The president of the World Bank gave a speech titled “Democratizing Development Economics” (full speech here), and it is actually specifically about “open data, open knowledge and open solutions” (in his words) to increase the access to the World Bank data that is given out for free!
Do not applaud the World Bank for the brave move just yet. The missing link (and unsung hero) is a Swedish Professor in Public Health, also an open data advocate Hans Rosling, who criticized the World Bank with harsh words in a speech last year in front of an audience of American officials in the State Department.
Professor Hans Rosling has a series of impressive stage performance in turning data into engaging presentation. For example, in his presentation to the State department in 2009, titled “Let my dataset change your mindset”, he criticized the World Bank for not giving out the data for free, while thanking the U.S. tax payers and applauding the U.S. government for making the public health data available to the world. What follows is the exact quote copied and pasted from the transcript of his speech:
“And it is U.S. government at its best, without advocacy, providing facts, that it’s useful for the society. And providing data free of charge, on the internet, for the world to use. Thank you very much. Quite in the opposite of the World Bank, who compiled data with government money, tax money, and then they sell it to add a little profit, in a very inefficient, Guttenberg way.”
As an Internet researcher who has vested interest in open data and free software tools for research, I am happy to see the direction that the World Bank is taking. I am happier because it is official, announced by the president.
Still, I think it is necessary to thank the open data advocate and Swedish Public Health Professor Hans Rosling for his past hard work in pressing the idea of open data and better visualization. (It is clear that one of the World Bank blog post documented and confirmed such a connection.)
I hope this blog post can fill the gap that the mainstream media has missed (e.g. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Reuters). The basis for the new “multipolar knowledge” for a new “multipolar economy” is the open and free data for any players, including NGOs, social entrepreneurs, activist groups, etc. to produce diverse new knowledge for the field of development economics, creating even more new data, tools, policies and practices. That is exactly what the speech title for the speech “Democratizing Development Economics” means.
One interesting implication for the new manifesto on open data, open knowledge and open solutions is the possibility to redefine what the “Washington consensus” is (or turn into other “consensus 2.0”). Imagine a world of development economics that follows the knowledge- and tool-production practices like Linux and Wikipedia. There are no final versions of Linux operating systems or Wikipedia articles, but a lot of variant versions that differs from one another while sharing a lot of in common. It is like turning the economic term “Washington consensus” into an always-beta “rough consensus and running code” that is at the core values of Internet protocols.
I am still waiting to see if the rosy future will ever happen: open data leads to open knowledge; open knowledge leads to open solutions; open solutions lead to diverse practices that shape and share a “rough consensus” in leading the world’s economic (and political) development.