Tuesday was the launch of the AidData 3.0 platform, a joint effort led by the College of William & Mary, Brigham Young University, and Development Gateway. The site makes it easy to visualize aid flows in various ways, calling itself a “comprehensive data portal on development finance” with all IATI standard-compliant data. Some of its useful applications include:

  • Comparing aid flows with data on remittances, FDI, and private foundation flows
  • Creating bar and pie charts to quickly understand aid breakdown by donor, country, and sector
  • Making maps with the geocoded data to gain a clearer view of aid destinations down to the subnational level
  • Exporting the data for offline analysis and presentation

In one of the plenary remarks, Homi Kharas, an economist at Brookings Institution, suggested that to make AidData more valuable it should not only display the data it has, but also note the data that is missing. I think recognizing these unknowns, along with with the tools AidData already provides, is key to bridging the gap between data and knowledge. In that regard I have a few observations and wishes:

  • Aid flows do not always go where intended and geocoding may bely this fact.
  • The provided donor information is highly aggregated and does not reveal the responsible institution for non supra-national entities (i.e. USAID falls under United States and I do not believe the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) uses the AidData platform, preferring its own system).
  • Of no fault of AidData, some donor countries and institutions provide their aid information more regularly than others, a caveat that should be made clear.
  • I wish we knew more about aid initiatives ‘in the works’—this would certainly be useful for aid coordination across donors.
  • If available, further details on FDI and private foundation flows, aside from gross amounts, should be given.
  • Having just been to the Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) conference, where illicit financial flows featured strongly in the agenda, it is important for any aid data platform to acknowledge their magnitude. A 2012 report by Global Financial Integrity estimated that developing countries lost US$5.86 trillion to illicit outflows between 2001 and 2010.