Could Lonely Planet Render World Bank Projects More Transparent?

That was the unexpected question that my World Bank colleague Johannes Kiess asked me the other day. I was immediately intrigued. So I did some preliminary research and offered to write up a blog post on the idea to solicit some early feedback. According to recent statistics, international tourist arrivals numbered over 1 billion in 2012 alone. Of this population, the demographic that Johannes is interested in comprises those intrepid and socially-conscious backpackers who travel beyond the capitals of developing countries. Perhaps the time is ripe for a new form of tourism: Tourism for Social Good.


There may be a real opportunity to engage a large crowd because travelers—and in particular the backpacker type—are smartphone savvy, have time on their hands, want to do something meaningful, are eager to get off the beaten track and explore new spaces where others do not typically trek. Johannes believes this approach could be used to map critical social infrastructure and/or to monitor development projects. Consider a simple smartphone app, perhaps integrated with existing travel guide apps or Tripadvisor. The app would ask travelers to record the quality of the roads they take (with the GPS of their smartphone) and provide feedback on the condition, e.g.,  bumpy, even, etc., every 50 miles or so.

They could be asked to find the nearest hospital and take a geotagged picture—a scavenger hunt for development (as Johannes calls it); Geocaching for Good? Note that governments often do not know exactly where schools, hospitals and roads are located. The app could automatically alert travelers of a nearby development project or road financed by the World Bank or other international donor. Travelers could be prompted to take (automatically geo-tagged) pictures that would then be forwarded to development organizations for subsequent visual analysis (which could easily be carried out using microtasking). Perhaps a very simple, 30-second, multiple-choice survey could even be presented to travelers who pass by certain donor-funded development projects. For quality control purposes, these pictures and surveys could easily be triangulated. Simple gamification features could also be added to the app; travelers could gain points for social good tourism—collect 100 points and get your next Lonely Planet guide for free? Perhaps if you’re the first person to record a road within the app, then it could be named after you (of course with a notation of the official name). Even Photosynth could be used to create panoramas of visual evidence.

The obvious advantage of using travelers against the now en vogue stakeholder monitoring approach is that they said bagpackers are already traveling there anyway and have their phones on them to begin with. Plus, they’d be independent third parties and would not need to be trained. This obviously doesn’t mean that the stakeholder approach is not useful. The travelers strategy would simply be complementary. Furthermore, this tourism strategy comes with several key challenges, such as the safety of backpackers who choose to take on this task, for example. But appropriate legal disclaimers could be put in place, so this challenge seems surmountable. In any event, Johannes, together with his colleagues at the World Bank (and I), hope to explore this idea of Tourism for Social Good further in the coming months.

In the meantime, we would be very grateful for feedback. What might we be overlooking? Would you use such an app if it were available? Where can we find reliable statistics on top backpacker destinations and flows?


See also: 

  • What United Airlines can Teach the World Bank about Mobile Accountability [Link]

25 responses to “Could Lonely Planet Render World Bank Projects More Transparent?

  1. Patrick and Johannes- great idea!! If at all possible, would love to get UNDP into the mix? We played around with Foursquare for tourism ( but completely missed out on this transparency/monitoring type initiative that would have tied us more closely to the actual UNDP work. Would love to be a part of ths discussion!

  2. Hi Patrick (and Johannes). I like the idea and here are a few things to know/keep in mind:

    1) International travelers may initially be hesitant from a cost perspective – depending on how much their data roaming costs. I know that when I travel, I only turn on my data when absolutely necessary. So, how could they capture the data and then report it afterwards (on WiFI). And, could they enter their planned route and be advised of possible places to stop? Or, can the incentive be big enough to encourage people to pay?

