Friday, February 24, 2012
Owen Barder hosts Tim Harford for a discussion on how trial, error and small-scale failures could improve the aid industry.
Kentaro Toyama says that the benefits of India’s GDP growth have largely been limited to a select few, creating two Indias separated by wealth. The NewYork Times quotes the Prime Minister of India who said that it was a national shame to struggle to meet the MDGs despite so much growth in GDP.
The Guardian makes an interactive site with data on media and aid donor response to the Somalia famine. This was published in anticipation of a high-profile meeting of diplomats concerning the future of the country. Several relief organizations host a counter conference, calling for the depoliticization of aid to Somalia. Jina Moore asks why women aren’t better represented at the meeting. Alex De Waal argues that support should go to businessmen, not politicians.
Uganda's Ministry of Health is working to better coordinate a multitude of mobile for development projects occurring throughout the country.
The Center for Global Development describes a new scheme to help Liberia’s health system transition from emergency status to sustainability by pooling donations from several donors together.
Monday, February 20, 2012
This post first appeared on The Monkey Cage and is re-published here.
Earlier this month, President Obama hosted a Google+ Hangout session following his State of the Union address, in which he discussed and defended U.S. foreign aid policy. Fielding a question from a homeless veteran, Obama responded, “We only spend about 1 percent of our budget on foreign aid. But it pays off in a lot of ways…Aside from it being the right thing to do…it’s also important to make sure that people understand this is part of our overall security strategy.”
Since 9/11, the USG has promoted foreign assistance as a useful tool for combating global terrorism. Indeed, the case for foreign aid is often made on the basis of its presumed efficacy in preventing terrorism. But, until recently, the evidence supporting these claims was rather flimsy.
Formal models of the aid-terrorism relationship suggest that aid may prevent terrorism when it is targeted in ways that promote human capital through education (Azam and Thelen 2008; Bueno de Mesquita 2005). However, many of these theoretical arguments have not been subjected to careful empirical scrutiny because of insufficiently granular data.
A recent article by Joseph Young and Michael Findley seeks to correct these weaknesses. AidData’s detailed activity coding methodology allows the authors to disaggregate aid figures by project purpose. In their analysis, Young and Findley include separate measures of education aid to test the specific argument that aid targeted to education may prevent terrorism. They are also able to examine the potentially substitutable effects of general budget aid, health aid, and aid tied to counterterrorism.
Here is a brief summary of their findings:
Does foreign aid reduce terrorism? We examine whether foreign aid decreases terrorism by analyzing whether aid targeted toward certain sectors is more effective than others. We use the most comprehensive databases on foreign aid and transnational terrorism—AidData and ITERATE—to provide a series of statistical tests. Our results show that foreign aid decreases terrorism especially when targeted toward sectors, such as education, health, civil society, and conflict prevention. These sector-level results indicate that foreign aid can be an effective instrument in fighting terrorism if allocated in appropriate ways.
Young and Findley’s article demonstrates that finer-grained aid information is helping scholars gain greater leverage on questions related to aid allocation and effectiveness. A November 2011 special issue of World Development also features nearly a dozen empirical studies that rely on the project-level information contained in AidData.
A relatively new initiative to geo-reference the physical locations of individual aid projects has also opened up exciting new avenues for research on the sub-national determinants of aid distribution and impact. Consider the map below, which documents the spatial distribution of violence in Afghanistan and then overlays the geographical locations of successful and unsuccessful World Bank projects. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, this map suggests that aid projects are not more likely to fail in conflict-affected areas. Indeed, many failed World Bank projects seem to cluster in the relatively less violent provinces north of Kabul. Readers can find more analysis of this issue at AidData’s blog, The First Tranche. New efforts to geo-code the universe of aid in individual countries also merit attention.
I recommend AidData.org to readers of this blog who do aid-related empirical research. It contains a project-level database with more than 1 million individual development finance activities from 87 donor agencies to 200+ recipients from 1947 to 2011. And, while it includes the data in the OECD‘s Creditor Reporting System, it is not limited to official development assistance (ODA) flows. For example, it includes official loans from bilateral and multilateral lenders that do not meet the 25% concessionality threshold for ODA, flows to “non-ODA countries” (e.g. the United States, Russia), South-South cooperation activities, and other non-ODA technical cooperation activities. AidData also provides project-level data for many“non-traditional” donors, such as Brazil, India, South Africa, Poland, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In addition to its project-level database, AidData maintains an extensive collection ofreplication datasets associated with published research on aid allocation and aid effectiveness. If you’d like to include one of your own aid-related replication datasets in this collection, you can let the AidData team know by sending an email to email@example.com.
