Making Data Accessible to Affect Policy: Will it Work?

Brookings has compiled a series of data that they consider to be Development, Aid and Governance Indicators. The data is meant to support “evidence-based policy analysis and foster discussions about trends in foreign assistance, governance and global development.” To do that, Brookings took the data and put it into an interactive and open dashboard. Users can go on and examine how aid volumes, quality and risk have changed over the past few decades. In some cases you can even travel into the future! The objective measures are interesting to see, but the subjective ones are what deserve more attention. One measure is quality of official development assistance which is defined by Brookings:

QuODA is an assessment of the quality of official development assistance provided by 23 donor countries and 8 multilateral agencies. Donors are assessed using 31 indicators grouped into four dimensions of aid quality: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing burden, and transparency and learning.

A July blog post by Daniel Kaufmannhoned in on the issue of governance and corruption. The data analyzed points towards some donors, including the US, having a high risk of development assistance being lost to corruption or misgovernance. Further, supporting countries with poor governance through direct assistance does not produce a measurable change in governance performance.

Specifically, the aid disbursed by the United States, on average, ends up in a recipient country with corruption in the 75th percentile rank of corruption (100 indicating the most corrupt country in the world). In comparison, aid from EU Institution is channeled toward countries that on average rate in the 65th percentile. It may, however, be argued that some donors allocate aid to recipients with initially very low quality governance (fragile states, for instance), with the expectation that these countries will improve their governance performance. From this perspective, initially low levels of aid selectivity may not be inconsistent with eventual aid effectiveness. To test this claim, we assessed whether greater volumes of development assistance have a payoff in terms of improved governance performance, thus possibly resulting in reduced future donor vulnerability of aid. Overall, we found that that aid to countries experiencing governance challenges does not result in improved governance in subsequent years. But, there is evidence that some bilateral aid channeled to lower-income countries and recipients with initially very low corruption control and governance ratings may contribute to improved control of corruption and overall governance in the long-term.

Brookings is hopeful that the evidence provided will lead to a shift in the way that US foreign assistance is delivered. The question is if policymakers are taking the time to look through the data and listen to the recommendations made. For an aid wonk, this is a really fantastic set of information provided in a more accessible manner. There are some finer points to debate when it comes to determining exactly what makes aid effective or how effective governance should be measured that can provide fodder for a fascinating debate.

However, the issue of changing policy sits at the forefront as the goal and greatest challenge. The issue of foreign aid will largely stay on the sidelines of the presidential elections unless Ryan/Romney advocate for it to be completely cut. Will a new administration or a revamped one heed the advice provided?

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.