Dr. Daniel Nielson, Department of Political Science
Reaching Academic Objectives
Between 2007 and 2009 the students in my mentoring research program helped fill out the Project-Level Aid (PLAID) Database, now called AidData and located at aiddata.org, to such an extent that the academic fruits became both evident and prominent. With the help of the mentored students we were able to expand, improve, and finally release the database. It has become the most useful tool for pursuing research questions regarding foreign aid and development assistance. It has also become a frequented site of aid policymakers and practitioners. It is – by far – the most comprehensive database on development finance, with nearly one million project records and more than $4.2 trillion tracked. In 2008, PLAID received $2.4 million in grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The MEG grants provided the seed money for these larger awards. We rolled out AidData at a prominent conference held at Oxford University in March of 2010.
Mentored students have driven the research process. MEG-supported research assistants have presented their work at important national and international meetings. Many of these students are moving on to pursue master’s degrees, law degrees, and doctoral degrees from top schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan, UC-San Diego, Johns Hopkins, University of Georgia, and University of Minnesota, among many others.
Each of the mentored students met with me and my colleagues, Michael Findley, Darren Hawkins, and Sven Wilson weekly, often multiple times. We held weekly group meetings where, in addition to coordinating research activities, we presented and discussed papers being prepared for publication. We treated group meeting much like a professional seminar, and mentored students rose to the occasion by preparing excellent papers and coming to group meeting ready to engage them at a very high level of discourse. We have used this weekly meeting to begin preparing an ambitious book project to address the effectiveness of foreign aid in a variety of sectors, in which MEG-supported research assistants have played an integral role. In addition to this weekly meeting I met regularly with small groups of students to critique students’ individual research projects, where students received thorough feedback on their work. Several new research ideas have resulted from the group and individual discussions, and student authors have received critiques helpful to their goals of publishing their work.
In addition to the group meetings, and perhaps most rewardingly, I took the time to meet with individual students to talk about future career plans, their research, and the way to harmonize professional goals with discipleship. I feel this is the time where I have most connected with my students. This combined approach of mentoring students on a group and individual basis has enabled me to enjoy valuable relationships with students while guiding them through the rigorous task of producing high-quality research. Importantly, a project that grew directly from a student idea was recently accepted for publication by one of the two most prestigious journals in political science, the American Journal of Political Science.
Recent Publications (former and current mentored students in bold):
- Richard A. Nielsen, Michael G. Findley, Zachary S. Davis, Tara Candland, and Daniel L. Nielson. 2011. Foreign Aid Shocks as a Cause of Violent Armed Conflict. American Journal of Political Science. Forthcoming.
- Mona M. Lyne, Daniel L. Nielson, and Michael J. Tierney. “Controlling Coalitions: Social Lending at the Multilateral Development Banks.” 2009. With Mona Lyne and . Review of International Organizations 4, 4 (December): 407-433.
Several MEG-supported conference papers were also presented (former and current mentored students in bold):
- Zachary Christensen, Richard Nielsen, Daniel Nielson and Michael Tierney. “Transparency Squared: Exploring the Relationship Between Donor Transparency and Recipient Corruption.” . Conference on Aid Transparency and Development Finance: Lessons from AidData. March 22-25, 2010, University College, Oxford, UK.
- Zachary Christensen, Dustin Homer, and Daniel Nielson. “‘We Don’t Need No Education’: Evaluating the Impact of Education-Specific Foreign Aid on Enrollment Rates.” Conference on Aid Transparency and Development Finance: Lessons from AidData. March 22-25, 2010, University College, Oxford, UK.
- Richard Nielsen and Daniel Nielson. “Lending Democracy: How Governance Aid Improves Governance.” Research Seminar at the College of William and Mary. February 4, 2010, Williamsburg, VA.
- Swati Sharma, Zach Davis, and Michael Findley. 2009. “Deadly Gift? The Effect of Foreign Aid on Terrorism.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, New York.
- Timothy Layton and Daniel Nielson. 2009. “Aiding Inequality: The Effect of Foreign Aid on Income Inequality.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, New York.
- Joshua Loud, Daniel Nielson, and Christopher O’Keefe. 2008. “Faith and Foreign Aid: The Effects of Islam on Development Finance.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, San Francisco.
- Nielsen, Richard and Daniel Nielson. 2008. “Lending Democracy: How Governance Aid Improves Governance.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
- Nielson, Daniel and Michael J. Tierney. 2008. “Principals and Interests: Common Agency and Multilateral Development Bank Lending.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
- Gebhard, Nathaniel, Katherine Kitterman, Ashley Anne Mitchell, Daniel Nielson, and Sven Wilson. 2008. “Healthy Aid? Preliminary Results on Health Aid Effectiveness.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
- O’Keefe, Christopher. 2008. “Explaining Multilateral Aid: Conceptual Issues and Rationalist Approaches.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
- Kapfer, Steve, Rich Nielsen, and Daniel Nielson. 2007. “If You Build it, Will They Come? Foreign Aid’s Effects on Foreign Direct Investment.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
- Loud, Joshua, and Daniel L. Nielson. 2007. “Does Adjustment Lending Work? Policy Reforms in the Wake of Program Lending.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
- Nielson, Daniel and Christopher O’Keefe. 2007. “IOs as Norms Platforms: The World Bank’s Influence on Environmental Practice at the Islamic Development Bank.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, San Francisco.
- O’Keefe, Christopher and A. Bradley Potter. 2007. “Collective Delegation and World Bank Allocation.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Chicago.
Much of the travel for these conferences was funded by the Mentoring Environment Grant (some was covered by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). These students, who otherwise could not have afforded to attend, were able to present their papers at the conferences, received valuable comments, and network with influential scholars in the discipline.
Results and Findings of the Project
The tangible results of this project include the public release of AidData, as well as the numerous publications, presentations, and posters the students produced as a result of the mentoring program. In addition to this, our research projects addressed several important questions regarding foreign aid, and some important findings resulted from the research. Regarding delegation at the international level, we found evidence that, contrary to conventional assumptions of political science, it is not inherently more difficult to design effective delegation mechanisms at the international level than at the domestic level. International organizations are better understood as bureaucracies that can be controlled to varying degrees by their political masters. In addition to the research results of the project regarding principal-agent theory, we evaluated important correlations between foreign direct investment and foreign aid, foreign aid and religion, and the effectiveness of structural adjustment programs in changing government policy.