Monthly Archives: November 2011

Announcing Help Me Investigate Welfare

We’re launching a new site to help people investigating issues relating to the welfare system. 

Help Me Investigate Welfare is published by Chie Elliott, who is investigating the end of the Travel to Interview scheme.

Chie will not just be blogging about her progress but also broader information about the welfare system itself, including useful data and information; profiles of key individuals; the laws and regulations that affect welfare; and updates on welfare-related stories and investigations both in the mainstream media and blogs.

The site is part of the new Help Me Investigate: Networks project

Working with Chie are Teo Beleaga, Kristina Khoo and Charlotte Hawkins. They are looking for contributors so if you want to know more about the welfare system – or have experiences you’d like to share – let them know.

Announcing Help Me Investigate Health

Today we're launching a new site to help people investigating issues relating to the health service.?

Help Me Investigate Health will provide resources on sources of data and information on the health service; profiles of key players; useful laws and regulations to be aware of; and updates on health-related stories and investigations both in the mainstream media and blogs.

The site is part of the new Help Me Investigate: Networks project. Already on the site is a video of tips on investigating health from British Medical Journal reporter Deborah Cohen, and data on GP surgeries. We'll be publishing further data and other posts in the coming months.

If you are curious about the health system and want to get involved please get in touch.

How does Help Me Investigate: Networks work?

HMI:Networks aims to provide 2 things: 

A set of resources to help people who want to investigate; and

A place to connect with other people who want to investigate

The second relies on the first, so if you can contribute any knowledge – however small – on your own progress in exploring the health, education or welfare systems, it will make a big difference in providing a place for others to pitch in.

Why networks?

The project is based on the experiences of the original Help Me Investigate project, which helped people collaborate to successfully investigate questions ranging from local authority spending to misleading claims by a publisher.

Since then increasing numbers of people are using the web to both ask questions and share the answers. The confidence to ask questions of power – and the ability to get answers – is growing.

We need to be able to find each other and share experiences; to be able to access useful resources; and to raise awareness of the results.

But the idea of a central site where all those investigations take place has various weaknesses, so we’re focusing on supporting the various networks of people who are already investigating – or who want to find out how to.

The central HMI blog, then, will continue to provide general guidance on areas such as investigating bribery, writing FOI requests, and analysing the results. If there’s an area you want guidance on, let us know.

The specialist sites – initially on health, education and welfare – will publish specific information on those fields. That might include who the key players are and their connections; useful laws and regulations to be aware of; and sources of data and information that can help answer questions.

The sites will also link to stories and investigations in that field – not just in the mainstream media but across blogs and forums.

Each specialist site will have their own site editor. If you want to be a site editor or contributor, let us know in the comments or via email to

Want to help hold power to account?

Today I am launching a new?Help Me Investigate?project called Help Me Investigate: Networks. And I need your help.

Help Me Investigate: Networks aims to provide help to anyone who wants to investigate public interest issues.

There are 3 ways you can help:

1. Join the network

One of the biggest problems when investigating public interest is being able to find people who can help. Perhaps you have worked in a particular sector? Or have studied the laws and regulations relating to it? Perhaps you have experience of writing FOI requests, or organising awareness-raising events?

If you have knowledge or experience that you'd be willing to pass on at some point, add yourself to the?private contact list.

2. Contribute to one of the site blogs

Help Me Investigate is hosting sites covering health, education and welfare. If you want to find out how to investigate – or are already investigating – issues related to any of these areas, please get in touch via or the blog comments, and the site editors will help you get stuck in.

3. Contribute to an investigation – or add a new one

If you want to contribute to one of the investigations taking place (not all of which are public), or want to investigate an area that isn't already covered by Help Me Investigate then let me know on and I will try to help you get started.

A post detailing how HMI:Networks will work will be coming later on this blog.

Finding documents online – FindThatFile

Here's a potentially useful search engine if you're specifically looking for documents:? you to narrow your search by filetype in a way that is a little bit more powerful than Google's own advanced search facility (and more intuitive). Filetypes include?PDFs, documents (DOC, TXT, etc), audio, video, RAR and ZIP compressed files.?

(Strangely spreadsheets are not included, for which you might want to try the excellent Zanran).

The site also has an API, which may be useful if you want to find documents related to a long list kept in a spreadsheet.

Nicole Boivin from Find That File?says:

"We open each file, identify its author, title, contents, text extracts and all kinds of goodies that nobody else does.? We also search more places than anyone else : Web, FTP, Usenet, Metalink and P2P (ed2k/emule) including 47 file types and 557+ file extensions including over 239 file upload services."

New mailing list for FOI and data journalists in Europe

Brigitte Alfter, a specialist in using FOI laws across Europe (often called ‘wobbing’) has emailed about a new mailing list on the topic. 

Established via the network, she says: 

“The idea is to share information, experience, developments, new stories, get advice from colleagues and give advice to others.
“The list was installed after a meeting in May in Brussels, where we founded a European Data Journalism Network including CAR pioneers, the Farmsubsidy team, FOI journalists and programmers.”

You can sign up and contribute at