Where does the development community focus its attention?

In an attempt to find out a little bit about how development projects have been distributed between countries and types of project (health, education etc.) I have created a kind of trawler for Google information.

You give the trawler three lists—of countries, years and project types—and the software builds search terms for every combination of each of these lists. So it might start with “Angola 2000 education”, then “Angola 2000 health” followed by “Angola 2001 education” and so on, for all the countries, years and project types. The search terms are then handed over to Google, one by one, and the result count—the bit which looks like “About 62,200 results (0.45 seconds)”—is stored along with the query which generated that number.

I’ve put all the results onto a kind of interactive map of Africa. Simply select the project type you’re interested in, hover over a country to see its page count, and click on the map to cycle through the years 2000 to 2012.

Google result count by project type and year
click here for the interactive version.

There is clearly a great deal to be said about the validity of using Google’s page count for anything at all, let alone what I grandly term ‘research’, but I’ve written one possible justification in a previous blog post. The short version is that even if the numbers are ‘wrong’ they should be broadly comparable; higher numbers should generally mean more documents found. Also, if you describe the results as being a measure of interest in a given topic by the English-speaking internet-using world then things seem far more reasonable. (Note that I’m not pretending to know anything about the number of projects happening in a given country in a given year.)

The result is reasonably interesting. South Africa tops the poll for pretty much every project type in every year, something which might be a factor of its large population (and/or its English speaking status). I’m going to make a population-adjusted version very soon.

Watch this space…


Author: Rob Levy

Economist at NEF. Former teaching Fellow in Economics at UCL and Bristol University. Recently submitted my PhD. We'll see what happens...

2 thoughts on “Where does the development community focus its attention?”

    1. The problem with Google Trends is its insistence on search volumes being sufficient to do something sensible with the result. (See this screengrab). My more manual (and labour-intensive) methodology is not hampered by the fact that the results have to make any sense!


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