Visualizing World Bank Data With the Google Public Data Explorer

The World Bank is a group of international agencies that provide funding and knowledge to promote economic development in developing countries. It was one of the institutions founded as part of an international agreement made during a 1944 conference in Bretton Woods, NH that was convened to plan for reconstruction after World War II and promote international cooperation that would help avoid World War III.

The World Bank collects a vast array of country-level data, and makes it available to the general public on their data.worldbank.org data portal as part of their mission to be a source of knowledge that promotes economic development.

The Google Public Data Explorer (GPDE) is a web app that permits visualization and basic analysis of data from a wide variety of sources, including the World Bank.

This covers the exploration of data from the World Bank using the Google Public Data Explorer.

Time Series Graphs in the GPDE

An indicator is a statistical value (such as level of income) that gives an indication of the health of the economy.

To access the World Bank's data in the GPDE, select World Development Indicators from the GPDE home page directory.

Select Explore the data.

Select an indicator from the list of indicators in the left panel of the app. There are dozens of indicators grouped under headings that you can expand by selecting on them.

For this example, we use Economic Policy and Debt, GDP per capita (constant 2000 US$). Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the amount of economic activity in a country. Divided by the number of people in a country (per-capita) gives a rough indication of the wealth of a country.

This gives you a time-series graph showing the change in a variable over time. The economic activity is expressed in dollars that have been adjusted to their equivalent in the year 2000 to compensate for the effects of price inflation. This graph of GDP per capita shows that the world as a whole has gotten richer over the past half century.

Creating a Time-Series Line Graph

GPDE graphs can contain multiple data series. In the example below, we add the GDP per capita for the Sub-Saharan country of Botswana. While this country is far below the rest of the world in terms of economic activity, we see a temporal correlation between the two time-series graphs showing that economic development in Botswana has roughly paralleled economic growth in the world as a whole.

Changing the Y-axis to a logarithmic scale gives a graph that better shows the rate of growth over time. In this case, we see that Botswana's economy grew much more quickly than the rest of the world during the 1970s and 1980s, although it has slowed to a similar rate as the rest of the world during the 1990s.

Adding a Second Series To a Time-Series Graph

To share a GPDE graph with someone, click the icon in the top right corner that looks like a chain link, and copy the (long) URL given in the Paste link in email or IM box.

Sharing a Time-Series Graph

Bubble Maps in the GPDE

The GPDE has a facility for creating bubble maps where the sizes of bubbles indicate the values of a variable in different countries around the world.

Specific countries can be highlighted by selecting them in the list on the left side panel.

Bubbles can also be colored by region by selecting Color by this under Region.

The timeline under the map (with a play button) allows a bubble map to be animated to show changes over time. This also shows changes in data availability, with asterisks used to represent countries with no data.

To share a GPDE graph with someone, click the icon in the top right corner that looks like a chain link, and copy the (long) URL given in the Paste link in email or IM box.

In this map of GDP per capita, we see a geographic pattern that might be expected: high GDP per capita in wealthy European, North American, and East Asian countries, and low GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of Latin America.

Creating a Bubble Map

Correlation and X/Y Scatter Charts

Correlation is the strength of the relationship between two variables. The measurement of correlation is one of the most common and useful tools in statistics.

One powerful feature of the GPDE is the ability to create X/Y scatter charts that can be used to visualize geographic correlation between two variables.

One powerful feature of the GPDE is the ability to create X/Y scatter charts that can be used to visualize geographic correlation between two variables.

For this example, we will map GDP per capita against mortality rate, under-five, which is the number of children per 1,000 children who do not make it to their fifth birthday.

  1. From the GPDE home screen, select World Development Indicators and Explore the data
  2. Select an indicator of interest in the left panel. Note that some indicators have only limited years of data and/or data for only a small number of countries and you may need to dig around a bit to find an indicator with enough information to be useful
  3. Select the bubble chart icon at the right top of the screen
  4. Find the indicator you want to compare to, click on it and select Y axis
  5. Select Compare by and Country to get bubbles for all countries
  6. If the bubbles tend to bunch up on an axis, you might change the axis to a Log scale from the settings. This bunching is common when using absolute values with countries since there are a large number of small countries but a handful of very large countries, and size is distributed unevenly across that range of sizes
  7. Select Region and Color by this to add some geographic context and aesthetic zest to the graph
  8. When comparing by country, if you want to highlight one or more countries, select them in the country list at the bottom of the left panel
  9. To share a GPDE graph with someone, click the icon in the top right corner that looks like a chain link, and copy the (long) URL given in the Paste link in email or IM box

This X/Y scatter chart shows a clear negative correlation between childhood mortality and GDP per capita. The wealthier the country, the lower the chances that a child will die before their fifth birthday.

Animating the chart shows the general worldwide trend toward improving child mortality over the past half century.

Creating an X/Y Scatter Chart In the GPDE