Shaping Policy with Research

Shaping policy

AidData and its affiliated researchers are involved in a wide range of research projects on the allocation and impact of development resource flows, including: agriculture, education, health, climate change and clean energy, governance, conflict, political economy of aid and south-south cooperation. Search for more information on specific research projects by sector or topic here.

Research Topics

AidData Ongoing Research - Agriculture


How does aid that targets women in agriculture affect food security? What are the most effective agricultural practices to promote development? One agricultural development aid expert at the University of Richmond has utilized AidData to identify agricultural-specific aid, analyze how the structure of this aid has changed over time, and determine what agricultural aid practices have been most effective at reducing poverty and increasing food security.

While Dr. Ransom chose to focus specifically on agriculture, the long descriptions in AidData are useful for any sector-specific analysis because an expert in any field can use text-based searches to identify the particular subset of projects they need to evaluate.

Ongoing research

Aid and Persistent Institutional Development

Virtually no research addresses the conditions under which the outcomes of aid projects persist over time. Scholars, policymakers, and development practitioners also lack data on when the capacity building and institutional development objectives of aid projects persist over time.

In order to address this challenge, AidData researchers Mark Buntaine and Brad Parks are collecting a large number of project evaluations produced by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group from 2003-2008 and extracting observable indicators of institutional development at project completion. Based on a worldwide sample frame of more than 10,000 development staff and government officials, Buntaine and Parks plan to survey individuals knowledgeable about the current state of these indicators 5-10 years after project completion. This process will yield the first data on whether institutional developments have been sustained beyond project completion.

Ongoing research - terrorism and conflict

Aid, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism

While economists have known for some time that sudden reductions in aid flows to aid dependent countries has a negative effect on economic growth, researchers at BYU have found that sudden reductions in the flow of development aid can induce civil conflict. They are now writing a paper investigating whether aid flows might also have some effect on the probability of inter-state war.

AidData-affiliated researchers at BYU and American University have also teamed up to assess the sector-by-sector impact of aid on terrorism. Their results indicate that aid targeted to social sectors, such as education and health, has a dampening effect on the incidence of terrorism in recipient countries. (Photo by Farah Abdi Wersameh/AP)

Ongoing Clean Energy

Climate Change and Clean Energy

How much aid is flowing to developing countries to help them cope with and adapt to climate change? Using AidData, researchers at Brown University and the University of Texas's Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) program are building a dataset to track adaptation aid, analyze aid distribution, and assess effectiveness of adaptation projects.

Others are using AidData to assess the effectiveness of intergovernmental financing in spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Mark Buntaine, an AidData Principal Investigator at William & Mary, is currently mapping the types of clean energy activities that are funded through intergovernmental projects, compiling cross-national data on the domestic institutional and policy factors that promote clean energy investment, and examining the associated private sector investment over time. To understand the types and effects of such intergovernmental clean energy financing, Dr. Buntaine and his team will analyze documents for all projects in AidData with a clean energy component. (Photo by Benjamin Arancibia)

Ongoing Research Media

Collecting Non-Traditional Development Finance Information Through Media Sources

Developing countries in the 21st century face a rapidly evolving global development finance architecture. In particular, donors outside of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC)—e.g. China, Venezuela, Russia, and Iran—have challenged conventional norms of development practice and substantially increased competition in the "aid market". This empirical phenomenon raises new questions and demands new types of data. How much funding do non-traditional donors provide, and to whom? What motivates the provision of aid and other forms of development finance from non-DAC countries? Do these financial flows have a substantially different impact on development outcomes than traditional aid?

AidData is currently using a new tracking under-reported financial flows methodology to collect and analyze open-source data on Chinese development finance to African countries from 2000-2011. Given that many emerging donors do not publish information on outward development finance flows, this pilot project seeks to (a) improve the current state of knowledge about the determinants of Chinese development finance distribution patterns in Africa, and (b) establish “proof of concept” that a systematic tracking of under-reported financial flows methodology is a viable way to gather project-level development finance information from donors who are unwilling to disclose their data.

