Wednesday, July 6, 2011

World Bank Makes Data Freely Available

The World Bank has always collected huge amounts of data, some of which has been available through  fee-based subscription. Beginning in July 2010, the Bank launched an Open Data site, making—so far—7,000 of its datasets accessible to anyone free of charge. The Bank's original announcement of the policy change and a first-year recap of the program can be found on its website.
   A Data Catalog provides "a listing of available World Bank datasets, including databases, pre-formatted tables, and reports." One can find general information sorted by country, topic, or economic indicator. (It should be noted that the project is ongoing, and a large amount of World Bank data and research remains to be added.)

Data from World Bank
In addition the Bank has released over 80,000 historical documents and reports. There is also a Microdata Library, which contains materials created by other contributing agencies as well as by the World Bank. Many areas of the Open Data site assume basic familiarity with statistical analysis software packages such as Stata, SPSS or SAS. The Bank is also teaming with software developers to create "apps" that will  allow more user-friendly interfaces, including mapping and real-time updates.
   As a planning and policy organization, the World Bank is interested primarily in recent data and forecasting tools, but economists and historians working on topics focused on periods from the 1960s to the present will find significant historical data, especially as older materials are uploaded.  
 For a recent New York Times story on the new policy, see here. Bank president Robert B. Zoellick can be seen discussing the policy in this video.