Hewlett Foundation gives $1.5 million grant to support AidData

AidData, a 35-person research lab located within William & Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR), has received a $1.5 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The grant, which provides funding over three years, will support the implementation of AidData’s strategic plan called Vision 2020. The principal objective of the plan is to help global development policymakers and practitioners make better decisions with data and evidence.

AidData currently works with governments, international organizations, private foundations and researchers, and equips them with cutting-edge data, methods, tools and analysis. Under Vision 2020, AidData will focus its efforts in five areas where it already has specialized expertise and a track record of delivering results.

  • Listening to Leaders (LTL) — Aid agencies rarely listen to and learn from the perspective and priorities of decision-makers on the ground in the countries where they work. AidData will lead an ambitious effort to address this problem by conducting surveys of leaders from 126 developing countries and documenting how they value and use incoming aid and advice.
  • Transparent Development Footprints (TDF) — Some donors, lenders and investors — such as China and Saudi Arabia — do not publicly disclose detailed information about their overseas activities. AidData will use innnovative methods to track and analyze these underreported financial flows.
  • Sustainable Development Intelligence (SDI) — AidData will build new tools that pinpoint with greater accuracy which (vulnerable) groups of people stand to benefit most and least from specific development investments. AidData will also work with governments and international organizations to monitor progress over time within these disadvantaged localities and demographic cohorts to ensure that no one is left behind.
  • Geospatial Impact Evaluation (GIE) — Far too few development programs undergo rigorous impact evaluation. AidData will work closely with aid agencies and development banks to evaluate the short-term and long-term effectiveness of their programs with geospatial impact evaluation techniques.
  • Geospatial Data and Tools for Analysis (GEO) — Leveraging the university’s high performance computing complex (“SciClone”), AidData will make it substantially easier for program evaluators, policy analysts and scientists around the world to access and use high-resolution and high-frequency geospatial data from satellites, surveys and administrative sources.

“The Hewlett Foundation’s willingness to provide predictable and flexible support has significantly expanded our global reach and influence,” said Brad Parks ’03, executive director of William & Mary’s AidData. “This type of core funding is crucial because it allows us to invest time and effort into ahead-of-the-market innovations that have the potential to be scaled globally.”

AidData serves as a bridge between the global development research and policy communities. It works closely with USAID, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the German Development Bank and the Gates Foundation.

Since its founding in 2003, W&M students have played an important role in AidData’s day-to-day work. Each year, between 50 and 100 students work alongside AidData faculty and staff on a wide array of data collection, research and policy outreach activities. To date, AidData has dispatched more than 80 students to government ministries, universities and non-profits in developing countries to train and equip their host organizations. These AidData Summer Fellows have helped to map public health facilities, typhoon evacuation routes, and Ebola response and recovery efforts, among other things.

“AidData gave me an opportunity to work with first-rate faculty and students on projects that were both academically rigorous and policy relevant,” said Austin Strange ’12, who developed a first-of-its-kind method for tracking China’s global development footprint with Brad Parks. “One thing I have done at AidData that I could not do anywhere else is design a research project with the guidance of faculty, and then assemble a team of over a dozen researchers to begin work on that project.”

In 2015, AidData students created an information portal following the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal. The portal was used to help track relief efforts, assist in disaster data collection and identify damaged buildings and roads, providing that information back to responders on the ground in Nepal, as well as donors working remotely.

“William & Mary trains its students to work toward the betterment of humanity, and it has been remarkable to see that principle in action at AidData,” said Matthew T. Lambert ’99, vice president for university advancement. “Their research helps maximize the impact of giving through William & Mary for the benefit of communities around the globe, and ensures that citizens can hold their leaders accountable.”