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"What Gets Measured Can Be Changed": World Bank Turns Its Data Catalog Public

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, April 22 2010

The World Bank has just taken the wraps off of a new data repository hosted at Data.WorldBank.org that makes available caches of data on global development that, says the Bank, has heretofore only been available in many case to paid subscribers. And that data will form the raw materials for an upcoming Apps for Development challenge later this year. From the press release:

The World Bank Group said today it will offer free access to more than 2,000 financial, business, health, economic and human development statistics that had mostly been available only to paying subscribers.

The decision -- part of a larger effort to increase access to information at the World Bank -- means that researchers, journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), entrepreneurs and school children alike will be able to tap into the World Bank's databases via a new website, data.worldbank.org.

Experts say the Bank's open data initiative has the potential to stimulate more evidence-based policymaking in developing countries by bringing more researchers and innovative analysis into the development process. The move is also likely to stimulate demand for data and increase countries' capacity to produce it, they say.

In the video above, World Bank President Bob Zoellick cites the importance of data in rebuilding post-earthquake Haiti, and says, "Haiti is just one example of why I believe it's important to make World Bank data widely available to everyone. Today we are opening up one of the world's most reliable and comprehensive databases on developing economies." Zoellick gave a shout out to Google for helping them make the data searchable, and explained why this new cache of public data matters to development, saying "Our experience shows that what gets measured can be changed."

At least one observer is pleased. Data visualization maestro Hans Rosling said of the new Data.WorldBank.gov, "It's the right thing to do, because it will foster innovation. That is the most important thing." Indicators available in the new database range from adolescent fertility to worker compensation rates. There's also several sources of data on technology, and it's easy enough to quickly navigate: I made the above map of fixed broadband subscribers around the world zippity quick.

(Thanks Anna Curran)

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