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World Bank: Open Data Helps Developing Countries

September 30, 2010 – Economists, policymakers and academics should re-examine the economies of developing countries through more accessible data and use of new technologies, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a Georgetown audience Sept. 29.

“There is a new opportunity, and certainly a pressing need, for dynamism in development economics,” Zoellick said. “Software has brought new tools – the Internet has brought new communications [and] rising economies have brought new experiences. We need to listen and democratize development economics.”

Open Data

To move that process along, the World Bank has created an initiative called “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions,” a user-friendly data source, free and open to the public.

The initiative provides information on more than 2,000 financial, business, health, economic and human development indicators. Three new interactive programs will allow use of World Bank data to create specific economic forecasts.

Zoellick said the goal of “Open Data” is to have researchers in the public and private sectors as well as people in local communities use the tool to come up with innovations in economic policies.

Freedom of Information

A week ahead of the World Bank’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Zoellick also told the 300-member audience about its move to make itself more transparent with a new “Access to Information” policy based on the Freedom of Information Act.

Greater access and the use of technology can make a big difference in the economic health of developing countries.

Zoellick noted that after the Haiti earthquake this past January, the World Bank took aerial photographs of infrastructure damage so engineers were able to provide analysis and assistance without having to go to Haiti.

Public Good

“The vast amount of research and analysis undertaken under World Bank auspices really should be considered a public good, provided for those who needed it for free,” said Ted Moran, a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. “This insight is reflected in his declaration … that the World Bank will make available databases, models, guidelines, as well as finished reports to the world at large.”

Moran says this will allow investigators and policymakers to study and conduct simulations with such information.

History professor John McNeill also attended the speech.

“Georgetown as a venue suited Zoellick’s purposes because part of his message was that the world of research and the world of policy need tighter coordination,” he said, “and bringing those two together is something our university has specialized in for decades.”

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