Open data initiative of the World Bank: Lessons for Lanka?

The Open Data Initiative of the World Bank, that I came across yesterday, is in design and content at the cutting edge of how vital statistics can be accessed by civil society and media to feed into and inform public debates and policies. In addition to the web based interface, there’s also an iPhone / iPad application that allows one to visualise data from the World Bank’s vast databases.

Information presented in this manner places the onus on journalists and civil society to use evidence based reasoning and arguments in their advocacy. This is information present in the Bank’s databases for years, but inaccessible to the general public. Now that it is, journalists need to leverage this content in their reporting, and news organisations use the Bank’s API’s to create even more innovative applications.

Not entirely peripheral to this discussion on making information public, visually appealing and easy to access is the state of Sri Lanka’s statistics and census data. There are no less that 3 sites with this information.

In each of the sites, but particularly with the National Data Archive site, the design and ease of access are hugely suspect. No one in Sri Lanka seems to have heard of API, and how could they even contemplate such access when antiquated and positively bizarre guidelines control the use of information on some of these platforms.

Governments like the US and UK, through initiatives such as, and the British government’s open call to developers to help create applications using official data, demonstrate a growing number of countries opening up their data to citizens – to use, adapt and leverage as they see fit.

Sadly, despite all the braggadocio of ICTA to re-engineer government, open data initiatives are, unsurprisingly, not on its radar. As I noted in an article published last year,

“All of this supports the need for post-war governance to be transparent and accountable. A fraternal cabal that passes today for government and overrides parliament is incompatible with our democratic potential. Initiatives such as the new Open Government initiative under the Obama Administration in the US are instructive in this regard, with examples such as and useful for our own ICT Agency to champion, adapt and adopt along with of course initiatives to empower local and Provincial government. Everyone knows what needs to be done, but the war has always been an excuse for non-implementation.”

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