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Insights and Analysis

New Leap in Visualizing Development Data Across Asia

January 17, 2018

By Todd Wassel, Matt Orr, and Pauline Tweedie

“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” It’s a bold statement featured in a recent headline from The Economist that no doubt raises eyebrows, but also drives home the fact that in the past decade, big data has increased exponentially to become one of the most valuable commodities in the world. For international development, this is a game-changer.

As this growing commitment to free and open data expands, developing nations in Asia are rapidly joining the movement. For example, in 2011, Timor-Leste began making real-time national budget statistics available online. The Philippines has its own comprehensive website with searchable government data for almost any topic imaginable. One of the leaders in realizing the tremendous potential inherent in the “open data” movement is the World Bank Open Data Initiative, launched in 2010, which has become a central hub for accessing 238 free datasets of curated World Bank indicators.

As a report produced by the Independent Expert Advisory Group for the UN Secretary General, put it: “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible.”

The Asia Foundation supports this open and transparent approach to evidence-based development programming. The Foundation has conducted over 300 surveys in the past two decades and continues to produce around 20 surveys each year. The findings have added to the flood of data across the internet, and have influenced decision-making and policy-making across Asia.

To make this data more accessible and usable, we have built a new Data Portal that combines our survey and research expertise with an easy to use platform for accessing and interacting with our data. The Data Portal gives a variety of stakeholders, from government officials and policy-makers to development practitioners and academics, access to an interactive platform where a user can visualize and analyze data from Foundation surveys according to their needs.

The portal currently includes data from 25 surveys in 11 countries and covers a wide range of topics shedding light on some of the biggest issues facing Asia in 2018. For example, in Afghanistan, where 2018 brings electoral uncertainty, the Election Commission will need to build people’s confidence in the electoral process, which, according to survey data, varies widely across the country from a high of 62 percent in Wardak to a low of 5 percent in Panjshir. Similarly, according to a new perceptions survey in Bangladesh, which will have several elections in 2018, political parties will need to reach out to young people, 44 percent of whom feel neglected by the National Parliament. In Nepal, the new federal government will need to address lingering challenges from the devastating 2016 earthquake, where our recent survey found that 62 percent of those in severely impacted districts still live in temporary shelters. The Data Portal will also become accessible in local languages and can be mapped geospatially as well as historically if combining more than one survey instance.

Previously, survey and research findings were disseminated through reports published in print and online. The inherent value (and complexity) of increasing levels of data has spurred concerted efforts to develop tools to manage, mine, and tease out significance from vast amounts of data. Running parallel to a heightened sense of the importance of data in decision-making is a renewed emphasis on data transparency and openness, and technological advances that make it more practical. In response, the Foundation has looked at how we could embrace and apply data transparency and openness to enhance our ongoing and established survey and research work.

Using data and understanding the story the data tells us is helpful in creating useful development programs and solutions. Data is an institutional resource, but can also be a public one, as it’s increasingly used to inform public policy decisions and enable citizens to hold their governments accountable. The Asia Foundation’s Data Portal can help support an increase in understanding across the region on some of the most complex development challenges, as well as encourage increased evidence-based policy-making for decision-makers in Asia.

Explore the Data Portal at

Todd Wassel is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Timor-Leste, Matt Orr is the Foundation’s digital community manager, and Pauline Tweedie is the Foundation’s survey project advisor. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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