The World Bank is embracing digital openness in a big way: It's just revamped its APIs for public access to financial data, and is launching an app competition. The aim is to make data available to help developing countries.
Back in April the World Bank made some big moves to shatter its ivory tower habits, and launched a powerful set of APIs so that code writers and financial analysts the world over could get access to large datasets it manages on global economic matters--the APIs included 2,000 "development indicators." This was a great move, but the organization was obviously just gearing up: It's just revealed another 2,000 indicators will be available in a revamped API and 1,000 of these will be geo-coded for the first time, which should enable much more creative analysis.
There're also new tools which let you create graphs based on the data, forecast future behavior and gain information about barriers to trade in particular nations. Biggest news of all, given the current trend in tech, is that the World Bank is also launching the "Apps for Development Competition," starting October 7th with an announcement of the winners at the Spring World Bank/IMF meetings. What exactly is the intention behind this, you may ask, given that the World Bank isn't a traditional app-centric beast? The hope is that entrants will craft apps (for any platform from Web-based to smartphone to tablet PCs) that use World Bank data in creative and useful ways, either producing innovative analysis tools or visualizations. Anyone can enter, as a team or alone, and the overall mission is to "reduce global poverty by putting important data into the hands of those who can make a difference in developing countries."
The strategy might work, if only because interested parties with a charitable or political bent will certainly leap upon the chance to access more World Bank data on global development, and media publications will be able to quickly craft meaningful infographics when a news story about a developing nation crops up.
More than anything else, it's another sign that the World Bank has undergone a fundamental policy shift. Its press release notes that while before it was a closed shop, now its "giving away" all its data, "not only to Google but to other partners as well."
To keep up with this news, and more like it, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.