Data Is a Development Issue


Paper by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “Many wealthy states are transitioning to a new economy built on data. Individuals and firms in these states have expertise in using data to create new goods and services as well as in how to use data to solve complex problems. Other states may be rich in data but do not yet see their citizens’ personal data or their public data as an asset. Most states are learning how to govern and maintain trust in the data-driven economy; however, many developing countries are not well positioned to govern data in a way that encourages development. Meanwhile, some 76 countries are developing rules and exceptions to the rules governing cross-border data flows as part of new negotiations on e-commerce. This paper uses a wide range of metrics to show that most developing and middle-income countries are not ready or able to provide an environment where their citizens’ personal data is protected and where public data is open and readily accessible. Not surprisingly, greater wealth is associated with better scores on all the metrics. Yet, many industrialized countries are also struggling to govern the many different types and uses of data. The paper argues that data governance will be essential to development, and that donor nations have a responsibility to work with developing countries to improve their data governance….(More)”.

How mobile text reminders earned Madagascar a 32,900% ROI in collecting unpaid taxes


Paper by Tiago Peixoto et al : “Benjamin Franklin famously once said that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In developing countries, however, tax revenues are anything but certain. Madagascar is a prime example, with tax collection as a share of GDP at just under 11 percent. This is low even compared with countries of similar levels of economic development, and well below what the government could reasonably collect to fund much-needed public services, such as education, health and infrastructure. 

Poor compliance by citizens who owe taxes remains a major reason for Madagascar’s low tax collection. Madagascar’s government has therefore made increasing tax revenue collection a high priority in its strategy for promoting sustainable economic growth and addressing poverty.

Reforming a tax system can take decades. But small measures, implemented with the help of technology, can help tax authorities improve compliance.  Our team at the World Bank jointly conducted a field experiment with the Madagascar’s Directorate General for Taxation, to test whether simple text message reminders via mobile phones could increase compliance among late-tax filers.

We took a group of 15,885 late-income-tax filers and randomly assigned some of them to receive a series of messages reminding them to file a tax declaration and emphasizing various reasons to pay taxes. Late tax filers were told that they could avoid a late penalty by meeting an extended deadline and were given the link to the tax filing website. 

The results of the experiment were significant. In the control group, only 7.2% of late filers filed a tax return by the extended deadline cited in the SMS messages. This increased to 9.8% in the treatment groups who received SMS reminders. This might not sound like much, but for every dollar spent sending text messages, the tax authority collected an additional 329 dollars in revenues, making the intervention highly cost-effective.

In fact, the return on this particular investment was 32,900 percent! Although this increase in revenue is relatively small in absolute terms—around $375,000—it could be automatically integrated into the tax system. It also suggests that messaging may hold a lot of promise for cost-effectively increasing tax receipts even in developing country contexts….(More)”.

Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism


Mark Latonero at The New York Times: “A standoff between the United Nations World Food Program and Houthi rebels in control of the capital region is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Alarmed by reports that food is being diverted to support the rebels, the aid program is demanding that Houthi officials allow them to deploy biometric technologies like iris scans and digital fingerprints to monitor suspected fraud during food distribution.

The Houthis have reportedly blocked food delivery, painting the biometric effort as an intelligence operation, and have demanded access to the personal data on beneficiaries of the aid. The impasse led the aid organization to the decision last month to suspend food aid to parts of the starving population — once thought of as a last resort — unless the Houthis allow biometrics.

With program officials saying their staff is prevented from doing its essential jobs, turning to a technological solution is tempting. But biometrics deployed in crises can lead to a form of surveillance humanitarianism that can exacerbate risks to privacy and security.

By surveillance humanitarianism, I mean the enormous data collection systems deployed by aid organizations that inadvertently increase the vulnerability of people in urgent need….(More)”.

Mobile phone data’s potential for informing infrastructure planning in developing countries


Paper by Hadrien Salat, Zbigniew Smoreda, and Markus Schläpfer: “High quality census data are not always available in developing countries. Instead, mobile phone data are becoming a go to proxy to evaluate population density, activity and social characteristics. They offer additional advantages for infrastructure planning such as being updated in real-time, including mobility information and recording temporary visitors’ activity. We combine various data sets from Senegal to evaluate mobile phone data’s potential to replace insufficient census data for infrastructure planning in developing countries. As an applied case, we test their ability at predicting accurately domestic electricity consumption. We show that, contrary to common belief, average mobile phone activity is not well correlated with population density. However, it can provide better electricity consumption estimates than basic census data. More importantly, we successfully use curve and network clustering techniques to enhance the accuracy of the predictions, to recover good population mapping potential and to reduce the collection of informative data for planning to substantially smaller samples….(More)”.

Open Data for Development: The World Bank, Aid Transparency, and the Good Governance of International Financial Institutions


Chapter by Catherine E. Weaver in Good Governance and Modern International Financial Institutions: “Development scholars and practitioners today see progressive access to information and transparency policies as necessary preconditions for improved effectiveness of international development aid and the legitimacy of modern international financial institutions. This chapter examines the evolution of access to information and broader open data policies in international development institutions. Drawing from the case of the World Bank as a “first mover,” this chapter examines the complex internal processes and factors that shape the adoption and implementation of access to information policy reforms. While challenges to achieving robust information disclosure and open data policies across all multilateral and bilateral aid agencies persist, transparency is now a benchmark for good governance in global development finance and the proverbial genie that cannot be put back in the bottle….(More)”.