    2) We may need to find an ‘opt-out’ ability for certain projects/organizations. Besides basic security reasons (e.g. medical supplies) are there projects that would not benefit from having possibly hundreds of people stopping buy as part of their tourism? [imagine tour operators bringing tour groups past development projects that they think are interesting but the individuals involved become overwhelmed with visitors]

    3) Disaster tourists. Many in the humanitarian realm (especially in the early days after a sudden onset emergency) already complain about too many disaster tourists. How could we leverage this approach, but somehow ensure that too many people (with good intentions) do not try to show up and report…..which would only strain further an already stressed environment. [I am not referring to local citizens]

    FYI: UN-OCHA already has a partnership with Lonely Planet where they have provided us access to all their guide books (for countries we work in) and they release guide books private to the users of the Virtual OSOCC []


    • Many thanks for reading and for your feedback, Andrej! I had thought about the cost issue as well, but many travelers these days get local SIM’s which reduce costs (and still remain addicted to their smartphones). Agreed re opt-out. We could manage the issue re hundreds of people stopping by with geofencing. Good point re “disaster tourists”, hadn’t thought of that. Good to know OCH has a relationship with LP already. Thanks again!

  3. Hi! I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I really liked this post! I can’t immediately imagine the feasibility of crowd-sourcing SO much exhaustive detail on public infrastructure of every kind; but possibly it would be useful to promote identification of heritage sites or cultural practices in need of preservation / urgent restoration. Maybe this could bring indigenous culture into the realm of something like Google’s, or mobilize global support for the same.

  4. Grant Budding

    I think all the practical suggestions regarding webapps listed here are incredibly useful; but my question is, whether targeting tourists and backpackers is the correct approach. Alack of smart phones among the poor notwithstanding, would it not make sense to target the people living in the areas.

  5. This has been cross-posted to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog and also added as an essential reference to my concept for 2012 Steele for Branson: The Virgin Truth 2.6 Imagine free roaming for the one billion rich that wish to travel (everything Andrej says is vitally important) to make on the spot small donations household by household. Imagine any traveler on Virgin Air also getting free roaming for the duration of their trip. Imagine monetizing the global to local gift chain — 1% off the top, make it possible to create a propsperous world at peace directly –route around governments and corrupt international and non-profit organizations,

  6. Hi Patrick. Interesting idea. Hyper-transparency amongst UN agencies, funds and programmes is certainly a trend. For example, UNDP posts detailed information on all of their over 6,000 projects worldwide (available at:

  7. Really intriguing idea! And thoughtful comments.
    Personally, I don’t like feeling like a drone being used to collect data for a corporation or large organization. But I also know that it takes (amazingly) very little feedback/interaction from the company or organization to change my view. Being able to learn more about the place — one of the primary reasons why I travel — would sway me. So in return for me providing data for the World Bank, in return getting the opportunity to learn more about the project, place, or people would be good. Perhaps information on the goals and progress (or lack thereof) of a project. Surely the World Bank has that to offer, and then as others post pictures, those could also be shared as a ‘reward.’

    The New York Times just published an article about gamification, and particularly about the use in travel apps: The article points out some of the issues with gamification, including the issue that I noted above (i.e. people don’t like just a one-way ‘transactional’ experience.).

  8. Patrick, thanks for blogging about our conversations and everyone for their thoughtful comments. I would like to mention that Luc and David from Voluntourism ( have contributed to framing this idea given ongoing work in Latin America.

    While I love the idea of monitoring the World Bank financed activities, I think the real power of this kind of effort is to extend it to all development activities not just funded by the World Bank but all international donors and NGOs and governments themselves – think of it as an active standby task force for not just crisis situations, rather for development in general. (@ashley – the idea is not to create data for a large organization but allow individuals to make development programs more effective.) Development minded individuals could help report on the state of hyper-local projects funded by Donors, NGOs as well as local authorities. We are already helping make public all Donor funded activities in Bolivia, Kenya, Nepal building on experiences in Malawi through the Open Aid Partnership (

    We are keen not just to make location data public and openly accessible but extend this to other data including social infrastructure data that could be consumed by numerous platforms such as the Open Street Map and open data platforms around the world.

    The power of such an idea is to narrow the gap between authoritative data held by governments and donors with crowdsourced data which is much more fluid and contextual.

    P.S/ Millie, happy to connect with you; brianinroma, we are collaborating with the staff behind on on the OAP.

