What does aid look like?

Last night on twitter there was a discussion around this chart, produced by Global Humanitarian Assistance (@gha_org), who incidentally have a mighty fine looking website that you should visit.Map of Aid Players

GHA’s Map of Aid Players

Saddo pedants like me leapt in to say: its great that it has most of the key players nicely arranged, but it is not really a map in that is actually misinformative about the locations, flows and relationships between these players. More of a nicely arranged taxonomy, in which at-a-grasp visual meaning seems to have been deprioritized in order to put the aid recipient in the centre.

My concern is that as a result it might actually lower the comprehension of how aid works, especially for the casual drive-by viewer. The most obvious one to my mind is that donor agencies, global funds and UN agencies predominantly do not interface directly with aid recipients, but mainly work through developing country governments and NGOs for that first mile/last mile of aid provision.

Tariq Khokar put put out a challenge to crowd-source a better version, based on the original diagram. That editable diagram is here. However Tariq also drew attention to this diagram which I think is a much better starting point, in terms of the actual information within, though it is unfortunately a bit spaghetti-and-meatballs:

Spaghetti alla beneficiana

I’ve taken a first crack at reshaping it into a diagram slightly more visually intuitive. To me, anyway! It’s certainly not yet up to information-is-beautiful standards but perhaps an iteration in that direction.

Aid relationships & flows (after Hosni Kharas)

I’ve left out some important detail (ie: reverse flows, internal absorption inside each box) because I couldn’t chart that quickly in half an hour at lunch. (Seriously, for the want of a big thick arrow pointing one way and a little one pointing the opposite way…). There’s also a whole subset of boxes you could put inside the ‘voluntary organisations’ box, from grant-making foundations, to INGOs, to national and local NGOs. The size of each box is important in this visual representation. Should they be size for the cash value they pass on to the next entity, or for the number of people/organisations involved, or some other estimation of their importance?

And of course the key thing missing from this chart is the ‘community’ line from the original GHA chart. Let’s add an element of that for some real perspective.

Aid flows including remittances

(Source for remittances to poor countries figure: Migration Policy Institute.)

I might be able to improve on it a little in coming days using Visio. Maybe even with colours, innit!

So, over to you lot. Is this worth building on? How can we improve this?


9 Comments on “What does aid look like?”

  1. Ian Thorpe says:

    Excellent stuff. Much clearer than the spaghetti we were playing around with yesterday.

    It would be useful to add the IFIs, since they circulate a lot of $ and also their flows are rather interesting.

  2. That’s great!

    While I think producing beatiful and informative graphics is best left to information designers, I’m also interested in the insiders vs outsiders views of what the aid sector looks like.

    I’m reminded of a small exhibition I saw where a psychologist / artist had set a challenge to adults and children in the USA and the UK: draw how your government works.

    It was freaking hilarious.

    As I remember, the diagrams that the USA children and adults drew were pretty similar: fancy buildings for the executive, legislative and judicial branches with the president, senators and supreme court under each one along with some arrows showing bills and laws.

    Kids and adults in the UK basically essentially drew the Queen, big ben and a plate of spaghetti.

    All this is not to make any particular point – I just think we can learn a lot from understanding how different people in and around the aid sector perceive it.

    Plus maps are cool.

    • Cynan says:

      > insiders vs outsiders views of what the aid sector looks like.

      That’s a really interesting idea. I wonder if someone Saundra S (who I think is, or is looking to, work with schools) could collect some examples from the outside.

      > Plus maps are cool.

      Maps are deeply cool. To me maps aren’t really about geography. They’re history.There’s nothing I like more than finding a random old atlas in a charity shop or jumble sale. First thing I’ll do is find the page with the world political map. Then work out what year the atlas was published based on which countries are and aren’t there. “What’s this, both Tanganyika and the U.A.R? Yippee, 1961!” I did mention in the post above that I was a sad case…

  3. Ayesha Hasan says:

    Excellent chart and diagrams. Great post. Thanks!

  4. Penelope says:

    I’ve been dying to work on something like a taxonomy of the aid world… I think you could even go deeper, by adding IFIs as suggesting by Ian, but also differentiating further. For example, social justice NGOs (a la Amnesty/HRW) are very different in their dynamics from orgs like Technoserve or DAI, which don’t even function as non-profits. Also, where do you put orgs like Acumen Fund, or other “social entreprise” work?
    Either way, great idea!

    • Cynan says:

      Thanks for the input Penelope. I’m going to resist the urge to turn this into a fully comprehensive taxonomy though – I think that would be better a separate chart or document.

      Re acumen fund et al: Yes, they are different from typical NGOs. But in terms of the above at least, how do they not fit into the box of ‘private aid organisations’, ie an intermediary between rich people and poor? Yes they have a business focus and investment rather than granting model. Just wondering how to best reflect that, at a risk of getting tied up in the how and not the who.

  5. […] does aid look like? This 'map of aid players' will give the international development community something to […]

  6. […] developing country governments and NGOs for that first mile/last mile of aid provision” writes Cynan) and that this kind of map making charm could potentially lower the comprehension about how aid […]

  7. […] developing country governments and NGOs for that first mile/last mile of aid provision” writes Cynan) and that this kind of map making charm could potentially lower the comprehension about how aid […]

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