AidData is a signature student-faculty research initiative at the College of William and Mary. It began in 2003, when a student set out to write his undergraduate honors thesis on the global distribution of environmental assistance. He confronted a major challenge: existing data on foreign aid flows were not particularly accessible or usable. He had a big idea -- to capture the entire universe of foreign assistance at the project level in a single database. He enlisted the support of three professors at William & Mary -- a political scientist, an economist, and a sociologist -- and together they won a National Science Foundation grant to pursue this big idea.
From 2003 to 2009, students and faculty at William & Mary and Brigham Young University began building the Project-Level Aid (PLAID) database. PLAID later received several large grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which were critical to AidData's growth and eventual policy impact.
In 2009, William & Mary and Brigham Young University joined forces with Development Gateway's Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA) program to build the AidData.org webportal, which provides a one-stop shop for detailed information about more than 1 million projects from more than 85 bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and development banks. AidData now tracks nearly $5.5 trillion in global development finance.
In 2010, AidData achieved an important milestone. It was established as a long-term partnership between three organizations—the College of William & Mary, Brigham Young University, and Development Gateway—with sustainable sources of funding. The partnership now benefits from a strong governance structure, with a Steering Committee comprised of senior administrators and faculty members at the three institutions and Co-Executive Directors that oversee the day-to-day management of AidData’s research and innovation activities. The partnership is also supported by 14 full-time and 8 part-time staff members who oversee data collection, standardization, and quality assurance tasks; maintain hardware systems, software systems, and the online user interface; facilitate and mobilize funding for partnerships with bilateral and multilateral aid agencies; promote awareness and utilization of AidData.org among scholars, policymakers, development practitioners, civil society organizations, and journalists; and perform other essential project management and administrative tasks. Today, AidData is widely regarded as a global leader in the provision of reliable, timely, and detailed information about foreign assistance projects.
AidData's success is the result of a decade of patient labor by more than a dozen faculty, nearly 200 students, and a large number of affiliates in other universities and non-profit organizations. To date, AidData has attracted more than $30 million in competitive grants from private foundations, government agencies, and international organizations. AidData also maintains productive partnerships with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the OECD, GFDRR, FAO, UNICEF, Ushahidi, the IATI Secretariat, Esri, the University of Texas at Austin, and various aid management institutions in developing countries.
For example, AidData has spearheaded a global movement to “geocode” aid projects through interactive maps, and visualize aid information through user-friendly dashboards. AidData is also involved in groundbreaking pilot programs to crowdsource feedback from aid beneficiaries. See a full list of AidData initiatives.