How open data solves problems in the developing world: from mapping ebola to protecting banana crops

A new white paper launched by the ODI shows how open data can:

  • protect banana farmers’ livelihoods in Uganda
  • help parents to assess school performance in Tanzania
  • expose $62m in potential health savings in Southern Africa
  • map the Ebola outbreak to save lives in West Africa
  • make aid more effective in Nepal
  • engage citizens in policy-making in Nigeria
  • build smarter, more responsive cities in Latin America

A report from the Open Data Institute, exploring how world leaders can use and promote open data to tackle global challenges post-2015, has been launched: ‘Supporting sustainable development with open data’.

This report is being launched at a critical time - later this year the United Nations will decide on international development priorities for the next 15 years. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will address major global issues including human rights, social inclusion and the environment.

The white paper includes 12 case studies from the developing world, where open data has contributed to specific improvements and outcomes - everything from tackling crop disease, to mapping the spread of ebola.

However, the report also acknowledges problems in making success stories more widespread: a lack of high-quality data, a weak enabling environment (low connectivity, scarce technical skills, lack of support from political leaders etc); mismatch between the demand for open data and the availability of appropriate datasets; the digital divide between rich and poor; and a lack of metrics to track and quantify demonstrable impact.

Liz Carolan, International Development Manager at the ODI said:

“This report shows how open data is solving old and established problems with new approaches. It demonstrates that open data really can fire innovation, in governments as well as the private sector. In order to make the sustainable development goals a reality, what we now need to see is governments, NGO’s, industry and communities coming together to push for the publication and use of open data.”

Three areas of focus

The report identifies three areas where open data could have a significant impact in the next development agenda and beyond. A case study is given for each below, though the full 12 are available in the report and in the notes to editors below.

1. Informing evidence-based policy-making for better government services

Case study: Protecting banana farmers’ livelihoods in Uganda Open-sourced, open datasets (gathered via Ureport) on banana bacterial wilt in Uganda meant the government was able to quickly identify the most affected areas and direct the limited treatments for the disease to prevent further advances.

2. Boosting transparency to help monitor progress and tackle corruption

Case study: Making aid more effective in Nepal In June 2013, the Aid Management Platform was launched by the Nepalese Ministry of Finance to help monitor aid and budget spending.

3. Stimulating $13tn in economic growth, job creation and innovation

Case study: Building smarter, more responsive cities in Latin America In response to the 2010 floods in Rio de Janeiro, open data is now being used to inform city planning, transportation and emergency responses.


The report makes recommendations for governments, donors and (international) NGOs – with the support of researchers, civil society and industry – on how to apply open data to enhance development processes:

  1. Reach global consensus around principles and standards, namely being ‘open by default’, using the Open Government Partnership’s Open Data Working Group as a global forum for discussion.
  2. Embed open data into funding agreements, ensuring that relevant, high-quality data is collected to report against the SDGs. Funders should mandate that data relating to performance of services, and data produced as a result of funded activity, be released as open data.
  3. Build a global partnership for sustainable open data, so that groups across the public and private sectors can work together to build sustainable supply and demand for data in the developing world.