Open Data — data that is freely available online for anyone to use and republish for any purpose — is being widely recognized as a resource with economic and social value.
In recent years, several studies — including those led by the World Bank — have shown a growing number of Open Data applications around the world, from water management social enterprises in India to agro-businesses in Ghana. The Open Data Impact Map, developed as part of the OD4D (Open Data for Development) network, has over 1000 examples of such use cases from more than 75 countries, and the list is growing.
The World Bank has now published a policy paper, “Open Data for Sustainable Development,” that highlights the ways Open Data can be utilized to achieve development goals through a range of applications such as improved medical care, financial access and management, urban planning, agriculture, and many other areas. The World Bank has identified four broad types of benefits of Open Data, which are illustrated throughout the paper with specific examples, some of which are highlighted below:
- Fostering economic growth and job creation: New lending organizations in several countries use Open Data to make loans to borrowers with no credit history. In addition, Open Data about available jobs and workers’ skill sets, job-matching platforms are helping employers staff up and individuals find employment.
- Improving efficiency and effectiveness of public services: Social service agencies are using Open Data to help prospective patients find medical clinics or emergency care; to improve access to high-quality education; to improve public transportation and encourage its use; and to make emergency services more effective in natural disasters, among other benefits.
- Increasing government transparency, accountability, and citizen participation: Several national governments are considering open contracting standards, which would bring new transparency to government contracts — a move that could increase trust in those governments both among citizens and for foreign investors.
- Facilitating better information sharing within government: Municipal governments are using Open Data to coordinate efforts that improve transportation and other aspects of city infrastructure, and also to manage recovery efforts when hurricanes or other natural disasters damage that infrastructure.
These applications of Open Data and others are relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals that have been proposed by the U.N. and will be finalized next month. The SDGs cover a wide range of issues, including economic, health, education, and environmental factors. Open Data can play a critical role in helping to achieve the SDGs, and can also support the U.N. Data Revolution initiatives now underway.
As the world is becoming more data-driven, governments are uniquely positioned to provide some of the most valuable types of data to businesses, civil society, and the general public. To make their Open Data programs successful, governments will need to do more than simply open the gates and make data public. They need to engage with the current and potential users of their data, provide legal and policy structures for data use, and focus on the quality of important datasets.
But we now have more evidence than ever that these Open Data programs will be worth the effort. With the right focus, approach, and implementation, Open Data can have a high economic and social return on investment for countries in all regions and at all stages of development.