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Poderopedia to Increase Transparency in South America's Most Corrupt Country

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 2 2014

An illustration from the Poderopedia video, below

How a wealthy Chilean politician is making sure his son isn't punished to the full extent of the law for manslaughter after he hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk. Exposing the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee who also leases land to energy companies. Fact checking the 2013 presidential debates and live-tweeting the results. These are just a few of the stories made possible by Poderopedia, a platform on which journalists use public information and investigative reporting to build profiles of major political and financial players, and then map their familial ties, business connections, and other potential conflicts of interest. The second chapter of Poderopedia will launch in Venezuela tomorrow, on World Press Freedom Day, and another chapter will launch in Colombia before June. Poderopedia is finally on its way to world domination.

Miguel Paz, Knight Fellow and Poderopedia creator, first launched the platform in Chile in the fall of 2012. The stories and data visualizations on the platform are published under the same Creative Commons license as ProPublica stories, so newspapers and blogs can pick up and republish items freely.

What is Poderopedia and how does it work from Poderopedia on Vimeo.

Unlike Chile, which has an access to information law and scored relatively well on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year—just a few spots behind the United States, in fact—Venezuela lags far behind in terms of access to public information and anti-corruption reform. Venezuela did extremely poorly in the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index: the worst in South America and second worst in all the Americas, after Haiti. Establishing a chapter of Poderopedia in a country like that is both a greater challenge and a greater opportunity.

“The other challenge,” Paz explains in a phone call with techPresident, “is that in some places, for example in Venezuela, there is no public data, or the open data that there is, it's very not good and in many cases not reliable, so there's a lot of old school, going to the streets reporting by the journalists...it's a challenge because it takes longer to have more data in comparison to Chile.”

“On the other side,” he adds, “because of all those problems, whenever they show you things that challenge turns into an opportunity because they're going to be expressing information that is very newsworthy for the regular Venezuelan citizen.”

“They have been able to do things that we haven't been able to do yet in Chile, which is to get the journalists and civic advocates to contribute to information about millionaires or local powerful lords...we love that because in Venezuela and Colombia there are a lot of powerful people that are off the radar. They're not on the Forbes list but they're very powerful and influential in their local communities.”

The Venezuelan Institute of Press and Democracy (IPYS), which supports investigative journalism and advocates for free speech and access to information, is the local organization behind the new Poderopedia chapter.

"It is urgent that journalists and citizens demand access to public data,” the executive director of IPYS, Marianela Balbi, said in a press release, “and the Venezuelan chapter of Poderopedia seeks to promote this interest.”

"We share the idea that the age of the data is revolutionizing societies, governments, non-governmental organizations and, in general, the processes of decision making involving improvements to the quality of life of people," Balbi said.

Poderopedia, Balbi added, “contributes to a better exercise of democracy.”

The Venezuelan Poderopedia will have 30 profiles of political and economic leaders to start, pulled together by seven investigative journalists: David González, Joseph Poliszuk, Cesar Batiz, Catalina Lobo Guerrero, Lisseth Boon, Cristina Gonzalez and Jesus Alberto Yajure.

The third chapter will launch in Colombia later this spring, through a partnership with the Colombian journalists network Consejo de Redaccion.

A Poderopedia-powered election tracker called “Watch Your Vote” was set up in Panama earlier this year. It was a contained project, but Paz tells techPresident that they are thinking of doing a spinoff, something closer to a full Poderopedia site.

“We always wanted this to be a global project that wasn't owned by us,” Paz explains. “If this thing is worthwhile enough to people they will take it and make it their own.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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