World Bank Discussion Paper: “Open Data for Sustainable Development”
The World Bank Group released a discussion paper this August on how government movement toward Open Data practices can help improve a vast array of development challenges. The paper extolls the potential benefits of large data proliferation, ranging from “economic growth and job creation,” to “improving transparency, accountability, and citizen participation,” and even addressing environmental concerns such as pollution and climate change.
This call for Open Data focuses on governments making large amount of recorded data freely available for public use via the internet. Far from a new concept, Open Data has been an important part of initiatives that aim to improve security during conflicts (e.g. Ushahidi in Kenya), identify and deter corruption (e.g. Supervizor in Slovenia, Clearspending in Russia), and help monitor and identify environmental threats (e.g. the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, LAWA in New Zealand).
The discussion paper does identify several challenges and concerns that go along with increasing government data accessibility. Citizen privacy is a major one; national security is another. Public access to technology is also an inherent barrier to using open datasets. While academics and practitioners in the United States regularly use open data from their government, citizens in low-income countries do not have the same kind of access to computers, computational software, and reliable internet connections that would allow them to make use of open data.
Another issue is that governments that do recognize the utility and demand for access to such data are likely to want to charge for the service. Interestingly, studies indicate that charging for the data is actually a bad idea. While this may be counterintuitive, the benefits (economic and otherwise) that accrue when data is freely available far outweigh potential profits from data sale. Additionally, data cannot be considered “open” if only those willing to pay fees can access it.
Overall, it’s a fairly positive outlook for Open Data. The World Bank suggests a comprehensive list of ways to handle the above challenges, and the upshot of increased confidence in governments through accountability is worth considering.