Geo-coding aid: powerful and not that hard

This is very cool.  A team of researchers from Development Gateway and AidData have worked with the World Bank to add detailed subnational geographical information to all of the Bank’s active projects in the Africa and Latin America region.  This isn’t just pins in a map showing the country where the money is spent: they have looked through the project documentation to find out as far as possible the geographic coordinates of the actual locations where aid the activities take place.

This video by AidData explains brilliantly what geocoding means, and why its important. Take a look:

Serious kudos to the World Bank, Development Gateway and AidData for doing this work. Geocoding is going to have a huge impact on improving the accountability and effectiveness of aid.  By geocoding these World Bank projects manually, the team has demonstrated that geocoding aid is feasible. As Development Gateway’s Steve Davenport says in the video: “This is not that difficult”.

If the new standards for publishing aid information that are being designed by donors under the International Aid Transparency Initiative include appropriate standards for geo-coding of all aid activities, then it won’t be necessary for these projects to be coded by hand in future.  The people funding the projects would geocode their projects from the outset, and this information would be included in the data feeds, so everyone will have more comprehensive, more accurate and more precise about who is doing what, and where.

If you want more background, aidinfo’s paper Show Me The Money explains how geo-coding, traceability and transaction level details make a powerful combination for improving the effectiveness and accountability of aid.

H/T: my colleagues at aidinfo

5 comments on “Geo-coding aid: powerful and not that hard”

  1. Hi Owen, thank you for the great post! FYI Together with the World Bank Institute we are planning to release the geocoded data by the end of September. Hope you and your followers will enjoy the new wave of information available!

  2. It is great to see these organizations promoting geo-coding as part of the transparency of development aid. At we have been promoting more open project reporting for a number of years and have found several challenges:

    1. Geo-coding needs to be easy to use. You need to supply tools that are easy to use and that fits well into the current process, without requiring a huge educational effort. The people working with project reporting often do not have the skills required to create easy to use current geo-coding tools.

    2. You need low barriers to entry to participation. The geo-coding tools are fairly computer resource intensive. You need a good internet connection and a reasonably modern computer to be able to actually work with the maps. Tools for those not connected to the internet are needed.

    3. Automated access to data is important. Geo-coded maps are a great tool to quickly understand where projects happen, but the tools often do not lend themselves to create amalgamated datasets from multiple organizations or even within the same organization. You are in danger of having hundreds of maps with overlapping data. So you need well defined computerized interfaces to be able to import data automatically, i.e. so called APIs are needed.

    All this put together means that today you will generally have maps and geo-coded project information, created at the centre of the organization, with limited use for the people who actually do implementation work in the field. To fix this problem, we at Akvo we are working on a number of projects to make geo-coding easier to deal with:

    First, geo-coding tools for projects will be an integrated part of Akvo Really Simple Reporting (Akvo RSR) as of the next major release, which will come out during the late autumn of 2010.

    Second, we are launching Akvo SMS, which will allow field reporting connected to all projects in Akvo RSR using a simple mobile phone using basic SMS text services. So any field worker with a mobile phone will be able to participate with near-realtime reporting from any mobile phone.

    Finally, Akvo RSR has an open API where you can retrieve information programmatically, including geo-code data. We are participating in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to make the Akvo RSR API IATI compliant.

    To read more about the latest on Akvo RSR our open-source tool for this type of work, please check out our blog:

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and