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Reflections on the Legacy of EPDC

We take pride in the contributions that EPDC made to the field of education over the past 16+ years, highlighted in our Legacy of EPDC blog post. To celebrate the work of EPDC, we asked a few EPDC alumni and champions to share their thoughts on the role and legacy of EPDC during their time, and since then. Read a few reflections on the role of EPDC since it began and its key contributions to education data and research below.

George Ingram, EPDC Executive Director [2004-2009], currently Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution

1. What did your role with EPDC look like?

I served as the first executive director of EPDC 2004 - 2009. My principal roles were to develop the mission and strategy, oversee the staff, maintain relations with our principal funder (USAID), and outreach to government and non-government organizations (our target audience). 

2. How did you see the role of EPDC at the time that you led it?

The role of EPDC was to serve the development community -- especially education ministries and other entities in developing countries, but also USAID, international organizations, and non-governmental development actors (particularly NGOs). The role was to provide solid, updated data and analysis of that data. This was done mostly on-line -- establishing and constantly updating a comprehensive database of developing country administrative and survey data on education and related indicators, creating tools to use to mine the data, and sharing analysis of the data.  We had a few paid consultancies, mainly with UNESCO to provide projects for the annual Education for All Report. 

2. What was its key contribution to the field, in your opinion?

By example -- providing the data and putting it into "pictures"  (graphs and charts) and analysis that teased out the knowledge in the data -- making government policy makers and development organizations aware of the...value of solid data and analysis of that data for decision making and management. 

3. How has the field of education data and research evolved, in your opinion? Did EPDC play a role in this shift? Why or why not?

I cannot speak to how the field has evolved as I am a decade beyond being involved. However, EPDC was one of the first and only (UNESCO started about the same time with analysis but wasn't making its database available) entity making available comprehensive data (UN Institute for Statistics was making only administrative data available) and analysis on education in development countries.

4. Do you have any other reflections to share? 

Considerable credit goes to USAID education staffer Greg Loos and senior AED staff who early on -- long before data generally gained such currency over the past decade -- understood the value of data and conceived of the idea for EPDC to gather all education data in one place and make it and analysis available to all. 

EPDC was part of AED but was not managed to serve AED. It was designed so as to serve the broad development community, U.S. and international, and served AED only in the same way it served everyone -- so kudos to Greg and AED senior management for understanding the importance of EPDC's independence from AED. 

Also, EPDC's substantive success rested on the shoulders of Babette Wils -- who created many of the tools to utilize the data, directed the analysis, and mentored the staff on gathering the data and connecting it into a compatible data system. 

Babette Wils, EPDC Research Director [2003-2011], independent consultant

1. What did your role with EPDC look like?

I was EPDC's first employee, hired because I was doing long-term education projections using household survey data.  This was something that Greg Loos, our funder at USAID, and John GIllies, EQUIP2 project director at AED, were interested in at the time.   

2. How did you see the role of EPDC at the time that you were part of it?  

We saw the EPDC as a compliment to UIS' work.  The UIS was focused - by its mandate at the time - on national level, official government education statistics.  We knew however, that there were other valuable sources of information on education access, namely household surveys and national country education websites.  We set out to become a global warehouse for these sources of education statistics.   

3. What was its key contribution to the field, in your opinion?   

We made two key contributions.  First, we pushed accessing sub-national education data to identify particularly vulnerable children in developing countries, and to highlight inequities in education access that needed to be addressed.  Although this is fairly common to look at sub-national data today; at the time when we launched EPDC, many people did not think that sub-national data was available or reliable for many countries.  We put these more finely-grained information out there, analyzed it in numerous research reports, and helped the education community realize its value and availability.  The second contribution we made was in education forecasting.  At the time, global forecasts of education were based on very simple models.  We developed tools that made it possible to make large-scale global projections using detailed data for individual countries.  This culminated in our work for UNESCO doing their global education projections in 2008.   The model that we developed was later taken up and adapted by the Education Commission and is still in use today by UNESCO.

4. How has the field of education data and research evolved, in your opinion? Did EPDC play a role in this shift? Why or why not? 

When we began, the global focus for education goals was on national levels of primary completion.  Today, global education goals include sub-national analyses, learning levels, and secondary education.  We contributed to this shift by accessing new data sources, and developing tools for the analysis and use of those data.

5. Do you have any other reflections to share?

We were a small, enthusiastic team.  It was very exciting to be delving into new areas of research and to work with a talented and fun group of professionals!  We hired a number of young researchers and it was one of my most gratifying experiences to see them grow professionally.  I remember our meetings in the EPDC meeting room fondly - we had a lot of laughs and a great feeling of camaraderie.  George Ingram was a fantastic Director for the first 5 years of EDPC's existence. Many thanks to all!

David Sprague, EPDC Executive Director [2009-2011]

1. What was EPDC's key contribution to the field, in your opinion? 

The major funding source for EPDC had been (and continued to be during my time) the Office of Education in USAID.  Under its direction, EPDC with a relatively small staff had developed a substantial body of research projections using education data from a wide variety of sources. These projections were published and recognized by international donors as legitimate contributions to discussions about the future pace of growth in the education sector of developing countries. They did influence donors to see that the challenge of providing resources for universal primary education was not insurmountable and the effort should not be abandoned. 

