Speeches & Transcripts

Second International Open Government Data Conference

July 10, 2012

Caroline Anstey second international open government data conference Washington , United States

As Prepared for Delivery

As prepared for delivery

Welcoming Keynote

World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey

July 2012, Washington D.C.



Ladies and Gentlemen,

·         It is my pleasure to see you all here at the World Bank - I’m glad to be surrounded by the leading thinkers and doers in a subject that is particularly close to my heart – open data.

·         And as you’ve just heard from President Jim Yong Kim, robust and open data is critical to our mission.

·         This is the largest ever open data gathering at the World Bank, bringing together a community that we really didn't know much about, just two years ago. We've come a long way in a short time, to what I hope we now are – your friends, partners and collaborators.

·         But while we’ve come a long way, there’s still far more to be done.

·         We need strong concerted action at all levels to deliver on the promise of open data for development - not only to  improve accountability, transparency, and effectiveness, but also to increase people’s participation and ability to work together to devise innovative solutions to today’s development challenges. 

·         My background is a little unusual at the World Bank. I came to the World Bank from the world of journalism.  As a journalist I’ve seen first-hand the power of free information, the importance of accountability, and citizen-participation. I’ve also seen that when governments and institutions try to restrict information they not only short-change their citizens but they can make poor public policy choices. This is no less the case in development.

·         Over the years we have learned that development cannot be imposed by fiat from above or from outside. We’ve learned that there is no one-size-fits-all panacea. We’ve learned that the ivory tower or the research institute doesn’t have a monopoly on development ideas.  What we are now coming to learn is that a heady combination of data, citizen participation and new technology can open the door to finding development solutions in ways that just a generation ago seemed impossible.

·         “Give us the tools and we will finish the job,” was a famous British plea to the Americans in World War 2. “Give us the data and we will finish the job," could be the cry of citizens today in the war on poverty.

The World Bank: Open About What We Know, and Open About What We Do

·         So data matters. And Open Data matters more. With Open Data we can set in train a powerful chain-reaction of change and empowerment. With Open Data we can democratize development, drawing practioners, communities, policymakers and citizens into the search for development solutions. With Open Data we can incentivize the filling of data gaps, and the production of apps to make the data fully usable. With Open Data we can keep a check on corruption, and public policy abuses, building in citizen oversight, feedback loops and mid-course corrections.

So what does this mean for the World Bank?

·          Through Open Data we have handed over the keys to the World Bank’s data vault. We are approaching the task in two ways;   being open about what we know, and being open about what we do.

·         What does that mean in practice?  We’ve released over 8,000 development indicators and more than 60 different collections of datasets from across the Bank going back over 20 years, through a central data catalogue.

·         It means new portals and databases of climate change, jobs, gender and poverty- related data. And operational data on more than 11,000 lending projects in over 100 countries.

·         We've combined this with an Access to Information Policy, modeled on the US and Indian Freedom of Information Acts with an independent panel for appeals of decisions, and last year 14,000 documents and reports posted on our site.  

·         Our data is freely available for commercial and non-commercial use alike, and with our new Open Access Policy, we’ve created an Open Knowledge Repository for our research and knowledge products under the most liberal Creative Commons Attribution license.  I believe the Bank is the first major international organization to embrace Open Access and Creative Commons licensing for its research products.

·         I’d also like to think we’re just as open about what we don’t know. One of the first apps a developer created when we started our Open Data Initiative in April 2010 is called “Blind Data”- it shows the gaps in coverage of our various development data. We have to be honest about those gaps. Showing them clearly, creates an incentive to fill them. 

·         We’re committed to being just as open about what we do. In the last year, we’ve launched new sites for our projects, operations and finances. A look at worldbank.org/projects or finances.worldbank.org – you can see what we’re doing where; alongside details of our lending activities, procurement information and crucially, the results we’re seeing.

·         Importantly, and Steven will be pleased to hear, we provide access to all this data through Application Programming Interfaces - APIs - and in international standard data formats like the one used by the International Aid Transparency Initiative, IATI, so that our data is fully usable by others, and they can come up with applications we’ve never thought of. 

Engaging with others

·         Back in December, researchers at AidData wanted to know how levels of violence in different regions of Afghanistan affected the success of World Bank projects there. They took our geo-coded project data and data on project performance from our Independent Evaluation Group, and then mapped it against sub-national violence data from the Long War journal. Their surprising results challenged our conventional wisdom. 

·         This kind of analysis would be even more useful if all aid donors released data in standard, comparable data formats like IATI.

