For the past seven years Professor Michael Tierney has been working with undergraduate students in Government, International Relations, Economics, Environmental Studies, and Public Policy to build the most comprehensive database in the world on foreign aid projects. The project attempts to identify and categorize the entire population of official development assistance projects from 1970 to the present and records information at the project-level, hence the original name for the project, Project Level Aid Database (PLAID). In 2009 PLAID formed a partnership with Development Gateway and the project was re-named AidData.
The AidData database covers bilateral donors, such as the U.S., France, Japan, and the UK, as well as multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank, UN, and the European Union. The database currently contains over 1 million projects and has been used by researchers to explain aid allocation patterns and to assess aid effectiveness. The project has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation.
The entire project was inspired by the Honors Thesis of Brad Parks (‘03). The thesis led directly to the database project and to a book that Parks co-authored with Timmons Roberts, Rob Hicks, and Tierney that was published by Oxford University Press in 2008 entitled: Greening Aid? Understanding Environmental Assistance in Developing Countries. Since the creation of the database in 2005, it has been used by four other undergraduate researchers writing honors theses including Joanna Watkins (05), Stephanie Reed (06), Rob Landicho (08), and Ryan Powers (08). Articles by PLAID researchers have been published in a variety of academic journals including International Organization, the Journal of International Relations and Development, American Journal of Political Science, Review of International Organizations, Global Environmental Politics and World Development.
In 2011 three additional faculty members at William and Mary began working on the AidData project: Maurits Van der Veen; Mark Buntaine; and, after some time away working at the Millenium Challenge Corporation, Brad Parks returned to William and Mary to serve as the Executive Director of AidData. Parks now runs the research wing of the program and is in charge of hiring staff and student research assistants.
Other students who have worked on the project have used their experience to land jobs on Wall Street, with NGOs, the EPA, the World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the United Nations, the State Department, Foreign Policy Magazine, and the Peace Corps. Over 130 students have worked on this project and all of them are listed on the PLAID project website. These students have been involved in every aspect of the research process including collecting primary data, interviewing development staff and government officials in both the U.S. and developing countries, coding development projects, analyzing statistical data, presenting research at professional conferences, and writing books and articles.
The AidData team is currently working to make information on foreign aid accessible to policymakers, academics, journalists, and the intended beneficiaries of foreign aid. For updates, please see the AidData blog, First Tranche.