The Winding Road to the AidData Center for Development Policy
I was truly honored to introduce the AidData Center for Development Policy to the world and am tremendously excited for what the future holds for AidData.
The presentation I gave follows below
The AidData partnership was created with a clear mission: to capture the entire universe of aid at the project-level in a single database. Over the last ten years, William & Mary, BYU, and Development Gateway have made huge progress toward this goal: the AidData.org web portal currently tracks 1 million projects and nearly $5.5 trillion in global development finance. However, until very recently, the AidData team still couldn’t answer a fundamental question: Where are all of these projects located on the ground?
Owen Barder, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, said, “AidData allows citizens of countries that give and receive aid to better understand where the funding is going. Geocoding will enable the next step: linking that information to results on the ground.” Owen is not the only one to recognize this necessary next step. Many development practitioners and scholars have identified the need for the sub-national geographic coding of aid information.
However, the skeptics (and there were many) said that the information was either not available or too costly to generate.
Undeterred by the naysayers, AidData and the World Bank launched the Mapping for Results initiative in the summer of 2010. I was a part of a team of AidData interns that achieved something truly remarkable: we geo-coded the World Bank's entire active project portfolio: 2,500 projects in 30,000 locations across 144 countries.
Simon Mizrahi, Manager of AfDB’s Quality Assurance and Results Department, explained, “This is a critical step toward being able to ask the right questions about whether aid is going to the right places and what impact it has.”
But this map only included data from 2 of the 60+ bilateral and multilateral aid agencies that are active in Kenya.
Effective coordination requires that each donor knows what every other donor is doing and where. In the summer of 2011, the Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) program at UT-Austin and AidData proved that it is possible to geocode the entire universe of aid projects in Malawi. We did this in Malawi and it enabled donors to more effectively coordinate with each other and the government to reduce duplication and other sources of inefficiency.
Ken Lipenga, the Minister of Finance of Malawi, applauded the map saying, "Being able to see in a map all the donor funded activities has transformed the way we think about development and positively helped our own planning effort."
Geo-coded aid information makes it possible to tag this citizen feedback to specific donor-funded projects, creating a “Yelp” for development finance. This will help to close the feedback loop between donors and their intended beneficiaries.
These are just a few of the ways in which geospatial data can change the way the development community tracks aid distribution and impact. With support from USAID AidData will be able to extend geocoding of all activities within the Aid Management Platforms of 15 countries, build local capacity among local universities, Government, CSOs, and Donor Partners, and develop cutting-edge geospatial analysis tools and research methods.
USAID recognizes the power of geo-coded information. Thanks to their vision and support, the AidData Center for Development Policy will help the global community to take a major step towards making access to actionable geocoded aid information a right for all citizens, not a privilege for few.
Alena Stern is currently a project manager on AidData based at the College of William & Mary.