Publication: Opening the black box of donor influence on Digital Earth in Africa

Published on
January 13, 2014

The article of Kate Lance, Yola Georgiadoua and Arnold Bregt: Opening the black box of donor influence on Digital Earth in Africa, has been published in the International Journal of Digital Earth, 2013, Vol. 6, Supplement 2, 1 21.



Africa’s participation in Digital Earth is uneven. There is a tendency to ascribe this state to prevailing governance and cultural challenges in Africa. However, foreign actors such as donors have an apparent role in shaping geospatial policies and outcomes. Thus far, the complex linkages between external aid and improved social and environmental monitoring and decision-making have been handled as a kind of ‘black box’. To better understand the situation, we open the box and focus on the interaction between donors and policy-makers. We use a heuristic from political science, as well as empirical evidence, to describe the policyinfluencing tools that donors employ based on four basic resources donors possess: organization, authority, treasure, and nodality. We show an evolution of tool usage as donors shift from ‘old aid’ to ‘new aid’ modalities. The new tools include: technical assistance for geospatial curriculum development, inscription of standards and data access requirements in contracts and grants, cross-agency project design, best-practice analysis, portfolio management, and the use of language to promote participation and accountability. Though these tools reflect donor intent to partner in the realization of Digital Earth, the tools stem from a persisting asymmetric power dynamic between donors and policy-makers.

Keywords: foreign aid; donors; policy; outcomes; tools; geospatial technologies