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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why Can't We Be More Like Kenya?

Yes, I am asking that question. Kenya is the first "low income country to have an open government data portal".

From the World Bank's Let's Talk Development:
On July 8th 2011, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenyan Open Data Initiative, making key government data freely available to the public through a single online portal. The 2009 census, national and regional expenditure, and information on key public services are some of the first datasets to be released. Tools and applications have already been built to take this data and make it more useful than it originally was.
...with over a hundred requests from the public for new datasets on the site, it's clear that there's a desire for more information. People want data similar to what they might want in the USA: land registry, company registrations and employment statistics to name a few. Kenyans also want data that citizens of more developed countries may be less likely to ask for: fire protection information (how many fire engines are there per county?), school payment disbursement data (do government funds actually reach schools?) and livestock populations.
Open data in Kenya is special: it comes at a time of national change; it’s got a head start on tools and expertise from the global open data community and it’s happening in a country where the information ecosystem is still maturing. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Setting an Example for Transparency

The Center for Global Development, where I used to work, has a new transparency policy: "we will post the data and the code that underpins our analysis."
CGD analyses should be acts of social science. By some definitions, a sine qua non of science is replicability. The responsibility for replicability is especially great for research that aims to influence policy and ultimately affect the lives of the poor. Bruce McCullough and Ross McKitrick put it well in their report, Check the Numbers: The Case for Due Diligence in Policy Formation:

When a piece of academic research takes on a public role, such as becoming the basis for public policy decisions, practices that obstruct independent replication, such as refusal to disclose data, or the concealment of details about computational methods, prevent the proper functioning of the scientific process and can lead to poor public decision making.
It is a good example to set, especially when one calls on aid organizations and governments to be transparent. It's pretty timely as well; I'm thinking about the groups currently calling for the Freedom of Information Act in the Philippines to pass. Are they being transparent?

Guess this means more work for my old research assistant friends back at CGD. Maybe it's time to ask for a salary raise? Ha!

CSR driven more by PR than helping?

This paper provides an empirical investigation of the hypothesis that companies engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in order to offset corporate social irresponsibility (CSI). We find general support for the causal relationship: when companies do more “harm,” they also do more “good.” The empirical analysis is based on an extensive 15-year panel dataset that covers nearly 3,000 publicly traded companies. In addition to the overall finding that more CSI results in more CSR, we find evidence of heterogeneity among industries, where the effect is stronger in industries where CSI tends to be the subject of greater public scrutiny. We also investigate the degree of substitutability between different categories of CSR and CSI. Within the categories of community relations, environment, and human rights—arguably among those dimensions of social responsibility that are most salient—there is a strong within-category relationship...
The working paper is here, via @Bill_Easterly. I am filing this under papers-to-read-after-my-prelims. I am stressed for time.