At USAID, we feel fortunate to work on an incredible Mission to achieve results for the poorest and most vulnerable around the world and to be transparent in the process. We are propelled by the belief that transparent aid is effective aid and the necessity of delivering “clear, compelling and measurable results.” The importance of making governmental and aid data open is underscored by the President’s Executive Order to make open and machine readable the new default for government information.
The GeoCenter, in the Office of Science and Technology, takes this commitment to heart when evaluating projects, such as our collaboration with the Development Credit Authority for the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event to open and map loan guarantee data. Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process whereby tasks are outsourced to a network of people known as “the crowd.” Without the staff or resources to pinpoint the geographic location of thousands of loan records on our own, we turned to a crowd of volunteers to help. The resulting maps, data, and methodology are available on the USAID website. While the crowdsourcing event clearly succeeded in creating an open data set and maps about where USAID is promoting economic growth, we wanted to know more. Did we catalyze a public discussion about USAID? Is our data really usable? Does the public really care about accessing our data?
We’ve recently compared conversations about the event on Twitter to web page visits and found that we did catalyze discussion and that the public is eager to engage with USAID’s data: see our analysis here (PDF). Our web page is in the top 3 percent of the most viewed web pages on the entire USAID.gov site. On average, our viewers spend almost four times as long viewing our page than any other. Almost 3,500 tweets from 80 countries demonstrate global enthusiasm for open data. The reverberations of this enthusiasm positively impacted the dialogue around aid transparency: the International Aid Transparency Initiative expanded their data schema to account for loan guarantees and the event was recognized in the Publish What you Fund’s Aid Transparency Report Card for 2012 (PDF).
These impacts are the results of public participation in USAID’s programs and the public’s desire for open government data. We’re thankful for the outpouring of support that the event received: private companies donated time to develop online tools so volunteers could donate their time to process the data, which is now one of the most popular features of the USAID web site.