From market multilateralism to governance by goal setting: SDGs and the changing role of partnerships in a new global order


Paper by Benedicte Bull and Desmond McNeill: “Business has been involved in cooperation with multilateral organizations through public-private partnerships (PPPs) since the late 1990s. With their adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), multilateral institutions increasingly consider partnerships as a means to achieve their goals given their own limited implementation capacity. However, the global economic order has changed significantly since the first expansion of PPPs, particularly due to growing participation by non-western states and companies. This article asks how this shift has changed the eagerness to form partnerships, as well as their qualitative content. It analyzes the 3964 partnerships in the SDG partnership registry, focusing on the subset of them that includes business partners. We divide these into five groups: local implementation, resource mobilization, advocacy, policy, and operational partnerships.

We study PPPs involving companies from different varieties of capitalism—private, market based forms, and state-led forms of capitalism. We find that PPPs are still dominated by companies and other actors from Western countries. Moreover, business participate more in U.S.- and Canadianled partnerships than others. We also find strong differences regarding what category of PPPs that companies from different backgrounds engage in, and discuss the linkages between varieties of capitalism and PPP participation…(More)”.

AI & the sustainable development goals: The state of play


Report by 2030Vision: “…While the world is making progress in some areas, we are falling behind in delivering the SDGs overall. We need all actors – businesses, governments, academia, multilateral institutions, NGOs, and others – to accelerate and scale their efforts to deliver the SDGs, using every tool at their disposal, including artificial intelligence (AI).

In December 2017, 2030Vision published its first report, Uniting to Deliver Technology for the Global Goals, which addressed the role of digital technology – big data, robotics, internet of things, AI, and other technologies – in achieving the SDGs.

In this paper, we focus on AI for the SDGs. AI extends and amplifies the capacity of human beings to understand and solve complex, dynamic, and interconnected systems challenges like the SDGs. Our main objective was to survey the landscape of research and initiatives on AI and the SDGs to identify key themes and questions in need of further exploration. We also reviewed the state of AI and the SDGs in two sectors – food and agriculture and healthcare – to understand if and how AI is being deployed to address the SDGs and the challenges and opportunities in doing so….(More)”.

Open Urban Data and the Sustainable Development Goals


Conference Paper by Christine Meschede and Tobias Siebenlist: “Since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 – an ambitious agenda to end poverty, combat environmental threats and ensure prosperity for everyone – some effort has been made regarding the adequate measuring of the progress on its targets. As the crucial point is the availability of sufficient, comparable information, open data can play a key role. The coverage of open data, i.e., data that is machine-readable, freely available and reusable for everyone, is assessed by several measurement tools. We propose the use of open governmental data to make the achievement of SDGs easy and transparent to measure. For this purpose, a mapping of the open data categories to the SDGs is presented. Further, we argue that the SDGs need to be tackled in particular at the city level. For analyzing the current applicability of open data for measuring progress on the SDGs, we provide a small-scale case study on German open data portals and the embedded data categories and datasets. The results suggest that further standardization is needed in order to be able to use open data for comparing cities and their progress towards the SDGs….(More)”.

Datafication, development and marginalised urban communities: an applied data justice framework


Paper by Richard Heeks et al: “The role of data within international development is rapidly expanding. However, the recency of this phenomenon means analysis has been lagging; particularly, analysis of broader impacts of real-world initiatives. Addressing this gap through a focus on data’s increasing presence in urban development, this paper makes two contributions. First – drawing from the emerging literature on ‘data justice’ – it presents an explicit, systematic and comprehensive new framework that can be used for analysis of datafication. Second, it applies the framework to four mapping initiatives in cities of the global South. These initiatives capture and visualise new data about marginalised communities: residents living in slums and other informal settlements about whom data has traditionally been lacking. Analysing across procedural, rights, instrumental and structural dimensions, it finds these initiatives deliver real incremental gains for their target communities. But it is external actors and wealthier communities that gain more; thus, increasing relative inequality….(More)”.

Open government and citizen engagement: From theory to action


Camilo Romero Galeano at apolitical: “…According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index analysing the behaviour of 178 countries, 69% of countries evaluated again raised the alarm about what has been referred to as “the cancer of the public service”.

The scandals of misappropriation of public funds, illicit enrichment of public officials, the slippery labyrinths of procurement and all kinds of practices that challenge ethics in the public service are daily news around the world.

Colombia and the department of Nariño suffer from the same problems. Bad practices of traditional politics and chiefdoms have ended up destroying the trust that citizens once had in political institutions. Corruption and its devastating effects always end up undermining people’s dignity.

With this as the current state of affairs, and in our capacity as a subnational government, we have designed hand in hand with the citizens of Nariño a new government program. It  is based on an approach to innovation called “New Government” that relies on three pillars: open government; social innovation; and collaborative economy.

The new program has been endorsed by more than 300,000 voters and subsequently concretised in our roadmap for the territory: “Nariño heart of the World”. The creation of this policy document brought together 31,700 participants and involved travelling around the 13 subregions that compose the 64 municipalities in Nariño.

In this way, citizen participation has become an essential tool in the fight against corruption.

Our open government strategy is called GANA — Gobierno Abierto de Nariño (in English, “Win — Open Government of Nariño”). The strategy takes a step forward in ensuring cabinet officials become transparent and publicly declare private assets. Citizens can now find out the financial conditions in which public officials begin and finish their administrative periods. Each one of us….(More)”