by Jim Ducibella
AidData, a research lab at William & Mary’s Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations, has received $2.95 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support an open geospatial data center in the country of Côte d’Ivoire.
In partnership with other nongovernmental organizations and the local government, AidData will implement the project over two years. It will be housed as part of AidData’s Sustainable Development Intelligence practice, with support from AidData’s Research and Evaluation practice.
According to Harsh Desai, an AidData program manager leading the project, this project is particularly exciting for the team as the collaboration is focused on saving lives.
“We are working to track HIV/AIDS at a precise level to help ensure those with the disease get the attention and services they need,” he said. “This project has real world consequences, and anything we can do to help the government better target resources is a win.
“It’s exciting to think about how AidData and William & Mary can extend our work overseas and help respond to the needs of the people there.”
The new project is designed to enhance the use of data by the government of Côte d’Ivoire and others, including civil society organizations and local communities, while empowering data-driven, innovative solutions, local ownership and leadership. The country has the highest HIV prevalence in the West Africa region.
The subsequent analysis will be incorporated into an online tool designed to integrate the various spatial data sources most useful for empowering more rigorous, evidence-informed decision making by local policy makers.
AidData’s Research and Evaluation practice will also conduct a Geospatial Impact Evaluation, a pioneering research technique that leverages satellite imagery and machine learning.
In addition, two Ivorian fellows will be hosted at W&M this summer and fall, where they will be trained in spatial analysis. Upon their return to Côte d’Ivoire, they will then work with local partners to assist with the analysis of data collected on the country’s HIV/AIDS program.
Importantly, the project has opened the door to additional opportunities with funders, while also engaging current students.
According to Desai, one benefit is that “we are seeing how this project integrates faculty and has a multiplier effect for research. One of my students, an IR major, is currently interning at the State Department and working in the area of global health. As part of her work at State she is supporting this project. So it’s a nice example of students gaining skills at AidData, using them in a policy position in D.C., which then connects back again to William & Mary.”
When the decision-support tool is complete, researchers will return to Côte d’Ivoire to train local partners on the use of the tool. Throughout the project, AidData and its partners will also secure upgrades to IT infrastructure and hardware as needed by Ivorian partners in order to facilitate wider data access and use in decision-making.
“One big part of the project is producing a research paper that looks at a specific question on how services for HIV/AIDs are delivered,” Desai added. “This research will then be directly incorporated into government programs, bridging theory and practice.”