World Bank sets Data free

In April the World Bank  announced it was making available for free 2,000 financial, business, health, economic and human development statistics that had mostly been available only to paying subscribers.

This is increasingly inline with trends – the UK has created its own open data site (here) and the US too (here). I think the real significance of the release of data will come when people who wouldnt otherwise use the data start using it. Internet guru Clay Shirky notes in his excellent book Here Comes Everybody ‘it’s not a revolution not when behaviour adopts new tools but new behaviors. It’s not about novelty but ubiquity. If you are looking for social scale change, it’s adoption.’

The data revolution will only occur when lots of people do something different through having access to the data.  When enough people share the data with enough other people that they can start to organise and do things differently, and they can make the state function better. When that happens, then the data revolution truly arrive.

What will people organising and doing things differently look like? As an example, in Birmingham UK Dan Davies use of government data (initially obtained through Freedom of Information – fascinating story here) to plot safer cycling routes was only possibly because local data (cycling accidents) was publicly available. But this is only possible when the data is sufficiently localised, and people have access to it (generally on the internet). In 2007 fewer than one in 20 Africans went online in 2007, for instance, and less than 15% in Asia, whereas Europe and the Americas recorded penetration of 43% and 44% respectively.

What will people using data to make the state function better look like? In the UK helps people inform local councils where problems need fixing. But the response isnt always swift. Public pressure is needed to mobilise political response. In Tanzania the Daraja initiative shows how the combination of citizens monitoring water pump pressure can infleunce local government and the President through SMS. But what it really shows is that the real influence lies in the possibilty that the national media, and therefore public opinion, will report on the failure to act on a ctizens text message telling his President that the water pressure has dropped. The combination of individual dialogue with the state and  the power of public opinion are mighty swords.

And the iPhone app? Well, I doubt the the World Bank itself will make the App, but Im sure someone will. What might that App look like?


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