The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has selected The University of Texas at Austin to be a key partner in a five-year, $25 million grant to develop tools to more effectively target, monitor and evaluate foreign aid globally.
The grant will create an AidData Center for Development Policy (ACDP) and will include a faculty-student research program that will focus on producing and testing new methodologies for tracking aid in emerging areas of concern, such as food security and reconstruction in areas affected by war. This grant is the largest investment ever made into research aimed at mapping foreign aid on a global scale.
The program will be led by Catherine Weaver, associate professor of public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and Michael Findley, assistant professor in the Department of Government.
“We have hundreds of development groups distributing billions of dollars in aid all over the globe, with little coordination and knowledge-sharing,” said Findley. “Our research will create tools that will assist these development groups in being more effective, more targeted and more efficient in the distribution of their aid in these regions.”
Findley pioneered AidData’s recent mapping initiative, which uses geographical information systems (GIS) to dynamically visualize the precise locations of aid activities and is the foundation of the USAID grant. Findley’s aid mapping method has also been adopted by the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Aid Transparency Initiative. The UT program will include up to 10 graduate fellowships per year to provide students extensive training in aid mapping and analysis.
“As research fellows in this new center, graduate students will be able to work within governments of countries receiving aid and engage in cutting-edge collaborative research with leading scholars and practitioners in the field of global development,” said Weaver. “This program will not only produce new knowledge on the reach and impact of aid; it will also produce the next generation of highly trained and innovative development experts.”
In 2011 Weaver, a core researcher in the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law’s Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) program, worked with Findley; Development Gateway, a Washington, D.C.-based development technology agency; and the country of Malawi to produce the first maps to track aid in one country for all sectors and all official donors. The resulting maps, available on the CCAPS open source data dashboard, have set the standard for aid transparency.
“Our faculty’s work in this area has already been recognized and adopted by leading international development agencies and national governments, and the USAID grant will keep Dr. Weaver and Dr. Findley at the forefront of this movement,” said Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “USAID is taking a huge step forward in building real policy solutions on rigorous academic standards and research.”
The university is one of five partner institutions that form the ACDP, including Brigham Young University; Development Gateway; ESRI, a California-based geographical information systems company; and the College of William and Mary.