Policy Analysis

Samantha Custer

Director of Policy Analysis


Download CV

Samantha Custer directs AidData's Policy Analysis Unit (PAU), which blends qualitative and quantitative approaches to answer real-world questions in a way that is both academically rigorous and policy relevant. Her research examines the influence of development investments and public diplomacy efforts, generates new evidence on the use and impact of open data, and leverages surveys to learn from the experiences of decision-makers in low- and middle-income countries regarding the impact of external money and ideas on domestic policy reforms. She holds a dual masters in Foreign Service and Public Policy from Georgetown University and has a 20-year track record of leading teams and supporting evidence-based decision-making as an international relations scholar-practitioner.

M.Sc. (Distinction), Foreign Service, Georgetown University

M.P.P., Georgetown University

Certificate in Indonesian Language, University of Indonesia

B.S., International Business, Grove City College

A driving motivation for Samantha's work is to find new ways to quantify concepts, activities, and trends that are historically opaque or difficult-to-measure. She oversees AidData's Policy Analysis Unit which has pioneered the development of new methodologies to: track financing for the sustainable development goals and other thematic priorities; survey public, private, and civil society leaders in 141 countries about their experiences and views of development partners; monitor media resilience, civic space robustness, and energy security within and across countries; and quantify the influence of great powers from inputs to outcomes, among other topics.

Samantha and her team have a strong track record of publishing high-caliber, public good research, as well as helping organizations and governments design, implement, and scale internal analytics to inform their decision-making processes. She has produced publicly available studies in partnership with the World Bank, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Asia Society Policy Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Oak and Tides Foundations, along with the governments of Denmark, Germany, and the United States. Samantha's team has developed custom analysis and diagnostics feeding into decision-making processes for organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Gates Foundation, among others.

In conjunction with her work at AidData, Samantha teaches courses for the Whole of Government Center of Excellence at William & Mary on how to measure and monitor the influence of great powers such as China, Russia, and the US . She is a member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (SDSN TReNDS) to spur data use for the sustainable development goals. Samantha has previously served on the advisory boards of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's Advancing Knowledge for Agricultural Impact Initiative and SIL LEAD, a nonprofit organization which supports community-led development projects around the world.

Prior to AidData, Samantha was Director for Language, Education and Development (LEAD) Asia for SIL International, providing consulting support for partners in 13 countries, overseeing two country offices, and coordinating the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group for UNESCO Bangkok. She served as Associate Director for West Indonesia, brokering partnerships with the government, coordinating with local partners, and overseeing community-led multilingual education programs in three provinces. Samantha also researched open data movements and citizen feedback initiatives with the World Bank, co-taught a class on US national security with former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, directed multilingual education programs in Southeast Asia with SIL International, and conducted performance monitoring for Save the Children US to ensure sponsored children were benefiting from its community development programs.


Political Economy of Reform, Chinese Public Diplomacy, Chinese Official Finance, Aid Targeting, Aid Effectiveness, Sustainable Development Goals, Citizen and Client Feedback, Data Use and Evidence-Informed Policymaking, Performance Evaluations, Foreign Policy, Soft Power