Across the world, governments are acting on the belief that systematically making data more accessible can provide an important new asset to usher in positive social and economic transformation. This trend is not limited to countries with more developed economies. Although the bulk of data in terms of quantity has thus far been released in developed countries, a growing number of developing economies — in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America — have also been adopting open data plans and policies, and publishing government datasets that previously remained locked away in closed databases. This move toward open data is part of a broader global trend toward more data-driven decision making in policymaking and development — a manifestation of what is sometimes called the “data revolution.”

The growing enthusiasm surrounding open data gives rise to several questions about open data’s unique features to foster change. Can it truly improve people’s lives in the developing world — and, if so, how and under what conditions?

The goal of this paper is to map and assess the current universe of theory and practice related to open data for developing economies, and to suggest a theory of change that can be used for both further practice and analysis. We reviewed the existing literature, consulted with the open data community and sought to collect evidence through a series of 12 in-depth case studies spanning multiple sectors and regions of the world. In particular, we sought to answer the following three questions:

- What makes open data uniquely relevant to developing economies?

- How can the impact of open data in developing economies be captured and evidence be developed?

- How can open data be leveraged as a new asset for development?