A frequent obstacle in data journalism is when the information you want to analyse is locked away in a PDF. Here are 6 ways to tackle that problem – with space for a 7th:
- Providing project management functionality with template structures based on previous investigations, which users might also explore as a way of understanding a story
- Providing static and dynamic resources based on previous and new investigations
- Providing a pleasurable competitive experience based on game mechanics, using both negative and positive feedback mechanisms to incentivise progress
- Providing access to – and building – a network of other investigators
The platform builds on a number of qualities of investigative journalism in the internet age. Digital technology has made collaboration and research easier but competition for attention is higher. It builds on the experiences of the successful investigative journalism platform Help Me Investigate by separating the technology from editorial, facilitating network connections by focusing on a small number of investigation templates, and providing a platform for building on and connecting others? experiences.
At the same time the game retains Help Me Investigate?s successful modularisation of investigations into challenges and updates, adding a turn-based competitive system that draws from game mechanics.
The following is a description of a game that I'm hoping to build – if a bid to the IPI News Innovation Contest is successful. I'd welcome any suggestions for how this might be designed better – as well as potential contributors, partners and users.
An investigations game: how it works
Users register with the site and join an existing investigation – or start a new one based on a limited number of ?templates? (e.g. investigating lobbying; following the money of local government or EU expenditure, charity funding or health; testing the claims of a corporation or police investigation; etc.). Once joined, they can also invite others. An investigation must have at least two ?players? before it can begin.
Once under way, as a player you are given a challenge (e.g. submit a Freedom of Information request; analyse data; identify regulations; speak to an expert; sum up the story so far, etc.). The challenge will come with help tips and resources from investigative journalists. It also has a points value based on its difficulty.
You choose to accept, exchange or pass on the challenge. Exchanging will bring up a new challenge; passing will pass the challenge on to the next player.
Exchanging or passing come with a points penalty – but if you accept and then complete a challenge, you will gain points. These can also be used to ?unlock? parts of the game or ?level up?.
Once you have accepted a challenge you have a limited time to complete it – anything from 24 hours to three weeks depending on the challenge.?You can also choose to try to do the challenge faster for extra points.
If you have not marked the challenge as complete as the deadline nears, you will receive reminders (one of the findings of research into Help Me Investigate was the need for more ?negative feedback?). You can ?stall? the deadline – but it will cost you points (the gamble you make is that you will earn more points if you succeed). If you fail to complete the challenge, points are deducted and play passes to the next player.
If you complete the challenge, however, you are awarded points, and rise up the leaderboard. Some challenges also come with ?badges? such as ?FOI Star?, ?Document Hound?, ?Data Don?, and so on. These can be cross-published to social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
You will also be asked if you want to add or change an investigation ?hypothesis?, and the next player must confirm that you have completed the challenge. They can ask you questions if your process is not transparent. Rejection will cost you points: trust is central to collaboration – two rejections will lead to your being ejected from an investigation.
Play continues in turn until a player decides the investigation is ?closed?, posting a link to a report on the results.
The following represents a selection of potential investigations that users might be able to pursue, based on existing successful examples. These are obviously subject to change in discussion with partner organisations:
- Local government spending – follow the money
- National government: lobbying – identifying conflicts of interest
- EU politics – follow the money
- Policing and crime – accountability
- Consumer affairs – testing claims
- Science and environment – testing claims
- Health – follow the money
- Charity – follow the money
- Education – follow the money