News Leadership 3.0

June 21, 2009

Guardian to users: Help us investigate

The British news site asks its users to help it examine thousands upon thousands of pages of expense reports of members of Parliament.

The Guardian is conducting a massive crowdsourcing experiment that invites users to help it investigate nearly a half million pages of expense reports and documentation submitted by members of the British Parliament.

The instructions are simple:

You’re amply justifying our hope that many hands can make light work of the thousands of documents released by Parliament in relation to MPs’ expenses. We, and others - perhaps you? - are still using these tools to review each document, decide whether it contains interesting information, and extract the key facts.

Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked “investigate this!” and we’ll take a closer look.

How to get involved:

Step 1: Find a document
Step 2: Decide what kind of thing it is and whether it’s interesting
Step 3: Copy out any individual entries
Step 4: Make any specific observations about why a claim deserves further scrutiny

Examples of things to look out for: food bills, repeated claims for less than 250 (the limit for claims not backed up by a receipt), and rejected claims”

And the results are starting to show. Readers who combed through nearly 100,000 of 457153 pages of documents in the first two days of the experiment were turning up numerous questionable expenses or documentation.

The effort may not turn up any major fraud. But it’s a great way to engage a community as watchdogs and to increase awareness of how lawmakers spend public money. I bet the MPs will be more careful with their expenses if they know someone will actually look at them - and be able to post about them on the Web.

Could this be a model for local news organizations in the United States? Government expense reports, bids and contracts, and political contributions all seem ripe for crowdsourced scrutiny. The key may be to find a way to engage people with limited time in something that will end up worthwhile.

What’s your idea for a crowdsourced investigation in your community? 


i think what the guardian did was good but a little complicated thing. for the huge scale need some people to do that. Does it waste a time ? i think we need some simple program to solve i right? smile

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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