Crowdsourcing and Scorecarding: Experiments to improve aid effectiveness in Uganda

Hello all!

My name is Alena Stern, and I am a rising Senior double majoring in International Relations and Economics.  I am particularly interested in economic development and the role of foreign aid and international assistance in developing countries.  Since my freshmen year, I have been working as a research assistant for the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations at the College.  One of the projects housed at the Institute is AidData, a collaboration between William and Mary, BYU, and Development Gateway that promotes the dissemination, analysis, and understanding of development finance information.  With the generous assistance of the Murray Scholars Program, I will be heading to Uganda this summer to work on two different AidData projects studying how to improve the transparency and effectiveness of the aid sector in Uganda.

Many scholars and practitioners have called attention to the shortcomings of foreign aid in promoting growth in developing countries.  One problem that is often mentioned is that, of the roughly $150 billion in foreign aid received by developing countries annually, research has suggested that only a small portion of this money actually reaches the intended beneficiaries.  A large portion of the diverted money is lost to corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency (Svensson 2000, Knack 2001). Of the money that does reach the right hands, it often ends in unsustainable projects that do not produce the intended results due to inefficiencies or project abandonment.

Two breakdowns in the service provider-recipient relationship contribute to the capture of foreign aid funds by corrupt officials and bureaucratic inefficiencies.  The first is a breakdown in useful information provision.  It is not a lack of information driving this breakdown, but a failure to centralize these sources in a useful way.  Studies have suggested that individuals and organizations with access to useful information are far more likely to play an effective oversight role (Miller 2005, Gordon and Huber 2002).   Often times, the most useful information regarding where aid is needed and whether aid dollars are being spent effectively is held by citizens in developing countries.  However, these citizens generally lack the tools and access needed to provide direct feedback on project status or impact.

The first project I will be working on this summer will investigate the use of crowdsourcing to solve this information breakdown.  Crowdsourcing is an idea that leverages the wisdom of the crowd to answer a question or solve a problem that would traditionally be posed to a specific actor.  For example, in the business world, companies may use crowdsourcing to get ideas for a new product.  This summer, AidData will be partnering with UNICEF and Ushahidi to run a randomized control trial in Uganda  to test which incentive mechanisms (ie. reimbursement, additional payment, social connection, public praise, instant feedback, engagement of local village councils, and relayed information about local outcomes, etc.) are most effective in compelling Ugandan citizens to participate in crowdsourcing to provide useful information on development needs and outcomes.  The application of incentive mechanisms will be randomized across districts in Uganda, so that results can be compared against control districts to isolate the effect of the treatment.  I will be working as a research assistant on this project, coordinating the AidData effort with the UNICEF Zonal Office in Gulu District, Northern Uganda.

The second breakdown in the foreign aid sector is a breakdown in accountability.  Unlike governments. the typical service providers in developed countries, aid providers are not directly accountable to the citizens they serve through elections.  Because of this, aid providers are often not held accountable for the development outcomes of their projects, an important incentive for effective service provision.

The second project will investigate the use of scorecarding NGOs to help ameliorate the problems caused by the accountability breakdown.  Scorecarding refers to the quantitative assessment of NGO performance along seven metrics:  policy structure, organization stability, accountability to stakeholders, transparency of information, financial viability, resource efficiency, and monitoring and evaluation.  We will then collaborate with NGO partners in Uganda to randomize the publication of the scorecards of different NGOs to different stakeholders within Uganda’s NGO market (i.e. donor organizations, local and national politicians, project beneficiaries, etc.). This randomization will allow us to assess which stakeholders are the most influential in inspiring effectiveness in the NGO sector.  I will work as the research assistant coordinating the evaluation of NGOs in Northern Uganda.

I look forward to everyone’s feedback and advice throughout the summer, and I am excited to watch my research and the research of my fellow bloggers progress!