AidData Ongoing Research- Education


Does education aid actually increase primary school enrollment rates? Researchers at Brigham Young University recently took a look at the causal mechanisms behind effective education aid. Using donor type and sectoral aid information from AidData, they find that bilateral donors, who have more distributional freedom than their mulitilateral counterparts, are more likely to give education aid to recipients with relatively low levels of corruption. Therefore, bilateral donors give more education aid to recipients who will use the funding most effectively. They also find that bilateral aid has the most success at increasing primary school enrollment rates. (Photo by Firdia Linsawati/AP)

AidData Ongoing Research - Environment


Has development assistance been greened over the past 30-40 years? Researchers at William and Mary have created a novel coding system to identify the likely environmental impacts of different development projects. They used these data to describe and explain the allocation of both environmentally damaging and environmentally friendly foreign aid. Their research resulted in a book entitled Greening Aid: Understanding the Environmental Impact of Development Assistance (Oxford University Press, 2008). The original dataset covered the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Chris Marcoux, Mike Tierney, J. Timmons Roberts, Christian Peratsakis, and Brad Parks have recently updated this database through 2008. They are currently working on a project that calls attention to these data can and should be used to advance existing frontiers of knowledge about environmental aid distribution and impact.

AidData researchers Mark Buntaine and Brad Parks have also compiled World Bank evaluations and used the resulting dataset to test several hypotheses about the factors that promote successful environmental project outcomes. Buntaine and Parks found that the three most important factors predicting successful implementation are high quality project supervision, good governance in the borrowing country, and less focus on achieving global targets. They are currently developing a quantitative method to test and monitor the long-term institutional development of recipient government agencies following World Bank environment projects. (Photo by AP)

AidData Ongoing Research- Governance


Does aid for governance work as intended? One paper tested donor information from AidData to find that governance and democracy does not generally improve democracy scores. Indeed, such aid only improves democracy scores when allocated to partially democratic countries already likely to improve governance, and may in fact hurt fledgling democracy movements in autocratic regimes.

More broadly, how do donor practices influence recipient governance? For most effective use of their funds, donor governments increasingly demand low levels of corruption in recipient countries. At the same time, donor NGOs and government agencies are requesting more accessible information on aid activities. Might such donor transparency have an impact on the corruption levels within recipient countries? Researchers from Harvard University, Brigham Young, and William & Mary examined this linkage by comparing the breadth of information on donor activities in AidData with perceptions of corruption in recipient countries, finding transparency to have a positive and significant effect on subsequent recipient corruption. (Photo by Themba Hadebe/AP)

Ongoing Research - Health


Does foreign aid for health improve infant mortality rates? Success stories are told in numerous case studies on public health measures around the globe, and , in most states, country-level mortality has fallen significantly. Sven Wilson, a professor at Brigham Young University, recently attempted to find an aggregate relationship between development assistance for health (DAH) and a recipient country’s mortality trajectory. But after combining AidData records with aid from private health organizations, his regression analysis shows no effect of DAH on mortality at the country level. Other types of aid for health, including water development, also show no effect. Economic growth, on the other hand, has a strong negative effect on mortality. (Photo by Firdia Lisnawati/AP )

Ongoing Research - Nutrition


Malnutrition has long-lasting impacts on health, education, and income that are difficult for communities to overcome. While statistics on the impact of undernutrition are available, limited data exists on the nutrition assistance projects in place worldwide. AidData is working with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement to develop a method for tracking the full spectrum of development assistance projects targeting nutrition. This work will inform policy recommendations for a uniform tracking system for all nutrition aid.

Ongoing Research - The Domestic Political Economy of Aid

The Domestic Political Economy of Aid

How much does foreign aid decline during economic recessions in donor countries? In a joint paper, a group of William & Mary undergraduates and professors have leveraged DAC and non-DAC bilateral donor information to identify aid allocation trends in response to economic recessions. They find that aid efforts are much more sensitive to economic conditions under left-wing donor governments. This type of analysis, incorporating both traditional and non-traditional donors, would not be possible without the collection and standardization of data offered by AidData. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lorenzo Ware/Released)