Sunday, October 10, 2010

A World Bank competition to create apps that will use the data they have

Dear Colleagues

The World Bank has spent several decades working on "development" and has built a huge collection of data. I am impressed by the amount of data ... but I am appalled at how little use these data are for meaningful decision making.

Maybe this is going to change! I have been alerted to a World Bank competition that challenges people to develop software applications in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ... and with the conditionality that the applications use one or more of the World Bank datasets. When I look at the available datasets it confirms that there is an abundance of data ... and probably not much that is particularly useful for what interests me.

Specifically, I want to see data that have an ability to be disaggregated to the community level. Most of the data of the World Bank has been aggregated to a national level without any ability to get the data related to a place and time. There are data by "project" in some of the available datasets ... but these project data have no drill-down to progress and performance in any real location. The World Bank has been a source of employment for economists for decades and the data show it ... meanwhile the data that are needed to manage anything are missing.

Anyone that manages resources wants something more than weak correlation ... decision makers need specific cause and effect ... and if it is difficult to predict an outcome, decision makers want meaningful metrics about progress and performance as soon as possible after resources are deployed. I have not met a World Bank official (in the period from 1978 to now) that really understands this idea ... and it is no surprise that so much money has been disbursed with so little success.

It is possible that The Burgess Method (TBM) of value accounting at the community level could use some of the World Bank data as rather crude benchmarks against which community progress is measured ... whether or not this would be enough to satisfy the competition rules, I do not know.

The following is the message that alerted me to the competition.

Peter Burgess
Apps for Development - competition by the World Bank
Posted by Narendran T on October 10, 2010 at 9:46am

The Competition challenges participants to develop software applications related to one or more of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Submissions may be any kind of software application, be it for the web, a personal computer, a mobile handheld device, console, SMS, or any software platform broadly available to the public. The only other requirement is that the proposed application use one or more datasets from the World Bank Data Catalog available at

More information at:

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