2020 Shortlist

The post-conflict numbers

Category: Open data

Country/area: Colombia

Organisation: Rutas del Conflicto, Consejo de Redacción

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2 Oct 2019

Credit: David Riaño, Daniela Aguirre, Silvia Corredor, Pilar Puentes, Alejandro Ballesteros, Oscar Parra, Ginna Morelo, Claudia Mejía, Diana Salinas, Juan Diego Restrepo, Dora Montero, Camilo Amaya, Laura Gracia, Andrés García

Project description:

The post-conflict numbers is a collaborative journalistic project that aims to find out what has happened with the money destined to the implementation of the Colombian Peace Agreement. This project promotes a permanent, and well informed, citizen oversight of the public spending in post-conflict. Journalists and developers worked jointly to gather information of contracts signed by governmental agencies regarding post-conflict, build a database that contained all the information collected and present it through interactive maps to show where those investments have been undertaken.

Impact reached:

Using the information contained in the database built by journalists of Rutas del Conflicto, reporters from several Colombian regions have published 74 articles included in this project. These pieces are multimedia reports with infographics, videos, images, maps, etc., all uploaded in the same web site. We are also working on a printed publication containing the main 6 special reports to ensure that communities from regions where the Peace Agreement is being implemented have access to the findings concerning them according to their region.

Since this is a collaborative project we do not only count with Rutas del Conflicto, Consejo de Redacción and Colombiacheck (the media outlet of Consejo de Redacción), but also VerdadAbierta.com as well as 6 more regional media outlets. All the articles, data visualizations, videos, maps and images have been replicated in all of the participants websites and social media.

Colombian government announced in 2017 he creation of a platform to centralize the information about the implementation of the Peace Agreement, called SIIPO. Such platform hasn’t been released as of January 2020. Under such circumstances, The post-conflict numbers stands as the only database that contains the information of hundreds of public contracts derived from the implementation of the Peace Agreement, allowing for citizen overseeing of public spending regarding post-conflict. 

Techniques/technologies used:

For gathering the information, we used both formal and informal requests of information, using “derechos de petición”, an official request of information protected by Colombian constitution. In some cases, journalists had to recur to judges in order for governmental institutions to answer those requests. Since institutions responded with very brief information, we contrasted it with public databases that contain public procuring contracts, that are public under the law but are also very opaque and hard to use for non specialized citizens. 

After getting the information of hundreds of contracts, we created a database containing data that had to be standardized since its sources were often scanned images and pdf documents. We used Excel and Open Refine to work with the data collected. We used HTML to build the tool and Hypertext Preprocessor. The platform was made on DRUPAL.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Corruption is what colombians see as their biggest problem nowadays. Information about public spending is not always accessible and transparent. The dispositions contained in the Peace Agreement need to be viable if Colombia is to have a successful transition to peace. However, the implementation of those dispositions faces a great challenge as corruption at all levels threatens its viability. Getting the information needed for this project was difficult since we were denied repeatedly the access to it and had to resort to judicial instances. Once we had the information, we needed to extract the data to be presented in this project. That data was found often in PDFs or in paper so we had to review a lot of paperwork in order to extract the relevant information. Once we did, we also needed to find a way to present the data in comprehensible ways for it to be of use to other journalists and community leaders. Even though the Colombian government announced the creation of a platform that would contain the information about the contracts signed to implement the Peace Agreement and its dispositions, it hasn’t been put to use yet. Therefore, citizens could follow the implementation using only the information the government chose to promote officially. This tool provides more relevant data about those contracts, making it easy for users to know what was the object of the contract, what institution signed it, who is the contractor, how much money is invested in each contract and in which areas of the country is the contract being executed.

What can others learn from this project?

Others can learn what we did while creating this project. We learned that there are several legal tools in colombian legislation that allowed us to have some access, though scarce and opaque, to information about public spending, or any other public information. We also learned how public procuring should be done to abide by the law and how it is actually done at some levels. We learned that money destined to improving the rural roads sometimes got lost in the process. We learned about the loopholes in Colombian public procuring laws that allowed for an incresed opacity that raise questions about the implementation of the Peace Agreement not being transparent enough. We learned that two years after the Peace Agreement being signed, little was being invested in crucial matters for the success of the peace stabilization process, such as rural healthcare, crop substitution and roads improvement.

Finally, we learned that journalism is a joint effort and working collaborativelly with several media was crucial to bring together knowledge, expertise and forward thinking. 

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