Excerpts from Keynote Speaker at 2nd International Open Government Data Conference

Caroline Anstey | World Bank Transcript | July 10, 2012

“Give us the tools and we will finish the job,” was a famous British plea to the Americans in World War II. “Give us the data and we will finish the job," could be the cry of citizens today in the war on poverty.

The following are key excerpts from the keynote speaker, World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey,  at the 2nd International Open Government Data Conference held this week in Washington, D.C.

It is my pleasure to see you all here at the World Bank - I’m glad to be surrounded by the leading thinkers and doers in a subject that is particularly close to my heart – open data. And as you’ve just heard from President Jim Yong Kim, robust and open data is critical to our mission.

This is the largest ever open data gathering at the World Bank, bringing together a community that we really didn't know much about, just two years ago. We've come a long way in a short time, to what I hope we now are – your friends, partners and collaborators. But while we’ve come a long way, there’s still far more to be done. We need strong concerted action at all levels to deliver on the promise of open data for development - not only to improve accountability, transparency, and effectiveness, but also to increase people’s participation and ability to work together to devise innovative solutions to today’s development challenges.

My background is a little unusual at the World Bank. I came to the World Bank from the world of journalism.  As a journalist I’ve seen first-hand the power of free information, the importance of accountability, and citizen-participation. I’ve also seen that when governments and institutions try to restrict information they not only short-change their citizens but they can make poor public policy choices. This is no less the case in development.

Over the years we have learned that development cannot be imposed by fiat from above or from outside. We’ve learned that there is no one-size-fits-all panacea. We’ve learned that the ivory tower or the research institute doesn’t have a monopoly on development ideas.  What we are now coming to learn is that a heady combination of data, citizen participation and new technology can open the door to finding development solutions in ways that just a generation ago seemed impossible.

“Give us the tools and we will finish the job,” was a famous British plea to the Americans in World War 2. “Give us the data and we will finish the job," could be the cry of citizens today in the war on poverty.

The World Bank: Open About What We Know, and Open About What We Do

  • So data matters. And Open Data matters more. With Open Data we can set in train a powerful chain-reaction of change and empowerment. With Open Data we can democratize development, drawing practioners, communities, policymakers and citizens into the search for development solutions. With Open Data we can incentivize the filling of data gaps, and the production of apps to make the data fully usable. With Open Data we can keep a check on corruption, and public policy abuses, building in citizen oversight, feedback loops and mid-course corrections.
  • Through Open Data we have handed over the keys to the World Bank’s data vault. We are approaching the task in two ways;   being open about what we know, and being open about what we do.
  • What does that mean in practice?  We’ve released over 8,000 development indicators and more than 60 different collections of datasets from across the Bank going back over 20 years, through a central data catalogue.
  • It means new portals and databases of climate change, jobs, gender and poverty- related data. And operational data on more than 11,000 lending projects in over 100 countries.
  • We've combined this with an Access to Information Policy, modeled on the US and Indian Freedom of Information Acts with an independent panel for appeals of decisions, and last year 14,000 documents and reports posted on our site. 
  • Our data is freely available for commercial and non-commercial use alike, and with our new Open Access Policy, we’ve created an Open Knowledge Repository for our research and knowledge products under the most liberal Creative Commons Attribution license.  I believe the Bank is the first major international organization to embrace Open Access and Creative Commons licensing for its research products.
  • Opening up our data has been a catalyst for change and reform inside the Bank, helping us become a more modern and agile organization. And it’s helped people interact with us in new ways.
  • ...let’s not forget we are in the open data business because we’ve seen it improve the lives of people. We’ve seen data improve lives in Uganda where health workers in 50 health centers across the country were inspired to work harder after some simple community monitoring – resulting in a 33 percent drop in child mortality.
  • We’ve seen data improve public policy choices in South-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens are using mobile phones to vote for local budget priorities.
  • It’s meant more funds at the local level for public services and citizens more willing to pay taxes. In some local communities, tax collection has multiplied up to 16 times.
  • We’ve seen data empower women in India where illiterate local women are giving real-time feedback via hand held devices on the quality of maternal health services, using a simple series of smiling or frowning faces.
  • Today more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. We can harness the power of data with low cost information technologies to scale-up development impact.   It's already happening. This is not tomorrow’s world. This is today.


  • In more advanced economies we take the data for this level of interaction with government for granted. If you live in the United States, it's difficult to imagine that you won't be able to access the weather forecast. But living without the weather forecast if your livelihood depends entirely on the fragile crops you grow in your garden, is an altogether different matter. When shall I sow? What if I sow and it doesn't rain? When shall I reap?

  • The good news is that in India, fisher folk are already using mobile phones to receive messages about weather forecasts, optimal fishing zones, and market prices.

  • The bad news is that the world can't wait.  So all of us in this room need to think more broadly. We need to find new ways to put open data to work. Find new ways to use open data to improve lives. Find new ways to use data to empower citizen-centric development – so that we really can say that Open Data is a public good, for the public good. And far from being threatening, it can benefit us all.