·         And that’s exactly what the Open Aid Partnership has helped demonstrate in Malawi. Malawi is leading the first Open Aid pilot, and in co-operation with AidData, has geo-coded aid activities of 27 different donors working across the country. For the first time a map visualizes all local aid flows in Malawi.

·         Pilots are set for 13 other countries– a move that offers tremendous scope for the international aid community to not only see where aid is flowing  - and just as importantly not flowing -  but plug the gaps and give new depth to the concept of harmonizing aid.  


" Give us the data and we will finish the job "

Caroline Anstey

Managing Director, World Bank

·         The Bank is also helping countries who have signed up to the Open Government Partnership achieve greater standards of transparency and partnership through mapping of public spending. And is helping governments implement Access to Information legislation. 

Catalyst for Change

·         Opening up our data has been a catalyst for change and reform inside the Bank, helping us become a more modern and agile organization.

·         And it’s helped people interact with us in new ways – whether it’s the researchers from AidData or software developers like Frank van Cappelle or Andres Martinez - the winners of the Apps for Development and Apps for Climate global data competitions we’ve run in the last two years, showing innovative ways to use our data.

·         Our apps competitions have drawn entries from across the globe, including many from Africa, reinforcing the idea development solutions aren’t just the prerogative of the rich world.

·         Crowdsourcing innovations – whether it be through competitions or through Hackathons are now an increasing part of our work.  

·         Our recent Water Hackathon – which took place in ten cities around the globe – led to building of more than 60 prototype solutions to some of the developing world’s challenges with water.

·         In Peru it lead to the new public release of water data – the Open Peruvian Water Map prototype makes official data available to the public and for the first time consolidates all available water resources in a central and open form.

·         It’s data that needed for development.

Some Challenges with Data

·         But that brings me to a key issue:  you can only do open data if you have the data to open up.

·         Africa may never know the true impact of the global financial crisis on its poorest citizens. Only 17 Sub-Saharan African countries have collected data to measure changes in poverty in the past decade. And 47 percent of Sub-Saharan countries have not carried out a household income or expenditure survey in five years.

·         Only one in four African countries report basic crop production data.

·         In South Asia, only one percent of the population is covered by complete vital registration records, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, only two percent.

·         Lacking effective registration systems, countries must rely on infrequent and expensive surveys to estimate the vital statistics needed to support the core functions of government and to plan for the future.

·         We need a greater concerted effort for data generation to help countries not only become more transparent but plan better for the future.  Without it, we are condemned to navigate development in the dark.

The Opportunities

·         Earlier I spoke of a powerful chain reaction that open data can set in train. From data, to citizen participation to empowerment and change.  And let’s be honest that what scares some people about Open Data. Control is easier if you secrete or fudge the numbers.

·         High paid experts are easier to justify if you secrete or fudge the numbers. Top down development is easier to defend if you secrete or fudge the numbers. Statisticians, and all of you in this room, are no longer in the dry and dusty numbers game. You are at the front line of a powerful and transformational movement. But it's a transformational movement that can benefit us all.

·         For let’s not forget we are in the open data business because we’ve seen it improve the lives of people. We’ve seen data improve lives in Uganda where health workers in 50 health centers across the country were inspired to work harder after some simple community monitoring – resulting in a 33 percent drop in child mortality.

·         We’ve seen data improve public policy choices in South-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens are using mobile phones to vote for local budget priorities.

·         It’s meant more funds at the local level for public services and citizens more willing to pay taxes. In some local communities, tax collection has multiplied up to 16 times.

·         We’ve seen data empower women in India where illiterate local women are giving real-time feedback via hand held devices on the quality of maternal health services, using a simple series of smiling or frowning faces.

·         Today more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. We can harness the power of data with low cost information technologies to scale-up development impact.   It's already happening. This is not tomorrow’s world. This is today.


·         In more advanced economies we take the data for this level of interaction with government for granted. If you live in the United States, it's difficult to imagine that you won't be able to access the weather forecast. But living without the weather forecast if your livelihood depends entirely on the fragile crops you grow in your garden, is an altogether different matter. When shall I sow? What if I sow and it doesn't rain? When shall I reap?

·         The good news is that in India, fisher folk are already using mobile phones to receive messages about weather forecasts, optimal fishing zones, and market prices. 

·         The bad news is that the world can't wait.  So all of us in this room need to think more broadly. We need to find new ways to put open data to work. Find new ways to use open data to improve lives. Find new ways to use data to empower citizen-centric development – so that we really can say that Open Data is a public good, for the public good. And far from being threatening, it can benefit us all.

·         Thank you.