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New portal seeks to liberate aid data

UPDATE 3/26/10 11:50 EDT: Some readers have asked for more specific information on how AidData differs from the OECD project-level database. See the comments section for detailed answers from the AidData team.

AidData, a new development finance data portal, was launched on Tuesday along with a companion blog called The First Tranche. From their inaugural post:

AidData 1.0…assembles more aid projects from more donors totaling more dollars than have ever been available from a single source before. AidData catalogues nearly one million projects that were financed between 1945 and 2009, adding or augmenting data on $1.9 trillion of development finance records. We currently have data from 87 different donors, and data from even more donors will come online every few months.

According to a report from the AidData conference in Oxford today, the new portal adds both breadth (more donors) and depth (greater detail at the project level) to the current aid data resources like OECD-CRS. The AidData portal contains some project-level data on where aid money flows from lesser-known donors like Saudia Arabia (Togo? Gambia?), South Africa (what’s going on with Guinea?), Kuwait, Poland, and Chile.

Created with data from

Created with data from

Presenters at the conference in Oxford this week based their work on the newly-available data from the AidData portal. They used the data to propose answers to questions like— – Does foreign aid bring about regime change? – Are “oil” donors like Saudi and Kuwait becoming more or less generous with rising income? – Will China remain a “rogue donor” or is it moving towards greater integration with traditional donors? Some exploratory tinkering with the site reveals that the AidData team—made up of scholars, researchers and practitioners from William and Mary, Brigham Young University, and Development Gateway—has created a relatively user-friendly interface on their site. The group’s geeky motto gets a second from Aid Watch: “Liberate the Data!”

Rescheduled NYU event for readers in New York: Professor Brautigam, American University professor and author of the new book The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, is giving a lunchtime seminar at NYU today. (The event was rescheduled because of a snowstorm in February.) Read our previous blog post on the book, or click here for more information about the event.

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  1. Oliver wrote:

    I think the Aid Data website is a great idea. 3D bar charts, however, are a great way to make the data as incomprehensible as possible.

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  2. anon wrote:

    Great news.

    Olivier, thanks for a truly helpful comment. Really pushing the field forward. (I find the charts totally comprehensible).

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  3. I agree with Oliver (and Edward Tufte): creating a 3D graph from 2 dimensions of data means that part of the graph conveys . . . nothing. The purpose of the graph is to convey the data. The shading and 3dimensionality distort that message.

    “The number of information-carrying (variable) dimensions depicted should not exceed the number of dimensions in the data” — The Visual Display of Information

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  4. Andy wrote:

    How is anything distorted or rendered incomprehensible by these graphs? What is there about a straight line on a computer screen that Oliver and Joel aren’t getting?

    Someone please enlighten me…in 2D format only please.

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  5. Andy,

    If you are really interested in this, I highly recommend reading Edward Tufte’s book (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — just Google it). Mr. Tufte is very likely the foremost expert on how to communicate both simple and complex data effectively.

    Also, here is a page that explains quickly with images the point about using 3d to display 2d: just scroll down to the Examples heading.

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  6. Whitney wrote:

    How is this any different and in more depth than the OECD CRS project level database?

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Laura Freschi wrote:

    Thanks for citing Tufte, he’s a great reference.

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  8. Zach wrote:

    Re: Whitney. Aiddata includes many projects that don’t meet an arbitrary threshold to be classified as Official Development Assistance but that are essentially doing the same thing, it includes 15 more bilateral donors than are in the CRS and more multilateral banks. It includes much more detailed descriptions about projects, and lots of other things that are beyond the scope of the Creditor Reporting Service/DAC.

    The end result is that AidData includes about twice as much development assistance in terms of money passed through specific projects. This is spelled out in more depth here:

    Posted March 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  9. Laura Freschi wrote:

    From an email I got today from Jessica Sloan of Development Gateway, one of the AidData partners:

    There are two major ways in which AidData differs from the CRS. It’s important to note that the majority of our bilateral data does come from the hard work of the DAC folks, but as you noted, we do also include a number of donors that are either not DAC members or do not yet report their project-level information to the CRS. While you note that most of them are small, some of them, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, are actually very significant donors. We also include additional multilateral donors. Some, such as BADEA, are non-members, but others, like the EBRD, are excluded from the CRS because they do not lend strictly ODA. However, the EBRD lends an enormous amount of money for development purposes, and we argue that leaving them out significantly skews the picture of aid.

    The second way in which AidData differs from the CRS in terms of coverage is by adding more information for some donors that are already in the DAC. A great example of this is the World Bank. Although the IBRD and IDA funds do have their information appear in the CRS, by going to original project documents and other information available directly from the Bank we were able to capture richer information than what the CRS makes available. Longer and more detailed project descriptions, additional details on lending terms, and information on project co-financers are just a few of the items that we’ve collected directly from donors and their public documents. The AidData codebook has a list of the sources of all the information in AidData by donor if you wanted more detail on what came from where.

    AidData is also working on applying an expanded version of the CRS sector coding scheme to all projects. This coding scheme allows for multiple codes per project and breaks up some of the broader sectors into sub-categories, which means that users trying to track a particular kind of development assistance will have a much easier time identifying relevant projects. However, this feature is incomplete in the beta version of AidData that was released this week.

    Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  10. Bruno wrote:

    Am I right in saying that most of the ‘new’ data in the dataset is actually all commitments ?

    Posted March 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  11. Anna wrote:

    Re: Bruno

    You are correct that the data currently focuses almost exclusively on adding new commitments and includes little disbursement data–though not by choice on the part of the AidData team. Data on disbursements is simply difficult to obtain.
    We do have plans to add disbursement data as we can locate it. For example, we will be adding disbursement data in the near future for the IBRD & IDA. And a pilot project we are working on for USAID data would improve coverage for that donor both on commitments AND disbursements.

    If you are aware of sources for disbursement data that we have missed we would love to hear about it (

    –Anna Bergevin
    AidData Project Manager

    Posted March 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

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  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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