For those of us still enthralled by a very notoriously dysfunctional website, the recent release of AidData 3.0 should restore your faith in the power of the Internet and web developers. AidData is an online database that seeks to improve international development outcomes by making aid data accessible and actionable through crowdsourcing and an interactive user interface. The data portal allows any global development stakeholder to analyze over $40 trillion dollars in integrated remittances, FDI, foreign aid, private foundation grants, and domestic public expenditures across countries from 90+ donor agencies. AidData facilitates comparability between incoming financial flows and their subsequent real world outcomes and has the potential to be a valuable tool in the areas of development finance most readily amenable to policy changes.
The remarkable thing about AidData is that you do not have to work at the World Bank or even the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Prosperity to effectively engage the interactive database. The portal provides enhanced visualization tools that make online data analysis easy and intuitive, even on a granular level. Users can run search queries for a specific project, donor, or country and generate state-of-the-art visual dashboards and geographic information system (GIS) maps instead of cumbersome data tables; all the food security projects in the northern Antsiranana region of Madagascar are just clicks away for a finance minister managing a large aid portfolio, an NGO volunteer working in a local field office, or a researcher conducting an in-depth study.
Civil societies are being increasingly seen as “arenas” of evolving mass participation and information exchanges with entering and exiting NGOs, social movements, and private investors that advance the common interest over pursuing private goals rather than as a static term with rigid contours.The spirit of AidData in rooted in the recognition that a nation with the most wealthiest of donors or a developing country with the most pressing of needs cannot successfully partner unless they both operate in vibrant civil societies and have adequate access to information. The poor in any given country may think that a routinely absent teacher or doctor must be just an accepted feature of the poor and may not realize that this may be due to unaccountable and opaque political institutions. This is where not only AidData but mediums like radio broadcasts, mobile telecommunications, and SMS messages can supply vital information, triggering a demand for accountability from institutions and even reciprocally nudge individual behavior. For example, a community-level information project in Uganda utilized community monitoring of health workers and service providers to dramatically improve health outcomes. Health facilities began to use suggestion boxes and numbered waiting cards and the reductions in wait time and absenteeism were dramatic. Similarly, when individuals in Peru, Bolivia, and the Philippines received monthly SMS message reminders to make a monthly deposit into their savings account, the gross amount saved by the reminded individuals increased by 6%.
Those on the opposite side of the equation that are administering aid and spearheading various development projects benefit from AidData to an even greater degree. Looking toward the future, natural disasters—which have doubled since 1980—will present a real danger to international peace and security and augment displacement, business shocks, and enormous material damage in the most vulnerable of communities as they. When a disaster strikes, first response usually comes from NGOs and their volunteers and then big governments and organizations follow, resulting in inefficient and uncoordinated relief responses; one community may receive triples rations of food but no water with another community not receiving any aid at all. The GIS maps of AidData can be a less costly tool to coordinate humanitarian and disaster relief projects as those working on the ground can see in real time which areas have yet to receive help.
Individuals have a right to be informed in order to hold governments accountable. Information is needed to actively participate in decision-making and is increasingly needed to access government services. Nevertheless, information is useless if individuals in civil society are not enabled to act on it. Appraisals of civil society should reflect this fluid component and open data portals like AidData should continue to seize opportunities to enhance transparency and improve efficiency by providing accessible and utile data to all development stakeholders.