A few weeks into her internship with the AidData Center for Development Policy at William & Mary, Lauren Harrison hovered over her keyboard, playing with a map of the region surrounding the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With little GIS (geographic information systems) training and the AidData data portal as her toolkit, Harrison searched for the answer to a research question in data visualization maps.
“I was interested in seeing whether there had been a change in the instance of conflict in areas where there were mining operations [in Central Africa] and also if that had some effect on the aid community and their ability to function in those areas,” Harrison said.
What now exists as a conflict map of bank energy and mining projects in Central Africa began as an entry to a semester-long map-off competition. Looking to motivate AidData research assistants and interns, Project Manager at the College of William and Mary Doug Nicholson challenged the group to find answers to development questions by using GIS software and data. The result of this competition is the reason Harrison began working for AidData as a junior at the College.
“Even just as an undergraduate student doing research, you run into problems very quickly with the data that is available,” Harrison said. “A big interest of mine is aid coordination and aid effectiveness. We don’t want people duplicating activities in the same area, and that’s what really excites me about what AidData does.”
Harrison first heard about AidData as a freshman in Professor Mike Tierney’s Intro to International Relations class. As a junior, her economics major and interest in international development led her to seek out a position in AidData. “Geocoding is a huge step forward for the development community and for the people who are interested in development for doing research,” Harrison said. “I really want to work in development, but I also am interested in the way societies develop culturally.”
During a summer study abroad trip to India after her sophomore year, a conversation with a group of Indian law students sparked her interest in understanding a society holistically in order to address international development issues. “If you are going to work in development, you have to understand who you are working with and how they are going to perceive a development issue,” Harrison said. “I want to understand the assumptions I make based on being an American that are innate to being raised here so that I can be more sensitive to how a culture might view a development issue.”
At the College, she combines her interests with a major in economics and a minor in art history. While economics allows her to interact with the details of development issues, art history appeals to her desire to study the cultural development of societies over time.
As a rising senior, Harrison continues to work for AidData for the summer. While she spent most of the semester developing her map and practicing GIS skills, she will spend the summer geocoding. “It’s an exciting program to be involved with, I am eager to help and work with whatever opportunities arise,” Harrison said. Read more on Harrison's map on the AidData blog, The Tranche.
Ellie Kaufman is an AidData Communications & Outreach Summer Fellow at the College of William and Mary.
The AidData Center for Development Policy is housed at The Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations at William & Mary. The Institute provides a home for interdisciplinary, collaborative, internationally-focused research that employs rigorous social science methods to make meaningful contributions to contemporary international debate, policy and practice. www.wm.edu/itpir