  9. Johannes, Thanks for bringing this up.
    I think it is important to look at other precedents for data collection, particularly the citizen science arena – such as Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count with roughly 80,000 folks supporting that effort. Placing the power of volunteer data collection in the hands of travelers is definitely of interest and we will be pilot testing our first group of students from the U.S. and Bolivia working side-by-side to gather data in Chiquitania, Bolivia, along the Ruta de Jesuitas from 14 July to 28 July 2013. We want to see how indigenous communities respond to data collection, especially the use of technology. But we will start with “paper” data collection and upload the data once we are out of the field, and truly test out different approaches to get a sense of the community response. We also hope that by having Bolivian students involved we can balance the “citizen” workforce – residents and travelers, and not over-saturate the data collection process with merely travelers.
    For those who are interested in our pilot initiative in Bolivia, please feel free to contact us through

  10. I would suggest doing a sort of inventory of the current inventory of API resources currently available to support and help define such an initiative.

    Then possibly brainstorm on what API resources could be deployed to fill in the gaps.

    Next, move to taking inventory and identifying needs for mobile and tablet apps. Possibly design an open source BaaS platform blue print that would bring together a stack of resources for developers looking to deliver apps in the space quickly and efficiently.

    I think you are on to something…

  11. Who wants to work on this? I love the enthusiasm. Get in touch with Patrick and Johannes and let’s think about how we could crowd-map every school in a given country, every water point or health clinic. Let’s start with one country for proof of concept and show what a small group of committed individuals can do.

  12. Johannes/Patrick…thank you for bringing this project to this your platform… I think it would be important to regroup before going out there and just collecting data on maps. We are having a lot of important discussion with host country government as well as municipal government on what to do with the data at the end. The idea is to empower destinations and local youth to get a sense of what’s happening in their home community.

    We are in discussion with the large networks of travelers, with tourism destinations, with federation of municipalities, and PVOs (to name a few). Our funding is in place to help build these tools but also to engage all partners from the onset so that it becomes part of the process and remains sustainable.

    I am currently in Colombia to do exactly this…the most important part of this project is to engage local youth and others in the process. The successes lies with our ability to change the power structures in meaningfully engage the public at large. The World Trade Organization recently wrote a few good research/manuscript on the linkages between tourism and “aid”.

    I think that we have a great opportunity here ….if we put in place all of the right tools …which includes a financial schemes that would leverage / mitigate the personal investment.

    Saludos cordiales….desde Cali |Colombia ….Luc Lapointe
    Skype ID – luckyluc613 or voluntourismluc

  13. Great that this idea is now out for some open innovation and collaboration! I work in Johannes’ team in WB Innovation Labs with Aleem as our Director and was in the meeting with VolunTourism. As an open data geek who loves trekking and geocaching I am very excited about taking these ideas forward so do please keep provide more feedback and ideas and suggestions on collaboration!

    Since I am currently in the trekking mecka Nepal arranging Open Nepal Week I took the opportunity to pitch this idea at the hackathon we had today. Two young app developers joined me and I can now proudly present a first prototype of what we called the AidTrekker – combining trekking and tracking of aid projects. As we only had a couple of hours we limited the scope to listing a newly geocoded dataset of projects in Nepal’s Aid Management Platform, showing the route to an aid project and giving feedback to it. You can see a screenshot of the app on and a picture from the presentation on How do you like the name? I’ve registered the domain and a few variations just in case 😉 (AidTrek, DevTrekker, DevTrekking..)

    I was impressed to see how fast the developers worked on this today! I think local youth could definitely be another target audience for an app like this since they are likely to also travel around the country. An extended service could be that they also could act as local guides for other trekkers.

  14. Hi Patrick,
    part of what you are describing is alreday happening on We are Germany’s largest donation platform (you might remember, we actually met at the recampaign a few years ago) and our 5500+ projects have something we call the web of trust. Here everybody who has been in touch with the project can leave their impressions in order to help others make informed donation choices. We find that besides employees and friends of the project manager, many travellers visit betterplace projects and write about them.
    So far, and we have been around since 2007, most projects accumulate only positive feedback. Its very rare to get constructive, critical assessments. Here is a project from Palestine, which is very typical:
    Lot’sof positive feedback from volunteers and visitors, no critical review, even though I know that project has gone through a few crisis and polarised its supporters.

