Crowdsourcing reporting

The Nieman Journalism Lab had a fascinating blog entry a little while ago bout the Guardian’s crowdsourcing their investigative reporting of the MP expenses scandal. As of then, 23,718 Guardian readers had reviewed 206,962 pages of documents, and here are some of the findings, including Gordon Brown expensing “noahs animals” (perhaps a demonstration of how seriously he’s taking climate change?). Cost to the Guardian? A week and change of time for software development plus £50 to rent temporary servers from Amazon’s contract hosting service.

They draw out a couple of lessons on why this worked:

  • Made it fun and competitive: An easy interface, a progress bar (giving the community a goal to share and showing volunteers the immediate effect of their work), lists of the volunteers who’d reviewed the most documents, and bad guys to chase (apparently participation shot up once Simon Willison, the developer, added the MPs’ mugshots to the database)
  • Launched immediately: Without perfecting everything, they launched it the night Parliament released the records, realizing that waiting even 12 hours might fail to capture the sudden welling of public outrage (170,000 documents were reviewed in the first 80 hours)

The software may be reusable. How might this be used for sustainability reporting?

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