World Bank makes its data available online for free

Bank effort part of global movement, says White House official

White House efforts to increase the availability of government data on Data.gov are being matched by similar efforts at the World Bank and in countries around the world, Beth Noveck, director of the White House Open Government Initiative, said today.

“We are not necessarily at the forefront of the global conversation,” Noveck said at a World Bank event publicizing the bank’s recent move to make available online all its data free to the public for the first time.

Data.gov, formed a year ago to boost access to federal data, and other public agency efforts to increase data availability are designed to empower individuals and communities to take action on issues of importance to them, according to Noveck.

“Being more transparent and open with data is not for transparency for its own sake, but to enable collective action,” Noveck said. “It is about restoring trust in, and engaging with, the institutions of democracy and democratic government.”

The World Bank has created a new Web site, data.worldbank.org, to make available for free online more than 2,000 statistics on development that previously had been available only to paying subscribers. Some of the databases include data that is more than 50 years old. The data for more than 200 countries covers such topics as infant mortality, life expectancy and educational achievement. The data is accessible in English, Spanish, French or Arabic.

The World Bank’s online data repository is one of several recent initiatives meant to foster transparency. The bank intends to offer an Apps for Development Competition to stimulate development of new tools and mash-ups to access and display data.

World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said he is hopeful that better access to data can help some nations improve their living conditions. “Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries, and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty,” he said in a statement.

One of the difficulties of collecting global statistics on poverty and health care is obtaining cooperation from governments in poor countries, said Hans Rosling, professor of international health at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who spoke at the event with Noveck.

For some countries, there are challenges with regard to internationally developed data estimates for some poor countries, which may or may not be borne out in reality, Rosling added. For example, in collecting data on individuals with HIV infections, some poor countries collect no data themselves, but are skeptical about the source of various international estimates for their regions.

In the past, some of those estimates have been proved wrong — in some cases, dramatically — once actual data was collected, he added. “In Kenya and Ethiopia, the HIV infection rate fell by half,” Rosling said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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