    When we started betterplace, we developed the web of trust mainly for beneficiaries, but discovered that tourists we the most likely people contributing to this kind of crowd sourced trust. A wonderful side-effect of having people visit betterplace projects is, that many of the travellers end up fundraising for the initiatives, when back home. To scale this it would be great to collaborate with travel guides and I’ll take your post to our next team meeting to discuss who this could be achieved.

  15. Joanabp,

    Great to read your posting on this blog. and I guess that is one of the difficulty in a blog…limited to a few paragraph to explain something that encompasses much more than collecting data.

    Since it’s hard to put the whole story here….I would like to know if you could write to me and I can send you the documents we have produced to explain how it differs a bit from what you do…but I see great areas for synergies.

    Please feel free to write to me…at your convenience.

    Luc Lapointe ( or luckyluc613 on Skype…ciao!

  16. As someone who guards her local SIM card minutes fiercely, I’d love to look at the incentives side of this more closely. Perhaps there are some CSR angles with mobile operators that could be explored? Also, most frequent travelers have a “crap Africa” phone to take with them rather than their expensive smart phone, so it could be worthwhile to have an SMS-compatible option too. Anyhow happy to help, this could be pretty interesting.

    • Thanks for reading, Jessica, feel free to contact Johannes Kies at the Bank for the latest on this project.

      • Hola Jessica,

        I am writing to you from Bolivia where we are currently working on this. We are testing different models as well as going through some of the issues around the data collection (foreigners collecting data), quality of data and distribution of information in the tourism chains,

        We have had interesting experience in semi-controlled environments where the group (part of the group) had more knowledge about the objectives and other ..very little.

        We also worked in areas / cities of different size where seeing foreigners was part of the landscape so that locals were not really concerned and other indigenous communities where some of our partners (local leaders) knew about the project…but not the whole communities.

        As you can imagine…..perfect setting for political friction.

        We are also working with some local institute (tourism in this case) to see if they could provide training to “travelers” interested to collect data.

        We are working with the Federation of Municipalities so that elected officials and citizens can use this data on the context of planning human and financial resources. Why should they collect this data? and how to use it other than seeing dots of the map.

        Some more remote communities had some issues around “open data”. What should be opened or not!??

        Our project looks at the increasing flows of Private Aid (PDA) (mostly undeclared – rarely done in partnership with governments). With this increasing flow of hypercollective can PDA complement ODA or national strategies.

        In some communities we have seen a mix of ODA project that could have been opportunities for partnerships but the “aid” project is now the gift that keeps on taking back.

        ………..and to answer your last question!! We are looking at the various ways to partner with local communication companies or other technology such as satellite communication. Can these travelers also help in collecting tourism information….create win-win-win situations.

        …..and one more comments…how do we make this “useful” and sustainable!? We are also working on that as well.

        Please feel free to write to me (us) at consultant (dot) luc (at) gmail (dot) com – we will have a real website soon at keento dot org

        Saludos from Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) — and so cold this morning (winter in South America).

        Luc Lapointe

    • Jessica, thanks for your comment. We would use a technology that works offline and save the collected data on the smart phone. Whenever you have access to WiFi the data would be uploaded to our server.

      We are currently exploring the demand for the data and which assets we would like to map. Our next step will be to better understand the incentives of travelers – I hope to share a short survey with you soon.

  17. It’s great to see we are receiving so many comments and suggestions on this idea, most of which are the ones we have started exploring. I’m working at the Innovation Labs in World Bank Institute with Johannes and Aleem. Following Johannes’s last post, we are very interested to hear your thoughts on data collection through backpackers and voluntoursts. If you have 5 minutes please take a short survey below:

    Your feedback is very much appreciated and if you have cases of crowdsourcing data in rural areas and of making a good use of those type of datasets to share, we would be very happy to know.

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