Tips and tricks for using World Bank's new data tool

A woman on a computer. Photo by: Arne Hoel / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank is home to some of the most comprehensive data on trade and other economic indicators, but with more than 1,800 indicators, the development community has at times struggled to navigate the resource. A new bank data portal is aiming to change that.  

Launched in January, TCdata360 aims to provide easier access to data and data tools. Among the new features is an application programming interface, or API, which provides protocols and tools to incorporate data from the World Bank directly within an organization’s system, including internal databases and publicly available analytic tools. APIs allow for data to be automatically updated as it becomes available within TCdata360.

For insight into how the development community can best utilize TCdata360, Devex spoke to Prasanna Lal Das, a lead knowledge management officer with World Bank Group Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice and a designer of the portal, for tips and tricks.

Can you discuss what APIs are and the insights that can be gained by using them within TCdata360?

API is a tool used by data specialists. The API lets users tailor the data they want, so that it can be accessed in one place and will constantly and automatically update. An analogy would be when you go on a travel web site looking for the cheapest fare, the site will automatically update fares for the flight you want as new rates become available. Similarly, you can use the data from TCdata360 in your applications and rest assured that it will be updated when the source information changes.

Another unique aspect of TCdata360 is the “datascoper” tool. This application lets users compare countries based on multiple indicators at the same time. For example, you could pose the question, “Which countries had economic characteristics similar to Mexico in 2003 and how have those characteristics changed since then?” or “Which economic indicators seem to be mostly correlated with growth in FDI investments in a country?” Although TCdata360 focuses on data relating to trade and competitiveness, these areas of international development are quite broad — and so is the data available on the site. It extends from information on FDI and imports and exports to issues concerning the climate for entrepreneurship in countries and the availability of economic opportunity for women, to name just a few.

How can nongovernmental organizations leverage TCdata360 tools within their organizations to enhance their existing data resources?

NGOs need nothing more than access to the internet to leverage the tools made available by TCdata360. We are already seeing instances where organizations that have their own data sources, which have been incorporated into TCdata360, are telling us that they find our user interface more user friendly than their own. The whole idea of TCdata360 is to make it accessible to non-data specialists through easy-to-use interfaces, while also providing more sophisticated options for veteran data-crunchers.

The key to using TCdata360 to great advantage is honing in on the questions you want answered and then using the tools and the indicators built into the website to hone in on the relevant data. If there is data that a group is trying to find and it’s not on the site, reach out to the TCData360 team and let them know. For advanced users, connect directly to the data through the API.

What process would organizations previously have needed to use to access and analyze data, before the APIs were made available?

To access the same data without the use of an API, an organization might have needed to take the following steps — which can be less timely and not cohesive.

1. Identify all the relevant sources of data.

2. Download all relevant data one by one from multiple websites — this process could take a very long time, and the data might be available in different formats.

3. Download all relevant metadata.

4. Standardize all the data — match country codes for instance, or measurement units.

5. Aggregate all the data in one database for analysis.

6. Repeat the steps above regularly to make sure the data is current.

The TCdata360 platform streamlines this process and does it for you.

How do organizations plan to use your data tools and APIs, and how can they get involved to provide feedback for enhancements?

The overall website has received just over 25,000 unique visitors since its launch on January 9. Just over 200 of these visitors accessed the data science page that provides information about the API — about 60 odd visitors went to the API page itself.

The response to TCdata360 has been overwhelmingly positive. We have heard informally from organizations that they intend to use the TCdata360 API to access their own data, which is often published in unfriendly formats. And we’ve heard from specialists at nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, our own colleagues and academic institutions about the usefulness of the site.

We see TCdata360 as a community, not as a resource separate and apart from our users. We are very much open to hearing from the organizations and specialists who use the site — including NGOs — about possible new reliable data sources to include in the platform.

What plans do you have to fill in the gaps of missing or outdated data within the portal?

At the moment, TCdata360 aggregates data from different sources. However, through the platform we are raising awareness of the missing data. We have made it easy to spot the gaps and present them visually and hope this will encourage the sources included in TCdata360 to fill the gaps.

What tips or tricks do you have for NGOs new to using APIs?

1. Attend a data literacy boot camp if you don’t have skills to use APIs. The World Bank frequently organizes data literacy workshops and also offers tools, such as Tuva in Sudan. Several other organizations such as the Open Data Institute and the Open Knowledge Foundation also offer learning opportunities.

2. Try it out — that’s the best way to learn.

3. Tweet us at hashtag #TCdata360 or write us at TCdata360@worldbank.org if you have any questions or need any help.

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About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.