Students Catalyze Local Capacity to Use Geocoded Aid Information

Eleven student researchers from the College of William & Mary and University of Texas-Austin deployed this summer to Nepal, Uganda, Timor-Leste, Senegal, and Mexico to serve as AidData Summer Fellows.

August 14, 2013

Eleven student researchers from the College of William & Mary and University of Texas-Austin deployed this summer to Nepal, Uganda, Timor-Leste, Senegal, and Mexico to serve as AidData Summer Fellows embedded within local universities, civil society organizations and research institutes. Embodying diverse research interests and backgrounds, this next generation of development professionals and policymakers were inspired by a common theme – leveraging open geocoded data to solve development challenges.

Michelle Mueller, working with Mexico’s Instituto Mora, was “eager to help researchers abroad use [geocoded data] to resolve major gaps in the information available on development projects”. Having worked with AidData in the US as a research assistant for four years, Elsa Voytas viewed her summer tenure in Uganda with Brigham Young University’s Political Economy Development Lab as “an opportunity to see how this [geocoded] data [could be] used on the ground.”

AidData’s summer fellows improve the capacity of developing country stakeholders to use geocoded data to address their existing initiatives and goals. Funded by USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, fellows held trainings for NGO, civil society and university stakeholders in ArcGIS software and the AidData/UCDP geocoding methodology – applying precise geographic coordinates to the locations of aid activities.

Photo: AidData Summer Fellow Sara Rock teaches GIS and geocoding skills in Nepal.

Nisha Krishnan, based in Dili, Timor-Leste, is collaborating with the USAID missionto assess how geospatial analysis can be used in their Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. In Uganda, Emily Mahoney trained stakeholders in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement to geocode nutrition projects and integrate this methodology into the Office of the Prime Minister’s Renewed Effort Against Child Hungermapping initiative. Mike Hathaway assisted Transparency International-Nepal to incorporate geocoded data into their foreign aid report. Lindsay Read and Cherie Saulter trained students and faculty in geocoding and GIS at Makerere University.

Having students on the ground around the world has provided new insights for USAID, AidData and other stakeholders on how to assess the value of geocoded data and facilitate its uptake in aid targeting and development innovation.

David Hensley found that geocoded data has the potential to be a powerful resource for a fledgling Senegalese open data research community to integrate quantitative metrics into development decision-making. This summer, Hensley is mobilizing interest among local researchers and civil society groups in anticipation of the October release of a geospatial development database managed by the Senegalese Ministry of Economics and Finance. A well-attended information meeting at the West African Research Centerand positive local media coverage demonstrate widespread public interest in understanding more about aid funded development activities in Senegal.

In Nepal, Madeleine Clark was motivated by the eagerness of her colleagues at Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Developmentto integrate geocoded data into their work on sustainable livelihoods and food security. “My favorite memories are of moments when I saw my team implement what I had taught them and go beyond it...[using the data] to define research questions and develop their own visualizations.”

Photo: AidData Summer Fellow Madeleine Clark trains CEAPRED staff

in Kathmandu, Nepal to visualize geocoded aid projects.

Emily Mahoney, speaking with SUN stakeholders in Kampala, “realized that the value of geocoding doesn’t exclusively lie in the location information. It’s about creating data visualizations or simplifying complex information by coding data in a systematized manner. These visualizations convey information much faster.”

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Contributions from: Ellie Kaufman, Alena Stern, Madeleine Clark, David Hensley, Nisha Krishnan, Michelle Mueller, Elsa Voytas, Mike Hathaway, Lindsay Read, Cherie Saulter and Sara Rock.