Regalías (Royalties)

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Colombia

Organisation: Datasketch, Infraestructura Visible

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 10 Jan 2019

Credit: Mariana Villamizar Rodríguez, Ana Hernández Andrade, Cristian Saavedra, Cristina Ángel

Project description:

Royalties are the payments made to the Colombian government by oil and mining companies that allow them to exploit non-renewable natural resources in Colombia, such as oil deposits and carbon mines. This money is administered by the General System of Royalties (GSR), which has to distribute it among the municipalities, departments and regions of the country. Unfortunately this topic is somewhat opaque for the layman. In this data-journalism special, anyone can know how royalties are obtained, distributed and invested across the country with beautiful and understandable visualizations. The data used in the visualizations is available for download, as open data.

Impact reached:

Although royalties constitute a big part of how huge (and costly) public projects are funded, not many Colombians know what these are, how they are obtained, distributed or invested. This lack of awareness about the way royalties work, as well as how intricate and complicated the General System of Royalties (GSR) is, has made corruption a common problem in the projects financed by the GSR. This data-journalism special allows citizens to learn the most important aspects of the royalties system in Colombia and gain insights on how this money is distributed across the country. The special was released in the midst of the debate around a new law that could change the structure of distribution of these royalties, which means that this project provides tools for citizens to participate in the discussion with data-based arguments. This way, the debate will not involve only politicians, but also well-informed citizens.

Techniques/technologies used:

The investigation started by reviewing the legislation that has ruled the General System of Royalties (GSR), which is not readily available in a single source, but rather spread across different public institutions. It required a lot of work to simplify the language around this system and summarize its most important aspects so that anyone can truly understand how the SGR works. This resulted in a series of questions about the way royalties have been distributed and invested in Colombian territory, which could be answered through data. The dataset used for the different visualizations was downloaded from the National Planning Department and had to be cleaned and tidied with R using R Studio. The story was written after visualizing this data and answering the preliminary questions. The design was made in Adobe Illustrator and then built into a website using plain Javascript, HTML and CSS.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most challenging aspect of this project was to understand the legislation of the General System of Royalties (GSR) and its implications on the development of the poorest regions in Colombia. The way royalties are distributed is complicated and involves a lot of bureaucratic processes and organizations. Conducting this investigation allowed us to understand the debate around the distribution of royalties, that basically involves choosing between investing in the poorest regions in Colombia or investing in the regions in which the oil or mining exploitation actually happens –exploitation that definitely takes a toll on the natural resources available to these villages–. The data available was truly important in terms of the insights it provides about the cost of the projects funded with royalties, the most funded economic sectors (i.e. transportation, science & technology, among others) and the structure of the GSR (which explains in part the corruption within this system). This data (and this project) is fundamental in the debate around the new law that will rule the GSR, because it provides a base for conducting an analysis of the efficiency of the GSR distribution and its investments.

What can others learn from this project?

Other journalists can appreciate the storytelling in this project. A very complex topic such as the royalties system in Colombia can be boring and difficult to understand, especially to non-experts. Engagement is a real challenge with this type of projects. However, the structure of the special, the language used, the webpage design and the diagrams and visualizations were key in having great feedback from experts and non-experts.

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