During my time as director, I tried to increase the involvement of USAID in using the staff and resources of EPDC to support education staff in the field Missions. EPDC staff did make several trips to work with local USAID staff and Ministry of Education officials demonstrating how data can be used to make better planning decisions. However, it was disappointing that greater use was not made before USAID shifted funding and priorities to early grade reading. 

2. How has the field of education data and research evolved?  Did EPDC play a role in this shift? 

Although not as much as I had hoped, the USAID education officers in the field did become more aware of the resources that EPDC could offer, especially on its WEB site. This exposure contributed to a greater reliance on the use of data in formulating USAID projects...

John Gillies, formerly Director of the Global Learning Business Unit, FHI 360 and AED

1. How did you see the role of EPDC at the time that you first learned of it? 

When EPDC was first proposed as an associate award under EQUIP2 in 2003…it was one of a number of ideas to strengthen USAID’s contribution to global education for all efforts.  At that point, the multilateral education data resources were not nearly as robust and useful as they are today.  UNESCO UIS and the World Bank provided data, of course, but it was often not as complete, accessible, or user friendly as was needed.  The GMR was a new entity.   

USAID and AED recognized that insights into education performance required going deeper into available knowledge and information than the “official” education statistics allowed.  Having an official data set was critical, as a single common measure and source was needed, but it was also very limited, incomplete, or inaccurate in many instances.  

I saw EPDC’s role as using the emerging power of online platforms to create a common source for a more robust set of information about education in each country, and to mine that data to explore key questions.  EPDC sought to capture multiple sources of data for each country — the official UNESCO data, of course, but also the national datasets that drilled down into sub-national data, (which allowed for much more nuanced understanding of trends), as well as all available non-official sources, studies, analyses, etc. that were often hard to find.  In addition, EPDC’s mandate was to make all of this more accessible, more informative, more useful to users in all countries.  

2. What was its key contribution to the field, in your opinion?

EPDC was one of many efforts to understand how to better use emerging online platforms to meet needs.  Its key contributions were creative initiatives in data visualization, information management, website design, and an obsessive focus on mining agencies, institutions, and scholars to collect relevant - if partial - information sets.  As a small, relatively independent (USAID financed as a cooperative agreement) entity that did not purport to be an “official” source of an international institution, it had a degree of flexibility and agility that the more formal institutions lacked. It could operate in a space between global and national institutions, which must manage internal and external politics, implementing partners and NGOs, and academics. This was demonstrated in both its depth of data, data presentation innovations, and analyses.  Lacking the inherent “legitimacy” of a global institutional foundation like UIS, which was explicitly designed to be the data of record, EPDC needed to create its own legitimacy through the power of its publications, policy analysis, utility of data visualization, and access. 

3. How has the field of education data and research evolved, in your opinion? Did EPDC play a role in this shift? Why or why not?

The last 20 years has seen phenomenal growth in the availability, accuracy, completeness, and breadth of data about education as EFA and MDGs evolved into GPE and SDGs, as global and national investment in education has increased, and the focus expanded from access to learning and equity.  This coincided with the growth and increasing sophistication of online platforms and internet access.   All of the international entities (UNESCO, GPE, USAID, World Bank) and most national education systems have much more robust, accessible and useful systems today.  EPDC was a part of this growth, injecting new approaches, analyses, insights into the global dialogue.  It was a small, but important global actor whose freedom of action and creativity contributed to this growth.  

4. Do you have any other reflections to share? 

EPDC’s history reflects interesting insights into the dynamics of global development, in education as well as other fields. USAID support for a small independent actor, followed by ongoing support from AED and FHI 360, enabled it to fill niches and gaps in the system and support education efforts.  An EPDC was never going to substitute or compete with the international institutions, which with much greater resources and legitimacy, would inevitably expand and fill these gaps, reducing the need and viability of EPDC. Even as EPDC closes as an organization, its sustained contribution is evident in the gaps and niches that are now filled by others. 

Elizabeth Buckner, EPDC Research Associate [2014-2015], currently Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Toronto

1. How did you see the role of EPDC at the time that you were part of it? 

EDPC was a resource that made cross-national education data accessible to a broader audience, and conducted original analysis on education and development. I really saw it as serving the educational development community by taking technical sources of data and making them available and insightful to non-technical users.

2. What was its key contribution to the field, in your opinion?

EPDC took the educational data available in household surveys, extracted them, and made them publicly available at a time when most cross-national data on education was still only collected from Ministries and other administrative sources. This was a true contribution to the field.

3. How has the field of education data and research evolved, in your opinion? Did EPDC play a role in this shift?

Education data is more accessible than ever before, and we have many excellent large-scale resources available that we didn’t have only a few years ago. I think EDPC has been a leader in many areas, particularly in making sub-national data disaggregations publicly available from household surveys, which other sources of data have only recently begun doing.

4. Do you have any other reflections to share? 

I am sad to see EPDC close, but also look forward to seeing how FHI360 continues to promote education and development around the world!


Blog by Tanya Smith-Sreen, Program Officer, Research & Evaluation, G3E, FHI 360 

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