Authors: Damla Arman, Esteban Ceballos, Moritz Deitmar, Juliana Villegas Suárez
No differently than in the private sphere, the development sector can greatly benefit from the collection and appropriate use of data, a process critical for the delineation of policy proposals and their adequate implementation. The large quantities of data that are currently generated by the minute via mobile phones, the internet and social media, are a “potential asset for the development community”, as they can be used in the fight against poverty and to “promote shared prosperity” (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016, p. 4).
Mapping for Results is a platform launched in October, 2010, as a partnership between the World Bank Institute and AidData, which aims to provide a “comprehensive picture of the World Bank’s operations” (Sigl-Gloeckner, 2015). This initiative consists on using an interactive mapping tool as a unconventional and imaginative solution to the problems of accountability and transparency in projects of development aid (Gigler, 2011).
The platform contains information on the locations of the World Bank’s development aid projects all around the globe, together with each of their approval dates, commitment amounts, available balances, the number of contracts, and the closing dates (“Global Reach Map”, 2016). Each development aid project is mapped at the most precise geographical level possible, sometimes even as specific as the neighborhood. This is called geo-referencing: each location is recorded in a standardized manner, with its latitude and longitude, in order to have long-term consistency (Stern, 2010).
Currently, the Mapping for Results platform shows 1,670 projects totalling an amount of $196.85bn, operating in 21,664 locations across 143 countries (“Global Reach Map”, 2016).
- Are these projects having a substantial impact on the wellbeing of targeted communities?
- Are the programs responsive to each community’s local needs?
- Is aid flowing to the areas that need it the most?
- Are the funds being proportionately distributed? Or is money concentrated in certain areas?
These are the concerns addressed by providing accessible and understandable information about indicators, sectors, funding and results of the World Bank’s development activities (Gigler, 2010).
The map service allows to filter projects by region, country, and global practice, under which the following sectors are included: agriculture, climate change, education, energy and extractives, environment and natural resources, finance and markets, governance, health and nutrition, macroeconomics and fiscal management, poverty and equity, social protection and labor, trade and competitiveness, transport and ICT, and water (“World Bank Projects”, 2014). In addition, the platform has the option of overlaying indicators of poverty, education, health, population and human development, with the geographic location of the aid initiatives (Gigler, 2011).
This project aims to reach donors, governments, citizens, policy makers and civil society groups.
“In about five minutes, any person armed with a computer and an internet connection can determine the exact amount of development assistance directed to the education sector in Uganda over the past 8 years.” (Stern, 2010)
When conducting a SWOT analysis, and analyzing the strengths, one should look for the characteristics of the project or company which put either one in a position of advantage when compared to the competition. Analyzing the strengths of the World Bank as an institution and the “Mapping for Results” project, one can pinpoint five very specific strengths pertaining this project, and another three regarding the World Bank as an organization.
Project specific strengths
- The first and clearest strength of the “Mapping for Results” project, revolves around the means of how the project aims to achieve its main goal to improve aid effectiveness and strengthen the participation of multiple stakeholders (Sigl-Gloeckner, 2015). This will be achieved through the enhancement of transparency and accountability of donor-funded operations, a process which will both feed the program and allow it grow and achieve the main objective (Sigl-Gloeckner, 2015).
- On a second point, the data which this project gathers is all information which can be publicly accessed due to the laws of Freedom of Information which exist in an overwhelming great majority of countries (“World Bank Projects”, 2014). This means that the data is completely free to collect, and despite the administrative costs of the gathering of data, there are no inherent costs to the project; this only aids in ensuring the survival and growth of this project.
- A third point and fourth point, would be that the project makes it very easy to identify the beneficiaries in projects of aid and development, and provides a system by which the results of development and aid can be easily monitored (Gigler, 2011). This something which would appeal greatly to individuals and organizations which engage in these type of activities as they would have very clear and readily accessible information regarding who they are impacting with their work and to what extent, thus encouraging further involvement and continuous usage of this project.
- The last strength of this project, yet equally valuable as the others, is that it creates a platform in which donors can receive direct feedback from the people they are directly impacting. This means that they can obtain very valuable information through this project, which can help them fine tune their efforts so as to maximize their results (Gigler, 2010).
