Widgets, maps and an API make World Bank data sing

The new data.worldbank.org looks to improve data-driven decisions.

The new data.worldbank.org website that’s launching today is designed to make the vast wealth of open data easier to use. The Bank is increasing the number of indicators available on the site from 339 to more than 1,200, and it has substantially improved its API. Four different languages are supported on the site, along with an improved data browser, feedback buttons, instant search, and embeddable widgets.

“The new site shows the art of the possibility,” said Eric Gundersen of Development Seed, the D.C.-based Drupal shop behind the World Bank’s data catalog. “This is really actionable information. So many more NGOs [non-governmental organizations] can now make data-informed decisions if they have access.”

There’s more to come next month, as well, said Livia Barton, web product manager at the World Bank. The World Bank will launch new maps in October. “It will be a way to visualize the work that we’re doing in countries,” she said. “Like where we are building schools in Kenya, or roads that we’re working on, and then show if the work is paying off. Are more kids in schools moving on to the secondary part of their educations? Are infant mortality rates decreasing due to the work they’re doing? Marrying mapping with operational data can speed up data-driven decision making.”


Sharing open data and open code

New tools will help tell stories, but they won’t make every aspect of World Bank data analysis easy. For one, World Bank workers have to integrate data input into their business processes, building a regular reporting framework. For another, there’s the classic challenge of instituting governance and quality for all of that data.

“What’s important is that the economists and statisticians have extremely high standards for data quality,” said Barton. “Before anything goes into a catalog, it must be vetted by these teams. The are even high standards to get into the API or website.” The community can help with validation via feedback buttons, which have been integrated into every page.

“One of the exciting parts is how much data there is,” said Gundersen. “The other is the steps taken to make it accessible.” For example, every indicator page will now have tabular data, a map view, or a data view that can be made into widgets and dropped into webpages. Queries and custom graphs are also supported.

Gundersen is excited about the release of the Drupal code that powers the site. It’s now open sourced and hosted at Drupal.org.

“This will radically reduce the barrier of entry for Drupal folks looking to work with the raw API, and it capitalizes on the long tail — especially in the international development space — that Drupal offers for adoption,” said Gundersen.<p

Apps for Development coming in October

Yesterday, the World Bank previewed an Apps for Development contest that will launch on Oct. 7. Todd Park, the CTO of Health and Human Services, challenged the audience: “What are the really useful things the world needs and what are we going to do about it?”

In addition to the contest, the World Bank will host an open forum on Oct. 7 that will feature experts from the open data movement via live webcasts and a 24-hour chatroom.

One open data expert already offered his perspective at the forum yesterday. “Don’t assume the data you already have is going to be used in isolation,” Tim O’Reilly said. “We don’t necessarily need more apps. We need apps that do the right thing.”


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