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Where are we going, where have we been? What we’ve learned about promoting data and evidence uptake

An update on AidData’s three-year strategic vision to promote data and evidence uptake by policymakers and practitioners, and where we are going next.

December 3, 2019
Bradley C. Parks
Dr. Bradley C. Parks, AidData's Executive Director (fourth from left, second row), with participants in the Hewlett Foundation's Evidence-Informed Policymaking Charette at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy on September 1, 2018.

Dr. Bradley C. Parks, AidData's Executive Director (fifth from left, second row), with participants in the Hewlett Foundation's Evidence-Informed Policymaking Charette at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy on September 1, 2018.

Two years ago this fall, I provided an update on AidData’s strategic direction. I announced that, under a three-year plan called Vision 2020, our team of 30+ faculty and staff would focus its efforts on helping leading development organizations make better-informed decisions with next-generation sources of data and evidence. To this end, we prioritized partnerships with development organizations that are willing to challenge the status quo and innovate at multiple stages of their policymaking and programming cycles.

We’re now approaching the end of Vision 2020 and beginning to take stock as an organization of where we’ve had the most and least success—and why. We’ve seen many encouraging signs of take-up of our data, methods, tools, and analysis over the last two years across all five of our program areas (more on that below).

Yet much of the uptake that we’ve witnessed has been concentrated among aid agencies, development banks, and international organizations headquartered in high-income countries. So, we are beginning to think about what course corrections we might need to make to increase uptake in low- and middle-income countries.

Where are we going?

One important lesson we’ve learned is that it’s difficult to achieve lasting influence in the absence of a strong ground game and credible local partners. We are also mindful of the fact that, across the developing world, there are organizations—inside and outside of government—already doing important work to bring granular data and rigorous evidence to bear on the design and implementation of development policies and programs. So, the key question for us is how we can best support, extend, and leverage the work of such organizations.

To this end, we’re currently engaging in a year-long exercise of listening to and learning from like-minded groups in the Global South—with generous support and counsel from the Hewlett Foundation’s Evidence-Informed Policymaking team and William and Mary’s university leadership team—prior to the development our next three-year organizational strategy. We see a particularly promising set of opportunities for increased evidence uptake via strategic partnerships in Africa. We’re prioritizing engagement with leading think tanks, policy research institutes, NGOs, and networks and communities of practice on the continent. Some of the collaborative activities that we hope to pursue include the development of shared research priorities, co-generation of data products and analysis products, and co-investment in research dissemination, policy outreach, and capacity-strengthening activities.

AidData will not abandon its ongoing efforts to influence those in Western capitals who make and shape policies and programs that influence development outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. This work remains central to our core mission of producing evidence that helps policymakers and practitioners more effectively target, monitor, and evaluate sustainable development investments. But we want to devote more time and money to decision-makers on the ground in the developing world, because a growing number of consequential decisions about development policies and programs are not being made not in places like Washington, D.C. and Brussels, but rather in places like Abidjan and Kampala.

This would not represent a seismic shift for AidData. Since 2012, we’ve had a near-continuous presence on the ground.  We’ve co-created decision support tools with Zambia’s National AIDS Council and Côte d'Ivoire’s Ministry of Health; strengthened the aid information management capacities of 6 African finance and planning ministries (in partnership with Development Gateway); deployed dozens of AidData summer fellows to work alongside CSOs, universities and think tanks in East Africa and West Africa; and organized hackathons with the Resilient Africa Network for local innovators interested in novel development data applications. However, it would represent an effort to redouble and recalibrate our organizational commitment to data and evidence use in the Global South.

If you are working for an organization that has pursued or is considering a similar strategic direction, we’d love to hear from you. My colleagues and I have already benefited from conversations with USAID, 3ie, CEGA, ODI and IDInsight, but we’re keen to hear from other organizations that are active in this space.

You can connect with us via Twitter (@AidData) or write to me directly at bparks@aiddata.org.

Where have seen uptake thus far?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen lots of encouraging signs of uptake of our data, methods, tools, and analysis over the last two years. Here are some examples from our five program areas:

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.