- When analyzing the World Bank as an organization, the most obvious strength is that the World Bank already plays a very unique role in the collection, storage and access providing of all sorts of economic data in that there are only a few other institutions which handle this type of data, and even then no other institution has the quantity and quality of data which the World Bank handles (“About the World Bank”, 2016). This will essentially allow for the World Bank to further tighten the grip they currently hold in this niche sector.
- Additionally the bank already has several platform created and in use which exist to help join investors, providers and volunteers with opportunities and projects (“World Bank Projects”, 2014). This means that by further organizing their information and data, the reach and impact of their resolve will grow exponentially, and it will make the measuring of their impact much easier and comprehensive, as it will allow them to track the entire life of a project; from formulation, to development and execution (“About the World Bank”, 2016).
- Last but definitely not least, this project is the first of its kind, meaning that at this point in time the World Bank is benefitting from a first mover advantage which will allow it to dictate the future of this very specific segment of data gathering and management to better suit their goals.
Mapping for Results is a well thought-out project that provides international development aid agencies, investors and other stakeholders with a user-friendly platform. The available data is updated regularly, so that the progress can be tracked in real-time and the latest information is shown whenever you click on it (The World Bank, 2014). However, the service has a few flaws that need to be addressed in order to make it more valuable and efficient.
One weakness of Mapping for Results is connected with its core service, namely entering data on projects and ensuring that the information provided is up-to-date at all times. Data maintenance requires hardware, software and human capabilities in order to guarantee efficient, relevant and actionable mapping (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016). This can be a very costly and time consuming process. In its initial phase it took an expert team seven weeks to geocode all World Bank projects in Africa and Latin America (Stern, 2010). The type of information that is entered into the system consists of status updates of projects as for instance target achievement and financial information and is deduced from reports. As this is data that cannot simply be retrieved from the already existent World Bank database, it is partially necessary to add and update recent developments manually (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016). Moreover, the use of the map requires frequent integrity checks to serve its purpose of supplying reliable information on the World Bank projects (Hyde et al., 2013).
Another shortcoming is the scarcity of data in certain countries, especially those with a high poverty rate (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016). Even if the locations of the projects are shown on the map, there is no further information as for instance on the disbursements, available balance, closing date or number of contracts. However, these information are important for aid organizations which might want to contribute to existing projects and investors to make investment decisions. Mapping for Results fails its initial purpose of being transparent if there is an accumulation of countries for which no data is available in an area.
An additional reason for these data gaps is that the georeferencing map is highly dependent on the cooperation with countries’ governments to get access to information. Some countries have partnerships with the World Bank allowing it to access aid agency data. Bolivia for instance was the first Latin American country, which let the World Bank register its projects on the map under the Open Aid Partnership (The World Bank, 2014). However, if you search for projects in Iran, you will not find any and the World Bank Website will display:
“There is currently no Country Assistance Strategy for Iran. The World Bank has not approved any new lending to Iran since 2005. The Bank is fully compliant with international sanctions on Iran.” (“Projects & Programs”, 2016)
For Saudi Arabia the map also does not show any projects, even though they have an agreement with the World Bank called “Technical Cooperation Program” (“Saudi Arabia Country Program”, 2016). Therefore, there definitely are missing information that the World Bank has to get access to in order to have a fully complete geo-referencing map.
With this program in action the WORLD BANK GROUP hopes that it will significantly contribute to the achievement of the 2 overarching goals the World Bank has set itself, namely to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to raise shared prosperity for the lowest 40% of the population in the developing world. The success of this program greatly depends on the ability of the officials to fully exploit the potential of “Mapping for results” and to make use of the various opportunities that are coming with it. The platform already contains extensive and detailed datasets of worldwide development and aid projects, however the current phase can only be seen as an initial step in an ongoing endeavor to achieve a rise in the capacity to store, analyze, contribute and access data. Here a focus must not lie on the sheer size but on the relationship and the connections between Data. Of course larger quantities of Data are easier to access by now however the more valuable feature is the quality of the data. By making connections between different pieces of data a more complex and complete analysis can be carried out (Crawford, 2011).
For “Mapping for results” a way to make use out of this could be to include an even more detailed description of the respective project addressing not only the current progress but also resources they need (or can offer), experiences and challenges they encountered or even successful strategies to overcome those. In addition more development- and aid organizations could be integrated in the map. In this way instead of “only” bringing external funds to organizations and monitor how they are used one tries to enable the system to help itself, encouraging cooperation and exchange of resources and knowledge among the organizations.
