As an AidData Summer Fellow hosted by USAID/Peru, I quickly realized the auspicious timing of my fellowship. I was working with USAID to collect and analyze subnational development data in a country where geospatial data had recently become a national priority. Just a few weeks into my fellowship, I attended an event launching the Spatial Data Infrastructure of Peru, known by its spanish acronym, IDEP. I learned that work done by the regional governments to catalogue and publish their datasets for public consumption had been integrated with national data in a single comprehensive platform.
The IDEP initiative is representative of two paradigm shifts in the government of Peru: (1) Applying spatial data analysis to key policy areas like economic growth and domestic security; and (2) Adopting open data norms of access and accessibility. USAID/Peru seeks a similar change in its work with Peruvian NGOs, civil society organizations, and government agencies. Specifically, the Mission aims to develop competencies in geospatial data and analysis in order to improve the design, monitoring, and evaluation of its programming in Peru. This is related to USAID's agency-wide push for a geographic approach to development. As a Blakeley Fellow, I was thrilled to play a small part in helping to advance this long-term goal and to see how one of the world's largest aid agencies was collaborating with Peruvian organizations to advance development.
With over 50 years experience in the country, USAID/Peru has worked closely with the Peruvian government and NGO community on initiatives in the fields of environment, democracy & governance, health, education, and alternative development. However, the Mission has long struggled to effectively answer the question of where they work, which is key to both strategic planning and reporting. Internally, this lack of location information may hinder cooperation between technical offices working in the same geographic areas on interdependent programs. Externally, the organization is not adequately equipped to report subnational activity data and impact to relevant partners or beneficiaries.
Thus, the top priority for the Program Office at USAID/Peru was to develop an online map of all their activities in Peru, at a subnational level. This first involved gathering location information and geocoding activities across four technical offices. To ensure the sustainability of the project, we simultaneously sought to improve data collection and management of all project-related information from budget to geographic location. The design of a new internal activities database was critical in achieving this. Additionally, it was important to train Mission staff in ArcGIS Online, as this software is supported by the USAID GeoCenter in DC.
When I shared the new Activities Database and Map with USAID/Peru staff, I was encouraged by their enthusiasm. Simply seeing where other technical offices were working sparked dialogue. During and after trainings attended by key staff members from each office, we held conversations around spatial questions and how they may inform the Mission's development objectives in Peru.
But what does all this mean for local organizations who implement these projects? On one hand, USAID relies on its partners in Peru to report accurate location information so they may utilize GIS to inform investment decisions. More importantly, however, USAID now has the capacity to help its many partners monitor their progress, communicate their impact, and plan for future projects. Given the national focus on sharing geospatial data in Peru, I hope USAID/Peru and its implementing partners will continue to develop their capacity and ultimately reach more Peruvians with development solutions.