How we made #OpenIndia

By Ankur Nagar

It has been a season of new ideas and shifts in the open data conversation. At the recent Cartagena Data Festival , the call for a country-led data revolution was loud and clear. Later at the 3rd International Open Data Conference in Ottawa there was an emphasis on the ‘use’ of open data — beyond mere publishing.

Mulling on these takeaways, a logical question to ask may be: what would a country-focused data project that aims to put data to use look like.

Tried Open India?

A few months earlier, inspired by the “Digital India” vision, a small but agile team led by the India Country Management Unit of the World Bank was working on Open India . Put simply — it’s a live, open platform for engaging with and tracking the why, what, and how of the World Bank Group’s work in India — within the context of the development challenges that India faces. At the heart of this process was data from this vast country, and equally importantly ‘design thinking’ to solve a clear problem. Here is a glimpse at the journey of this in-house startup to add to the evolving data conversation, and help make the case for design to be a part of it.

Pitch like a Startup

Despite being one of the fastest growing economies over the last decade, India is home to a third of the world’s poor . Its development challenges are massive: there is a huge infrastructure gap, it is urbanizing at an astonishing pace, and the population is set to cross 1.5 billion. The World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Strategy offers an analysis and a plan to tackle these challenges — with an eye to 2030. This covers a portfolio of over US$25 billion across public and private sector activities, and provides a clear results chain that could be used to track the strategy’s progress.

With a grounding in data for analysis, implementation, and monitoring of the strategy — and an array of potential users from government to citizens — the strategy had remained a static, text heavy document. This was a ripe opportunity for an intrapreneural effort to re-imagine the strategy for a digital world: a strategy that’s alive and interactive, and which citizens can use to track the World Bank Group’s progress. I pitched the idea of an ‘Open Country Partnership Strategy’ to the India team, and after a burst of follow-up discussions got the green light for innovation.

A plan that tells how to track its progress

Prototype your Way Forward

Beginning with a rapid set of workshops, prototyping became the key design tool to make the idea concrete and gain stakeholder buy-in. We built several low and high fidelity prototypes to refine the vision, but also to coax out what was important and what were the intangible needs. The importance of tracking results across every level of the strategy, the development narrative for low-income states, and an engaging user experience was clear as we evolved the prototypes.


On a simultaneous track, we were figuring out how to collate and model the data to deliver on the vision. This was an ‘outside-in’ process where datasets were driven by design needs — rather than design being driven by prescribed datasets. The approach also helped us convince stakeholders to release new open datasets — importantly over 100+ sub-national indicators for the country . The concept had now gone beyond just the strategy, it was christened “Open India”.

Ship, Learn, and Evolve

The beta version of Open India was developed and shipped from scratch in four months. The web application was soon delivered to the highest levels in the Indian government, and was featured in the Solutions Café at the World Bank Group and IMF’s annual meetings. The web app also gathered a warm reception on social media and from aid transparency organizations. Importantly, the app gets the most traffic from India. With consistent demand for replication from various countries, regions, and global practices at the World Bank — the idea is being considered for scale by the institution.

Meanwhile, based on feedback about the beta version we have recently developed version 2.0, which has deeper social engagement and feedback features. As part of this iteration, we have also expanded the accompanying open datasets to include project-level results . Open India 2.0 was soft-launched and featured as the Bank’s data innovation entry at the Cartagena Data Festival. Look out for our follow up blog on how you can use Open India 2.0 to engage with the World Bank Group in India.

Open India’s new avatar