Where your money goes

Ready for launch

Ready for launch:  The PLAID team prepares to go to Oxford to launch AidData. From left: Ben Arancibia '11; Rob Hicks, associate professor of economics; Brooke Russell, project manager; Michael Tierney, institute director and associate professor of government; Ishita Ahmed '11; Ryan Powers, visiting research associate; Daniel Nielson, associate professor of political science at BYU.

AidData takes the lid off the shadowy world of foreign aid

AidData, a new public web site and search engine, will bring an unprecedented degree of transparency to the complex-and often shadowy-world of development finance.

AidData is a collaborative effort of the College of William & Mary, Brigham Young University and Development Gateway, an international nonprofit organization. The first version of the AidData web portal was launched in March at an international conference held in Oxford, UK.

AidData is the result of a merger between the databases of Project-Level Aid (PLAID) and Development Gateway's Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA). Project-Level Aid is a collaboration between William & Mary's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations and Brigham Young University's Political Economy and Development Lab. PLAID was formed after scholars at William & Mary and Brigham Young University found that existing foreign-aid sources did not include enough comprehensive and detailed aid project information to perform their research on aid allocation and aid effectiveness. The PLAID initiative has received financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Science Foundation and other sources.

Michael Tierney, director of William & Mary's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, says that AidData currently is designed to be an "accessible portal" to be used by scholars, personnel in donor governments and organizations, advocacy groups, people in countries that receive foreign aid, journalists and ordinary citizens. Open access to aid records will have a beneficial effect across the foreign-aid spectrum.

"Citizens in democracies are happy to see some of their taxpayer dollars go to help people who are starving or dying," Tierney said. "They are not happy to see their money spent to prop up officials in corrupt governments. Shining a light on aid transfers reduces opportunities for waste and corruption."

The AidData team notes that each year, governments and international organizations provide nearly $160 billion to finance development projects in the world's poorest countries. But large bureaucracies and complicated reporting often make these transactions difficult for citizens to follow. AidData, by providing innovative web tools and access to the largest collection of development finance activities in the world, hopes to shed light on both the triumphs and failures of aid.

AidData nearly doubles the amount of money in development finance tracked by a single source, from $2.3 trillion since 1945 to $4.1 trillion. It makes available nearly one million individual foreign aid transactions, including detailed, paragraph-long narratives of multilateral aid projects.

In the coming months, Tierney explained, AidData plans to incorporate new types of foreign aid transactions, provide social networking tools, data visualization tools and also will attempt to broaden the database to cover other emerging donor countries such as Turkey, Cuba, Russia, Czech Republic, Libya and Iran.

If you would like to search AidData go to www.aiddata.org.   i