Tracking Corrupt Politicians Gets Easier with New Data Platform

South American civic tech tool goes international to fight corrupt officials.

by / May 9, 2014
Miguel Paz, creator of Poderopedia (Powerpedia), the crowdsourced journalism platform used to track corruption. Flickr/Mohamed Nanabhay

Mass media is constantly criticized for its limited attention span. News comes and goes, coverage exists in short life cycles, and all too often, a story's context goes missing, along with its intended insight and accountability.

However, a relatively new tool that confronts the issue is gaining momentum. The platform, designed by Chilean journalist Miguel Paz, is called Poderopedia — or Powerpedia, in a Spanish-to-English translation — and uses crowd-sourced journalism to show the links and conflicting interests of decision-makers. 

Funded by the Knight Foundation in June 2011 with $200,000 and launched in Chile during the fall of 2012, the platform was released for Venezuela earlier this month and will be released in Columbia later in May, according to a Poderopedia blog post.

Beyond a simple catalogue of politicians and influencers, the platform highlights confirmed links to notable family members, friends, business interests, political affiliations, financial institutions, educational organizations, and government departments and agencies.

It illustrates these through an interactive diagram that looks much like a mind map with a photo of the public figure at its center, surrounded by icons of connected individuals and organizations. Additional features of the platform include a list of associated documents and a linked listing of sources.

The move into both Venezuela and Columbia is likely to draw attention if the countries’ 2013 Corruption Perception Index is any indication. Created by Transparency International, an international anti-corruption organization, the index reports both countries suffer from a high degree of corruption, with Venezuela hit hardest out of all South and North American countries.

“I knew from the beginning that turning Poderopedia into an international distributed platform operated by local journalism organizations should be a primary goal,” Paz said in the blog post. “Now we are paving the first miles of this road to internationalization.”

In Paz’s native home of Chile, the platform has been used by journalists for a variety of investigative reporting coverage and projects. It has red flagged a politician who’d attempted to defer legal punishment for his son, who was involved in a drunk driving collision that killed a pedestrian. And it has illustrated business interests and the political voting trails of politicians on sensitive national issues.

“The platform is now a wealth of information about the powerful in Chile,” Paz said. “At this writing [May 2], it contains info on 3,107 individuals, 1,398 companies and 812 institutions.”

He added there are currently six Chilean newsrooms republishing data through Poderopedia, and there have been nearly 300 news stories related to the tool. The platform, Pas said, has nearly 3,600 registered users and is growing rapidly.

While there hasn’t been any announcement about a U.S. chapter yet, Paz has spoken about interest from journalists and technologists in other countries such as Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Canada and Mexico.

A 2013 Corruption Perception Index map created by Transparency International

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