AidData and the U.S. Global Development Lab: A look back at Y3

A look back at the third year of the partnership between AidData and the U.S. Global Development Lab.

December 15, 2015
Ashley Napier

In summer 2015, we posted a four part series highlighting AidData’s five-year partnership with the U.S. Global Development Lab. Now that work has commenced on the fourth year of our partnership through USAID's Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), we’re sharing some highlights of the latest accomplishments and previewing what is to come.

Accelerating Geocoding Efforts

In the past year, we have witnessed a rapid acceleration in the adoption of subnational geocoding of international development finance -- both through USAID’s HESN investment and the catalytic effect of its investment in spurring other development actors to invest in the production, publication, and use geocoded aid information. Through HESN’s investment, AidData increased the supply of available geocoded data. AidData completed the collection and geocoding of major donor projects in Honduras and the Democratic Republic of Congo and we released nine new geocoded data sets including a new level 1A data product to enhance the usability of our data for policy makers. This brings the total number of geocoded aid projects by AidData to over 17,000 with anticipated geocoded data from Niger, Bangladesh, and the Philippines forthcoming in 2016.

Example of Level 1A Dataset

USAID’s investment in the large-scale production of geocoded aid information has proven catalytic, spurring other donors to “crowd-in” investments in geocoded data and information systems strengthening. Importantly, development institutions -- including, but not limited to the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank -- have now invested in establishing institutional processes to collect and use geospatial data throughout the project life cycle. For example, World Bank Group now has their own staff systematically apply subnational geocodes to the universe of their investments, representing $61 billion of aid every single year, and the President of the World Bank has made universal geocoding of Bank projects a key institutional goal. In addition, nearly all of our HESN partner countries, upon seeing the benefits of having geocoded aid information have made new investments in their core aid information management systems to ensure the sustainability of the geocoding effort.

Expanding Our Research Scope

In FY2015, AidData also significantly scaled up its research activities. The size of the AidData Research Consortium (ARC) grew to more than 100 members in FY2015. To spur innovative ARC research using geocoded aid information, AidData launched a Request for Applications (RFA) competition in November which received 46 competitive submissions from over 35 different institutions leading to nine research awards. The AidData Center increased adoption of innovative spatial impact evaluation methodologies through collaborations to evaluate Mission programs for USAID/Georgia, USAID/Niger, and USAID/Colombia. These evaluations merge econometric techniques with high-resolution geospatial data to identify program impacts -- offering an alternative that is more rigorous than performance evaluations, but faster and cheaper than RCTs when existing program data can be used. Growing interest in spatial impact evaluation brought together 250 evaluators and program implementers worldwide in July 2015, when AidData co-hosted a webinar with USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL) to present the methods and their application in the environmental and health sectors.

2015 AidData Summer Fellows StoryMap.

To support the continued uptake of geocoded aid information in our partner countries, AidData travelled to Nepal, Timor-Leste, Haiti, and Uganda to assess the status of geocoded data collection, troubleshoot challenges, and provide targeted trainings focused on practical applications of the geocoded data in the participants’ work. In addition, AidData has continued to support data use through the AidData Summer Fellows program which builds organizational capacity to use geospatial data for development effectiveness, as well as through the development of a streamlined and user-friendly GIS module that will ultimately be incorporated into the Aid Management Platforms in over 20 countries to enable stakeholders to easily access and analyze geocoded aid information.

We’re excited that we’ve seen early adopters begin to incorporate geocoded aid information and open data into institutional reporting and decision-making processes. For example, the Government of Nepal used geocoded aid information to recommend the reallocation of donor funds to a relatively underserved region of the country, and USAID/Peru used geocoded data to support regional donor coordination of biodiversity conservation investments. However, greater support is needed to accelerate the uptake of geocoded aid information by development practitioners beyond the early adopters. This support is hindered by the lack of evidence in the development literature about what specific interventions will successfully promote data uptake.

As AidData looks ahead to the next year of our partnership with USAID, we plan to close this key knowledge gap by producing rigorous evidence regarding the specific characteristics of the impediments to open data use and the most efficient interventions to enable development organizations to overcome these challenges.

Check back next week to read more about our plans for promoting data uptake to enable development organizations to successfully utilize geospatial data to improve aid allocation, coordination, and evaluation

Ashley Napier is a Junior Program Manager based at the College of William and Mary. Alena Stern and David Trichler assisted with this article.