Brad Parks is Research Faculty at the College of William and Mary and Co-Executive Director of AidData
Friday, February 17, 2012
This week we are trying out a new feature—a compilation of recent links on aid effectiveness, transparency, development, and so forth from around the web. Please comment and share other stories that caught your eye! And let us know if you’d like us to do this regularly. Here goes...
Will mobile phones and mobile technologies help reach development goals or is this another one of many overhyped development fads? Watch a very lively panel discussion from the New America Foundation here, read panelist opinions here, and see an interactive map of mobile phone ownership around the world here.
Governments aren’t the only ones that become more accountable when there's greater transparency.
USAID, other US donor agencies launch a new push for innovation. Rolf Rosenkranz wonders how tolerant lawmakers will be of failed innovations produced by this effort.
A new data visualization using AidData (requires Java).
Some interesting analysis from Nancy Birdsall here and here on the selection of a new president at the World Bank.
And from AidData’s own Brad Parks, a plug on the Monkey Cage Blog for using project-level data to analyze aid effectiveness.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Bangladesh is a country with thousands of development organizations, each with hundreds of concurrent projects. For some perspective, in 2003 there were 6,559 development NGOs operating in the country, almost one for every village. The proliferation of aid actors in every conceivable sector--from social welfare to governance and the environment--raises a fundamental question: What is actually happening on the ground? For all these projects, many of which share similar goals and locations, there is limited available information on how the aid actually assists impoverished peoples.
Last year, I worked for the World Food Programme in Bangladesh, and observed firsthand how a lack of information sharing on-the-ground can hinder effective targeting of aid projects. Since development organizations have limited resources, they generally attempt to target their projects to areas of greatest need. I assisted with the initial implementation of a flood Emergency Response Operation in Satkhira, Bangladesh, a program targeting individuals displaced by the flood as well as pregnant women and young children.
As much as development organizations try to closely monitor project implementation, it is impossible to account for every detail of on-the-ground activity. NGOs sometimes find it advantageous to select their existing beneficiaries, or those who are not severely affected, in order to report significant improvements to their donors. Therefore, even if an NGO does not completely follow the implementation guidelines by targeting the intended beneficiaries, donors will have the false satisfaction of believing their project had its intended outcome. In order to identify projects where the same well-off households are repeatedly included on the beneficiary list, villagers need to be able to report on the aid they are receiving and who is being left out. Such a system would impose a check on NGO activity, pressuring them to target households with greatest need.
Increased transparency can also encourage better coordination between all of the different agencies working in a single location. In the case of the Satkhira flooding, numerous aid organizations had a presence, each with their own objectives. Everywhere I went I saw an assortment of development organization logos on shelters, latrines, and food rations. It was difficult to discern if there was any overarching coordination strategy. Indeed, as we talked to more people, they explained that some groups came in for a few days to give away bags of rice, while others had longer-term plans for building up the infrastructure and embankments. Wouldn’t it be more useful if the recipients of the development assistance could report on what aid they were receiving and what aid they still needed? Then, other donors could get a better picture of the situation and allocate funding for future projects accordingly.
In addition to improving aid coordination, transparency can enable development organizations to tailor projects to the specific needs of communities. For example, I am currently working with Innovations for Poverty Action on a randomized control trial (RCT) that is implementing demand and supply side treatments to bolster use of latrines and sanitation practices in Bangladeshi villages. As I monitored the baseline survey, I discussed the current sanitation situation with enumerators. Surprisingly, they discovered that not only was there a shortage of latrines in village households, but many village schools—built by a local NGO—also lacked latrine access. This could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the NGO had to build a certain number of schools and the budget did not allow for latrine construction, or perhaps they used the extra money for another project. But if the enumerators and villagers had a platform to report their observations on their latrines, donors could focus on funding the crucial sanitation component for the existing and future schools.
Crowdsourcing may be one way to address these sorts of coordination and targeting issues. Through the rapid diffusion of mobile technologies, people living and working in developing communities now have a mechanism to deliver real-time information on local conditions and project performance to donors. However, a common platform to aggregate, share, and make sense of monitoring and evaluation data does not yet exist.
AidData has recently overseen an RCT in Uganda to help develop a workable crowdsourcing model, and I hope this work expands to other areas soon. My experiences in Bangladesh have given me a new appreciation for the importance of repairing the broken feedback loop gap between donors and their intended beneficiaries. Identifying whether and how projects are functioning in impoverished communities is the central to designing effective poverty alleviation projects.
Ishita Ahmed is a former AidData Research Assistant at the College of William and Mary (’11).