Malawi’s Open Aid Map
In mid-2011, Malawi became the first country in the world to capture the near-universe of official development aid activities at the subnational level in a publicly available, dynamic map. Led by a team at the University of Texas at Austin’s Climate Change and African Political Stability team, in collaboration with AidData, Development Gateway, the Government of Malawi, the goals of the Open Aid Malawi initiative were three-fold. The first goal was to build upon the single-donor mapping efforts of the Mapping for Results partnership between the World Bank and AidData (Strandow et al 2011) to show that it was indeed possible to gather robust, subnational, project-level information on all donor programs throughout a country. The second goal was to apply the UCDP/AidData geocoding methodology (Findley et al 2011; Strandow et al 2011) to visualize these data on a publicly accessible and transparent interactive dashboard that would enable users to easily search for specific information on donors and their aid activities. The third and most important goal was to begin the process of facilitating development analysis, evaluation, and decision-making by national and international stakeholders. The publicly available maps make this possible by allowing users to display selected project- and activity-level aid data alongside other critical information, such as poverty, population density, and other development indicators. The end product was a major breakthrough in aid transparency, harnessing the power of geomapping to make aid data accessible and usable for a wide array of development stakeholders.
Given that other countries—Timor Leste, Uganda, Senegal, Haiti, and Kenya—are now following the Malawi model, this paper tells the story of Malawi’s Open Aid Map from conception to “proof of concept” to key lessons learned. The first section of the paper traces the evolution of the mapping initiative, detailing the key goals, actors, and processes that led to the collection and geocoding of information on nearly 800 aid projects and 2,900 activities from 31 ODA donors in Malawi. The second section presents the data and illustrates how the data have the potential to be a powerful tool for analysis and decision-making through the presentation and discussion of several types of maps, including those specific to key donors and sectors of aid. This section also discusses what we cannot see in the maps, highlighting critical data gaps and constraints that will inform future mapping work. The third section of the paper in turn offers reflections on the tremendous potential of aid mapping, while noting the challenges inherent to sustaining such work and the need to demonstrate the impact of mapping on aid transparency, accountability and effectiveness.