Monthly Archives: November 2011

A list of open data and ‘civic software’ projects

MySociety's Tom Steinberg and others have been compiling a list of open data and 'civic software' projects from around the world. These include tools for submitting Freedom of Information requests, parliamentary monitoring, campaign finance and lobbying data, among other fields.?

You can find the spreadsheet here.

VIDEO: Bo Elkj?r on using network analysis to follow the money

In this?interview, filmed at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev, Danish investigative journalist Bo Elkj?r explains how he used network analysis tools to track the movement of money between companies. You can find more details and resources from Bo's investigation at?

Can you help investigate? Arms smuggling in former Yugoslavia

In a guest post for the Help Me Investigate blog, Blaz Zgaga invites others to help follow up the leads uncovered in their investigation into arms smuggling. You can see a presentation on their work here (PDF)?from the Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

Deep investigation in arms smuggling in former Yugoslavia in 1990s confirmed that many foreign countries were involved in a logistics operation with the aim to arm Slovene, Croatian and Bosnian forces.

We found leads to countries like Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia as export countries, logistic headquarters in the Austrian capital Vienna, financial transactions via a Hungarian bank and transfers via off-shore haven Panama. The United Kingdom sent military equipment to then Yugoslav republics and provided loans for arms purchases, as did Germany. These links were published in our second book of the trilogy In the Name of the State.

However, there are many other leads which might be investigated in other countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland and US.?

We focused only on the main lines of the investigation: the countries above could be investigated further.

We based our findings upon studies of thousands of declassified documents and interviews with people involved and other sources.?

If you are interested in cross-border cooperation or see an interesting story for your own country, you can contact us at:?

2 in 15 governments reply to global FOI test

A recent world-wide Freedom of Information (FOI) experiment made by the Associated Press (AP) shows the appalling state that governments’ transparency is in, with only 2 in 15 responding to the request in full and in due time.

The experiment began in January 2010 and asked for evidence of terrorism instances and how they were dealt with. Over 100 AP reporters filled requests world-wide asking for the following:

  • ·         evidence of arrests and convictions made to counter terrorism over the past decade.
  • ·         evidence of detainment, with no arrest, on terrorism accounts.
  • ·         evidence to show the status of convictions made for terrorism related crimes over the past decade and details regarding the points of law used for this purpose.
  • ·         the nationality of those arrested under terrorism accounts.
  • ·         records of names, dates and circumstances for all terrorism related arrests made over the past decade.
  • ·         any audits and research of countering-terrorism made over the past decade.

Out of the 105 countries that are covered to some extend by freedom of information laws and were thus asked to respond to the above, only 14 gave useful answers in the required time frame, with a further 38 replying partially. However, the whole picture is not that straightforward. You can check AP’s interactive map division of type of responses received along with expert analysis here.

According to the AP reporter drawing on the results of this test, new-born democracies are more responsive than older and more established. He writes: “Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala confirmed the AP request in 72 hours and sent all documents in 10 days. Turkey sent spreadsheets and data within seven days. Mexico posted responses on the Web. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension. The FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large section blanket. Austria never responded at all.”  

The AP is now looking for its next subject to investigate at a global level. You can contribute to their ideas board on their Facebook page.

Roundup: HMI Networks

Here are the latest posts across the Help Me Investigate: Networks sites on healtheducation, and welfare. Highlights include Ben Harrow’s series following the money that universities receive for students, Rebecca Ratcliffe’s investigation into the special education system, and Kristina Khoo’s background to her investigative documentary on homelessness. If you want to contribute to any of the sites, or the main Help Me Investigate blog, email We are particularly looking for someone to manage the Health site, so if you have an interest in that area, please let us know.

HMI Networks: highlights from the blogs

There's been plenty of activity across the Help Me Investigate: Networks sites on health, education, and welfare since they launched last week. Here are the highlights:

If you want to get involved with any of the sites drop me an email on or on Twitter @paulbradshaw

FOI Act expansion: the Financial Ombudsman Service

Last week saw another breakthrough for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) was brought under its scope. Aiming for “transparency and openness” the FOS is to become public as it was suggested in January this year.

Still, the FOS will not be fully public as there are restrictions to what questions it can answer. To start with, personal information will not be disclosed (as it falls under the Data Protection Act) and any information given in confidence or details that fall under other Acts will also remain private.

According to the FOS said that it “already accepts and fulfils requests for information.” In response a comment on their website reads: “You learn something new every day. I thought FOS stood for Furtive, Obstructive and Secretive.”

The Independent Financial Advisors website has put together a list of question for the FOS (which you can find here) and some tips for “good requests” that include being specific and asking for documents that do exist rather than documents that might exist or that should exist. (For more general tips on FOIs check James Ball’s on Help Me Investigate.)

Finally, as the FOS prouds itself for answering over 1 million enquires a year, do you reckon that number might be doubled now?




Announcing Help Me Investigate Education

Want to know more about how – and if – the education system works? Today we’re launching a new site to help people investigate issues relating to the education sector. 

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

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

We are looking for contributors so if you are passionate about health get in touch.