Leveraging the “Wisdom of Crowds”: Enhanced Project View and Crowd-Sourcing

One potential remedy to the "broken feedback loop" is to make it easier for project beneficiaries and local stakeholders in developing countries to share real-time performance information with Western donor agencies.

August 20, 2010
Bradley C. Parks

This post was written by Brad Parks, a Research Associate at the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations at William and Mary and Principal Investigator on the AidData project.

A growing number of scholars and policy wonks argue that foreign assistance is characterized by a "broken feedback loop": donor agencies and development banks are not, strictly speaking, accountable to their beneficiaries and they generally have weak incentives to disseminate information about the efficacy of their programs. This distinguishes foreign assistance from other types of government spending, such as domestic social welfare programs.


One potential remedy is to make it easier for project beneficiaries and local stakeholders in developing countries to share real-time performance information with Western donor agencies. If EuropeAid's local contractor uses shoddy materials to build a school in Tanzania, there is no reason (in principle) why a parent should not be able to go to an internet cafe and register a complaint, or better yet, use his or her cell phone to submit a picture of the school's leaky roof. Before you write this off as the utopian ideal of starry-eyed humanitarians and pointy-headed academics, check out CGD's recent interview with Rakesh Rajani. Rakesh explains in some detail how explosive mobile technology growth in East Africa has substantially increased transparency and accountability.


We are pleased to announce that AidData has launched a new initiative to enable project beneficiaries, NGOs, journalists, and other interested parties to augment donor-provided data with first-hand observations, photos, videos, news reports, and documents. Here's the basic idea: by mashing-up the official data reported by donors with 'observational' data from people on the ground, we would like to leverage the AidData platform and facilitate conversations between donor agencies and their intended beneficiaries about the performance of specific development projects. Our hope is that these new "enhanced project view" pages will provide real-time project performance information and a shared space where donors, NGOs, and other interested parties can share completion reports, impact evaluations, and key lessons learned. This virtual space would provide the foundation for realizing many of the principles articulated by OpenAid.


We are very excited about this new initiative, but we need your help to a) create a useful and engaging enhanced project view design, and b) establish "proof of concept" for crowd-sourcing information about donor-funded development projects. We have developed a "mock-up" based on an MCC-funded project in Nicaragua. We invite readers to send us specific suggestions to improve the layout, content, and functionality of these hypothetical webpages. Also, If you know of NGOs that might be interested in working with AidData to evaluate the real-world prospects for crowd-sourcing aid information, please let us know by sending us an email to info@aiddaa.org.


It remains to be seen whether the "wisdom of crowds" can be used to strengthen accountability in donor-recipient relationships, but we think it's worth a try.

Brad Parks is the Executive Director of AidData at William & Mary. He leads a team of over 30 program evaluators, policy analysts, and media and communication professionals who work with governments and international organizations to improve the ways in which overseas investments are targeted, monitored, and evaluated. He is also a Research Professor at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute.