

“I believe it’s important to make the data and knowledge of the World Bank available to everyone,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. “Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty. They are now easily accessible on the Web for all users, and can be used to create new apps for development. ”

Drawing from numerous data sources and working with statistical partners, the Bank Group has worked intensively to modernize its storehouse of statistics to create data.worldbank.org, a new, user-friendly data access site.

In the coming months, the World Bank will also launch an “Apps for Development” competition, challenging the developer community to create tools, applications, and ”mash-ups” using World Bank data with the goal of producing better tools for understanding development.

See a video with World Bank President Robert Zoellick here.

I actually heard about this initiative at the recent Transparency Camp 2010 and there was some discussion around the initiative. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about the complexities of this: One World Bank official credited the United States with its level of transparency and said this is a big stretch for many other countries around the world. The U.S. is trying to move from 80 percent to 90 percent, this person said, while much of the rest of the world is trying to get to 50 percent.

A number of people have also said that this is a significant cultural change… for the countries… for the bank…

But this could also be a powerful tool in terms of accountability of the development money spent around the world.

This will be a transparency and open government initiative worth watching.

And, in fact, the United States is watching. Andrew McLaughlin, the U.S. deputy chief technology officer, also has a blog post about the initiative headlined, The World Bank Frees Its Data.

In an exciting advance for the global data transparency movement, the World Bank today launched its Open Data Initiative, releasing more than 2000 data sets that document human development worldwide, including health, business, finance, environment, and social welfare statistics. This is a big deal for openness in development: not only are these high-quality and often unique data sets, but until today they have been available only to paying subscribers.

The World Bank’s new Open Data site has a lot of features that impress us here at the White House Open Government Initiative. The data catalog is well-organized and easy to navigate, with breakdowns by country, topic, and statistical indicator. Some 330 of the data sets have been translated into French, Spanish, and Arabic, with more languages to come. And there are some good, lightweight, built-in visualization tools — for example, check out the charts available in the country profile for Rwanda. We especially like the URL (data.worldbank.org), which echoes our own Data.gov.

Perhaps best of all, the World Bank also released an iPhone app called DataFinder, which enables data search and charts/visualizations on the fly.

Finally, we’re impressed by the World Bank’s plan to encourage the development of applications that make innovative use of all this open data through an “Apps for Development” challenge later this year.