Enhanced Social Accountability through Open Access to Data: Geomapping World Bank Projects | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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Enhanced Social Accountability through Open Access to Data: Geomapping World Bank Projects

"Imagine this: A health care worker or parent in a village, with a laptop or mobile device, can access development knowledge in real time through geocoding and geomapping. She can see which schools have feeding programs and which go without, and what is happening to local health. She can access 20 years of data on infant mortality for her country and its neighbors. She can dig deeply and compare her village with others. She can upload her own data, throw light on the likely effect of new interventions, and mobilize the community to demand better or more targeted health programs.”

—Robert Zoellick President, The World Bank, on September 29, 2010.


The 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People, argues that the welfare of the world’s most vulnerable people depends directly on the availability of public services. Opening access to data is an important step toward improving the performance of public institutions in providing public services, and more broadly, to enhance support for good governance and social accountability.

The logic of Open Government Data is simple—a more open and transparent government invites citizen engagement. As citizens engage with their government, they demand greater accountability while also contributing to innovation: by using their newfound knowledge to demand better services and by offering their own solutions to perennial problems, citizens enhance the quality of governance via the “insights of the crowds.” Greater accountability can lead to efficiency gains that ultimately give rise to better services and greater social and economic well-being. The recent unprecedented dispersion of information and communication technology (ICT) in the developing world, even in the poorest countries, makes data access and dissemination more feasible than ever.


The inexorable trend toward open access to data is taking hold worldwide, with governments in developed and developing countries alike using ICT-enabled open data initiatives to empower private citizens. In Africa, one of the fastest  growing mobile phone markets in the world, mobile subscribers jumped from 16 million in 2000 to more than 198 million in 2006.3 Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, imbedded in these devices, is giving a face to previously disenfranchised communities of millions by enabling the mapping of some of the world’s largest slums for the first time ever.

In Latin America, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are leveraging the power of the Internet to help Bolivian farmers share innovative agricultural techniques via wikis. Governments are using Facebook and Twitter to elicit citizen feedback, for example, on healthcare services in India and education programs in the Philippines. The World Bank too is seizing this opportunity.


As part of its Open Data initiative launched in April 2010, the Bank has released one of the most comprehensive databases on developing economies, comprised of more than 7,000 indicators. Believing that open data can increase transparency and accountability, improve efficiency and effectiveness and create economic opportunity, this initiative aims to embrace a new development paradigm toward Open development. The main objective is to provide public access to previously restricted sources of data and knowledge, thereby promoting local solutions to development challenges.

In partnership withAidData the Bank launched the Mapping for Results platform which visualizes the location of Bank projects to:

  • better monitor their impact on people,
  • improve aid effectiveness and coordination,
  • enhance transparency and social accountability, and
  • empower citizens and other stakeholders to provide direct feedback on project results.

Citizens can locate projects on an interactive map, see how funds are spent, and learn about the purpose, cost, and results of each.

As of April 2011, an experienced team of researchers had geocoded more than 16,000 locations for more than 1,200 Bank-financed projects. The interactive maps show project locations at the subnational level for all 79 IDA (International Development Association) countries; and for 35 countries, the platform provides subnational poverty and human development data.


Identifying project locations is only the first step toward engaging with citizens and enabling greater social accountability. The program aims to empower citizens and local communities to participate directly in developing and implementing Bank programs by establishing a feedback mechanism between citizens, government and donors, enabled by the use of ICTs such as mobile phones and social media. This convergence of mobile devices, GPS, and social media as vehicles for change is reshaping the way we think about development.

Björn-Sören Gigler is Senior Governance Specialist, R. Bedford Tanner III is Research Assistant, and Johannes Kiess is Operations Officer, in the World Bank Institute’s Innovation Practice.

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