We believe that the global community needs a stronger evidence base to find the signal in the noise as they target sustainable development investments, coordinate efforts, and monitor progress toward development targets.

To that end, we are focusing our research agenda to catalyze innovation in data, methods, and tools in five program areas that inform and empower development organizations, decision-makers, and stakeholders.

Chinese Development Finance

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has dramatically expanded its overseas development finance program and established itself as a financier of first resort for many low- and middle-income countries. But Chinese donors and lenders rarely disclose the specific terms and conditions or implementation arrangements that govern their overseas development projects. AidData seeks to address this problem by systematically tracking the universe of Chinese government-financed development projects and rigorously categorizing them according to established international aid reporting standards, using our Tracking Underreported Financial Flows (TUFF) methodology. Our latest report, Banking on the Belt and Road, introduces a uniquely comprehensive and granular dataset of international development finance from China that captures 13,427 projects worth $843 billion across 165 countries in every major world region over an 18-year period.

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Foreign Policy Influence

States use a variety of non-military instruments—including money, information, technology, culture, and education—to advance their national interests. Yet, translating the instruments of economics or soft power into realized influence with foreign leaders or publics is neither straightforward nor quick. Foreign aid, trade, and investment may have cascading effects in the political, social, and security spheres. Public diplomacy initiatives may stoke new relationships, norms, and institutions which, in turn, shape future economic trajectories and alliances between countries. Policymakers in the Global South seldom have reliable intelligence at their disposal to assess risks, increase resilience, and protect their interests in the face of foreign influence.

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Gender Equity in Development

Increasing women’s empowerment is a crucial component of development. Not only does empowerment directly improve women’s autonomy and wellbeing, but it also provides indirect benefits for child health, community engagement, education, etc. Women face a number of challenges that limit their empowerment, including a lack of household decision-making power, insufficient land rights and control of agricultural resources, and high barriers to labor market entry and free mobility.

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GeoQuery breaks down technological barriers and empowers a broad range of data users with next-generation geospatial data, methods and tools. A free spatial data platform, GeoQuery enables individuals of all skill levels to freely find, access, and merge together spatial data from a wide variety of sources into a single, simple-to-use file. Since 2017, GeoQuery has processed more than 10,000 data requests. AidData has partnered with the McGovern Foundation to take GeoQuery to scale and reach a range of new actors, from large international organizations to small grassroots nonprofits. The GeoQuery team is also working to create new datasets with information on development outcomes captured frequently and at high levels of spatial detail and innovate new geo-statistical analyses and machine learning-based methods.

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Geospatial Tools and Impact Evaluations

More rigorous than simple performance evaluations but often significantly cheaper and faster than randomized controlled trials, geospatial impact evaluations (GIEs) are helping to fill the "missing middle” in evaluations of development programs. AidData is a widely recognized industry leader in the creation and application of GIE methods and tools. With our partners, we’ve led a global effort to use location-based data on development interventions and their outcomes in combination with quasi-experimental methods to measure the intended and unintended impacts of development programs in different locations and under different conditions. We’ve conducted GIEs to generate estimates of the net, attributable impact and cost-effectiveness of programs across sectors including public health, infrastructure, agriculture, and the environment.

Listening to Leaders

The Listening to Leaders program collects holistic feedback on development from the perspectives of an under-represented group: leaders in low- and middle-income countries. We research how development priorities converge or diverge between leaders, citizens, and donors; barriers and opportunities to advancing reforms; the performance of donors; and what leaders need for evidence-informed policymaking. Listening to Leaders produces a wide range of custom analyses, profiles, and datasets for public use and the internal needs of funding partners. In addition to these large-n surveys, we also field short surveys, or snap polls, to targeted individuals to gain a deeper understanding of a specific topic, like education.

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