W&M hosts first AidData Research Consortium

  • Developing new methods of aid measurement
    Developing new methods of aid measurement
    Scott Ickes, assistant professor of health sciences and kinesiology at William & Mary, and AidData technical grant writer Carrie Dolan discuss a research agenda during the ARC Global Health team meeting.

Is it possible to analyze the diffusion of funding earmarked for a specific type of project in one country?

That was the question Karen Grépin, assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, asked of her global health team during the inaugural AidData Research Consortium (ARC) Jan. 8-11 in Williamsburg.

The ARC is composed of about 80 professors and development professionals. Most members are from institutions in the U.S., but some traveled from London, Zurich and Dublin to attend the conference. While the majority of members are fulltime professors, development professionals in the group came from think tanks and U.S.-based development organizations.

The event was hosted by AidData, which is housed at William & Mary and funded by the U.S. Agency of International Data (USAID). Sixty members spent two days in GIS, spatial econometrics and field experiments training and two days in collaborative meetings to develop their research agendas for the coming year.

The research teams were divided into seven areas: economic growth, environment and climate change, food security, global health, humanitarian assistance and disaster mitigation, democracy and governance and conflict mitigation.

Grépin’s group agreed to pursue a project analyzing the diffusion of HIV aid projects in Malawi. From this case study, they hope to discover what diffusion of a specific health project looks like in one country, what underlying factors might explain that diffusion and what impact that diffusion has on health outcomes.

“I’ve been working on aid issues in health for a long time. In some ways, I thought that the types of questions you could ask were starting to become a bit boring only because we have such limitations in the data that is available,” Grépin said. “The potential of this data allows us to think of a whole new set of questions that up until now have remained unanswered.”

Grépin’s team included an evolutionary biologist, a spatial epidemiologist, a political science professor and economists. These researchers brought different levels of experience and expertise to the group, but they were all drawn to attend the first ARC Convening because they wanted to use a more detailed kind of data in their research.

“The ARC Convening was a chance to be a part of a group of people who want to think of new approaches to analyze development finance information,” said participant Carrie Dolan, an AidData technical grant writer and Ph.D. student in healthcare policy and research at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The multidisciplinary approach allows us to think about how to tackle the problem in a different way from other research groups.”

ARC members will meet again in a year to discuss the progress made on their team research agendas, which are scheduled to begin soon.