Increased transparency of aid flows will increase the effectiveness of that aid. More effective aid will help donor governments to realize their objectives, save taxpayers money, and, ultimately, save lives of people in developing countries. —Michael Tierney, College of William & Mary
Founders hope to shed light on development finance, highlighting successes, failures, and fostering improved use of resources abroad
AidData, a new public website and search engine tracking development finance flows, will bring much more 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 today, March 24, at a conference in Oxford, UK.
Each year, governments and international organizations provide nearly 160 billion dollars to finance development projects in the world’s poorest countries. But large bureaucracies and complicated reporting often make these transactions difficult for citizens to see. 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.
Titled Aid Transparency and Development Finance: Lessons and Insights from AidData, the conference in Oxford will introduce AidData to an international audience representing donor governments, recipient governments, international organizations, think tanks and scholars. The project 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.
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.
AidData is the result of a merger between Project-Level Aid (PLAID) and Development Gateway’s Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA) database. 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 (PEDL). 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. AiDA, designed to provide updated feeds of development finance data, is supervised by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
With AidData, users can download traditional information on who gives the aid, who receives it, and how much money is at stake. But for the first time for many of the largest projects, AidData also makes available detailed, paragraph-long narratives. AidData uses these narratives to sort projects into more than 700 distinct activities. These improvements further disaggregate existing data to make aid information even more accessible to citizens, policymakers, aid workers, and researchers.
Daniel Nielson, director of the Political Economy and Development Lab at Brigham Young University, noted that more aid transparency ought to have a chilling effect on corruption. “When citizens can scrutinize and question aid projects as they are underway, there should be less wiggle room for governments and their contractors to divert money or steal it outright.”
“Of course, this is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problem of corruption, but I think transparency makes it much more difficult for donor governments and recipient governments to spend money for purposes that it was not intended to serve,” added Stephen Davenport, director of aid effectiveness at Development Gateway.
AidData has also added thousands of projects from donors whose aid giving in the past has been virtually unknown, such as China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Kuwait. By developing the website and search engine, AidData is making this and other development finance data accessible to all users.
Provocative questions being addressed by researchers using AidData include:
· What are the conditions under which aid is most effective?
· Which donors are the most transparent?
· What effect does corruption have on the allocation of foreign aid?
· Does foreign aid mitigate international or intra-state conflict?
· What are the environmental consequences of foreign aid?
The AidData portal will be available to the public for the first time on March 24, 2010 and will be continually updated and improved in the future. 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.
PLAID has received financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and other sources. Development Gateway’s AiDA has been primarily funded through grants from the governments of Australia and Germany.
Additional information about AidData is available online.
About the organizations:
The Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations at the College of William & Mary was established in 2008 to facilitate student and faculty research on policy relevant topics in international relations. Brigham Young University’s Political Economy and Development Lab supports research in international relations and international development. Development Gateway is an international non-profit organization that provides technological solutions to make aid and development efforts more effective around the world.