An even more detailed progress of every program that is listed in the map would not only enhance the overall transparency and the social trust and acceptance, it could also serve to establish an early warning system in case programs are about to fail or the overall situation in a region is suddenly deteriorating. Real time progress is already happening but could be extended. By offering the possibility to attach photos or videos for example would give donors an even more detailed impression about the progress of their programs. More importantly however would be a reporting section about general tendencies of the respective project or information about the overall situation of the population and the geographical region, giving then policymakers (but also private institutions or donors) a more authentic and comprehensive picture about the situation so they can react quicker and might protect the populations from crisis or shocks (How Big Data Can Help The Developing World Beat Poverty, 2016).
Mapping project developments with the help of georeferencing is an important accomplishment but the project is still in its beginnings and there is a long way to go to ensure a smooth operation. The World Bank faces several challenges that it has to tackle in the next years to improve its platform.
To begin with, some projects by their sheer nature do not lend themselves to mapping (Sigl-Gloeckner, 2015). Consequently, they do not appear on the World Bank map and contribute to the numerous data gaps that already exist, even though project information is available. Another work in progress is the difficulty of ensuring that geocoding is sustainably linked to operations and country diagnostics in a meaningful manner. The developers further plan to overcome the challenge of adding further layers with relevant indicators and enhance the platform’s functionality to upgrade its convenience and effectiveness (Sigl-Gloeckner, 2015).
Other threats to the performance of the service arise from privacy and data safety issues that can impair effortless access to relevant project information (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016). Especially private institutions can be reluctant to provide access to their databases due to intellectual property concerns. A specific problem is the clarification of intellectual property rights that keep the data ownership with the agencies but still allow project stakeholders to use it for their own purposes, which might not necessarily coincide with the originally intended objective (“Big Data in Action for Development”, 2016).
As Mapping for Results is the first georeferencing project of its kind in the niche of social/financial/ecological projects, it does not face any direct competition. Nevertheless, the World Bank should be wary of newly established organizations as for instance the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that was founded in 2015, as they could launch similar platforms (The Telegraph, 2015).
Thus, the Mapping for Results project, seeks to portray an inclusive image of the World Bank’s operations worldwide. Starting in 2010, the project now contains data from 21,664 locations in 143 countries. The strengths of the project rely, in a first point, in that it enhances transparency and accountability; and that there are no inherent costs to the project. Additionally, the program creates a system in which identifying beneficiaries and monitoring development becomes much easier for donors and investors. Furthermore, the platform creates a direct feedback loop between the beneficiaries and the beneficent. When looking at the strengths of the World Bank as an institution, one can see that the strengths of this organization lay in the first mover advantage they currently posses, as this the first project of its kind. This institution also currently holds an uncontested position in terms of the quantity and quality of data they possess, and already have an operational website to join stakeholders in the aid and development process. However, there are some weak spots in this project. For instance, just the sheer amount of data requires significant efforts for the maintenance and update, processes which consume considerable time and resources. Even more important, is that fact that in certain countries the data is not as easily accessible, a phenomenon more commonly seen in poorer countries which are the ones most important to this project, or countries with no laws regarding freedom of information.
Despite these weaknesses however, there are several opportunities which the World Bank can exploit to further develop this project. For starters, as more and more data is accumulated, it becomes easier to carry out analyses with increasing complexity. Yet another currently unexploited opportunity would be to create a platform for cooperation and networking between organizations, in which they could exchange knowledge and resources. Lastly, this program could provide some more detailed information during the duration of development and aid projects, to help the decision makers make important and fast decisions to prevent further crises and shocks. It is evident that strengths and opportunities of both this project in specific and the World Bank, place the latter and the project in a very advantageous position. However, there are some challenges which if they are not properly handled could jeopardize this beneficial position. For starters, with more and more data being added to the platform, there is an increase in the risk of spurious correlations. Furthermore, as of now there are no issues with privacy or safety, but as recurring issue with Big Data projects this is something which should be addressed. All in all, the World Bank and the Mapping for Results project currently are in a very nourishing position. It seems that the strengths are minimizing the damage caused by the weaknesses and they are working towards turning their threats into new opportunities.
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