“It’s not enough to create data and release it to the public,” according to AidData Program Manager Alena Stern. “We need to build the capacity of local stakeholders to leverage this data in their work by creating skills for data use.” Interviewing Stern upon her return from recent trips to Haiti and Senegal, she emphasized raising awareness among civil society organizations and research institutions as critical to ensuring that open aid information is not only publicly accessible, but is actually being used to promote effective development.
The AidData Center for Development Policy is working with USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) to geocode all projects in the aid information management systems of 15 partner countries, applying precise geographic coordinates to the locations of aid activities. In year one of the five-year HESN grant, AidData is collaborating with USAID and host governments in Haiti, Senegal, Uganda, Timor-Leste and Nepal. “The goal of our partnership is to create information infrastructure, analysis tools, and human capacity to enable better decision making within the development community,” Stern said.
While AidData’s efforts to produce high quality and publicly accessible geocoded aid information are critical first steps to data use, local development stakeholders must have adequate interest and capacity to use the data for it to be truly effective. Meeting with 27 civil society organizations and research institutions in Haiti and Senegal, Stern sought to promote uptake of geocoded aid information and understand the capacity building needs of each organization that would enable them to effectively use geocoded data to advance their work.
AidData Project Manager Alena Stern (bottom right) and Summer Fellow David Hensley (top right)
met with 27 civil society organizations and research institutes in Haiti and Senegal this July.
Several organizations in Haiti and Senegal saw the benefits of geocoded aid information to inform resource allocation and coordination. “They want to understand what other groups are doing so that they can know if there are areas that they are neglecting or opportunities they aren’t taking,” Stern recounted. Other stakeholders saw the value of geocoded data to hold their governments accountable for results.
Meetings with local development stakeholders are part of a broader capacity building program developed in partnership with USAID. Targeted GIS trainings and a Summer Fellows program placing student researchers within civil society organizations to support them in their use of geocoded aid information are other examples of capacity building activities. According to Stern, “investing in the creation of geocoded aid datasets and building capacity of stakeholders to use them will enhance evidence-based decision making.”
A former student research assistant at the College of William and Mary, Stern noted a personal connection with the work she now undertakes as a Program Manager on the USAID grant. “As someone who began as a student producing geocoded data, it is just incredibly gratifying for me to now see the reaction from organizations we meet with who immediately identified the value of the data we are producing through this program to their own work,” Stern said.