Will the World Bank go all “Wikipedia”?

The World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa, Shantayanan Devarajan, writes about using mobile phones for monitoring and transparency. It's good to see the World Bank looking seriously at the principles of open development.

He continues:

Each year, the World Bank produces a World Development Report. While there is an extensive consultation process with the draft, the Report is essentially written by a core team of Bank staff. Why not produce the report like Wikipedia, and invite the whole world to write it? As one of my colleagues put it, “Then it will be the World’s Development Report.”

And a fitting symbol of Development 3.0.

via Development 3.0 | End Poverty.

That would be exciting to see. The World Bank has recently opened its data to public use, but Devarajan's idea is several steps beyond that.

Here's a submission for the next step, that might take us a bit closer to Wiki World Development Reports: Open licenses on all World Bank content, scrapping the current restrictions on all past and future World Bank publications. Those restrictions may seem mild (no commercial use and no mention of permissions for derivatives) but they are not compatible with open licenses, meaning they do not support wider collaborative work, and have no place in Development 3.0. It's time to open up.

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More than data

The World Bank is opening its data, putting a large part of that data under an open license. It has even announced an Apps for development challenge, with prizes, to use this data to "create innovative software applications that move us a step closer toward solving some of the world's most pressing problems". These are great steps toward openness, and have come more quickly than I expected. Kudos to them, and to groups such as aidinfo.org and the Open Knowledge Foundation that have been pushing for this.

But this is only part of the story. As Tobias Denskus writes:

but if we really want to democratise the development discourse we should also publish, say, the minutes of Bank board meetings and other relevant internal documents to understand how ideas and statistics are translated into ‘reality’ through powerful interlocutors like the Bank and its staff.  - Why publishing aid data does not equal 'democratizing development'

It's crucial that we share not only data, but aid and development knowledge. Publications like The World Bank Participation Sourcebook should be open licensed. The same goes for the many arms of the UN.

Is anyone at these institutions listening seriously to this request?

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Open knowledge in development – conversations start

The Open Knowledge Foundation has launched a new mailing list for open knowledge in development. Jonathan Gray writes:

We encourage you to join - whether you’re interested in:

  • visually representing development related open data (a la OKF Advisory Board member Hans Rosling)
  • sharing development information or making it easier to find and re-use (a la Aidinfo or PublishWhatYouFund)
  • sharing practical information for development, e.g. on sanitation or construction (a la Appropedia or Akvo)
  • open textbooks and open resources for education in developing countries
  • or in any other open knowledge thats related to development!

The full post is on their blog: New mailing list for open knowledge in development

Edit: Note the new Appropedia wiki page, Open aid and development.

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Knowledge for development, knowledge as development

Looking at what One Laptop Per Child  is about highlights two aspects to knowledge in development:

  • knowledge as development (OLPC's educational mission)
  • knowledge for development, which they're happy to have included in the "content bundles" loaded onto the XO laptops (based on our conversations with them).

Both aspects of knowledge are essential - and so is collaboration to build this knowledge in an open way.

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Aid agencies need to make themselves irrelevant

If you make technology appropriate and you make the how-tos accessible, you can get people to solve the problems themselves. They don't need aid agencies any more. That's the dichotomy, that's the problem that the aid sector's got to face, with this knowledge. It's got to try and release it, to achieve their mission, but it also means that a lot of their revenue streams, a lot of their purpose will become redundant. And this is generated by people themselves." Andrew Lamb, CEO, EWB-UK and director of the Appropedia Foundation.

That's from this presentation by Vinay Gupta and Andrew Lamb at the recent Open Knowledge Conference in London:

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Clean water – open knowledge resources

swiss mountains through a glass of water by Gaetan LeeA fellow Appropedian asked if I'd written any articles on water treatment, as he wants to learn about it. Yes and no - most articles I've worked on have been collaborative efforts that remain open to improvement. That can work well,  as described in a recent post.

Putting that aside, where are the open resources that a learner should know about in water treatment?

  • Appropedia's Water portal is a good place to start - it gives a map of Appropedia's water content and some highlights, as well as links to other key open resources.
  • Akvo's Akvopedia (similar name, different site - but they're good friends of Appropedia). This has great, structured information about specific tech, with a development and appropriate technology focus.
  • Wikipedia's Water Portal and Water_treatment pages, and the many others in the Water treatment category. There's also the water section of the appropriate technology article. It's topical info only, without the how-tos and designs you can find on Appropedia and Akvopedia, but the breadth and organization make this a great resource.
  • Waterwiki.net is a United Nations project, which is less open in a number of ways. Much of the content is posted as PDFs attached to pages (are they covered by the open license too?); you need to jump through some hurdles to join and contribute; and although it's a polished looking site, it's not clear at first glance that it also welcomes non-UN contributors. It's good that the UN is taking steps towards openness - the best thing they could do, though, is make a policy of open licensing all their publications, past present and future.

OpenCourseWare resources are course materials such as podcasts and written materials, often from top universities, that are freely accessible online. The OpenCourseWare Finder yields results such as these:

Then there are great resources which are copyrighted, which we hope will soon be open:

  • CAWST - Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology - Akvo used some of their content in Akvopedia, which is how I found this great knowledge resource, but as there is no copyright or license statement on the site, it's technically copyright. (I assume Akvo got permission for the pages they used.)
  • BioSandFilter.org - another great resource on a more specific area of technology and design for water treatment. From our conversations, we know they support knowledge sharing - we just hope they go the extra step and choose an open license.


Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, CC-BY. Chosen because: The glass is half full.

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