From Open Data To Development Impact – The Crucial Role Of The Private Sector

Prasanna Lal Das | Open Data | January 8, 2014

Can open data help improve maternal health services (and thus improve facets of public delivery of services)? Can open data help farmers and crop insurers make better crop predictions (and thus lead to smarter investment decisions in agriculture)? Can open data empower citizens to fight back against police corruption (and thus help promote the rule of law)?

Is there more to open data than transparency and accountability?

The answer to all the questions above is a resounding YES – at least far as the developed economies go. The private sector is constantly building new businesses and services that use public data to provide services that are not only commercially viable but also create positive development impact. Companies such as Opower (over 3 billion kilowatt hours or about $320 million in utility bills saved), Dimagi (creating cell phone based data to help deliver maternal health services), Climate Corporation (better crop yield predictions), and many others are just some examples of a fast growing ‘new asset class’ built substantially on publicly available data (that the Economist recently likened to ‘a new goldmine’) that is likely to have a transformative impact not only economically but also in terms of development outcomes. And it’s a space that the World Bank and other development agencies have only nibbled at so far.

The question at the table is what can development organizations do to catalyze this market and hasten the associated development outcomes, especially in developing countries? How can governments and private sector companies in developing countries work together to take advantage of commercial and development opportunities in what McKinsey estimates is a $3 trillion+ open data market? How do we make sure that the growing amount of open data is truly used in new and interesting ways that early open data pioneers had hoped for?...