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In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, August 20 2014

A scene from the mountain range in Mexico that foreign companies hope to mine for gold and silver.

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

The coordinator of Quién Es Quién Wiki, Fernanda Hopenhaym, tells techPresident that Poder began toying with the idea of a platform like this in 2011, although formal work only began 18 month ago. The public beta version launched May 13, 2014. A gamma version with an improved design and user experience is planned for release January 2015.

Hopenhaym explained to techPresident that Quién Es Quién Wiki is “unique because it uses wiki software which allows crowdsourcing of information...[this] is key from our perspective because we hope to help catalyze a movement, somehow, a citizen-led movement that will eventually hold corporations accountable.”

Quién es Quién Wiki promo 1 sin web - XAndión from Quién es Quién Wiki on Vimeo.

The current database—more than 800 profiles of companies and individuals—was assembled entirely by Poder and its partners. However, there is a wiki function through which users can add or change information in the wiki. Poder's editorial team can monitor those changes, check the public source and verify the information.

“We do this to guarantee everything we publish is of the public domain and has a reliable source,” Hopenhaym said.

Poder also plans on adding a function to allow whistleblowers to safely share information.

“In the case of whistleblowers,” Hopenhaym explained, “we know their contribution will probably be from a different nature, and not always have a public source. Our job then would be to assess that information and do a research process in order to publish a story.”

Hopenhaym said Quién Es Quién Wiki does not hold personal information about users to protect their privacy and personal safety.

The Business Secrets of Foreign Mining Companies

In addition to the database, Quién Es Quién Wiki has a space for editorial content and analysis produced by Poder, like a recent study on the extractive mining industry in Sierra Norte de Puebla.

“Transparency and accessibility of data on the mining industry is absent in Mexico,” Hopenhaym explained.

She elaborated:

While data is supposedly public, an average person, and particularly a member of a community, will have no access to it. Most of it is not online; you can get a limited amount of online data through transparency requests. The only way to get it is to go in person to the mining direction.

Even then, she said, a person can only consult up to five files a day, and taking photocopies or pictures of documents is prohibited. This means that coming up with seemingly straightforward facts—that the Canadian company Almaden has 72 percent of the mining concessions in the Sierra Norte region, for example—is actually the result of painstaking data collection and analysis.

Poder has taken its research on extractive industries in Sierra Norte de Puebla to community meetings, like the forum Proyectos de muerte (Projects of Death) in June, which addressed the impact of mining on human rights. Regeneracion Radio published a photo essay on the forum.

Poder's research has also been the basis of numerous articles about mining in Sierra Norte de Puebla.

“The platform [Quién Es Quién Wiki] also functions as a disseminating tool for Poder's work, increasing our social impact by reaching more people with otherwise inaccessible information.”

This is especially important when there are reports of companies like Almaden misleading residents into selling their land or gifting tokens like backpacks to buy locals' loyalty. Data and analysis provided by Poder can help combat misinformation disseminated by companies hoping to profit off of the Sierra Norte de Puebla mountains at the expense of local communities and the environment.

The Holy Grail

Hopenhaym said that Poder hopes a platform like this will help “catalyze” a “citizen-led movement.” Doesn't everyone hope that of their crowdsourced open data projects? And yet far too often it seems nearly impossible.

Quién Es Quién Wiki is “ambitious and time-consuming” says Hopenhaym, and it is a challenge to keep the database updated. She also sites funding as a concern. (A crowdfunding campaign more than two years ago raised more than $9,350, enough to get funded but far short of the $20,000 goal.)

Then there are all the challenges, outlined by Hopenhaym above, to getting one's hands on supposedly public information. The small, rural communities most likely to be affected by extractive mining, for example, are not likely to have the resources or capabilities to contribute to Quién Es Quién Wiki, even if they wanted to do so.

When asked to elaborate on how Poder hopes to build engagement on the platform, Hopenhaym explained:

On one hand, continue to disseminate analysis broadly in the media, as we have become a reference in the issues of corporate accountability and transparency. Then, continue to increase our alliances with other CSOs [Civil Society Organizations] who can themselves contribute to the dissemination and engagement of the communities they work with, and continue to host presentations and workshops with targeted groups.

Improving the user experience and design for the next iteration of Quién Es Quién Wiki should also help. And, although the site is currently almost entirely in Spanish (except for the About page, which is also available in English), a long term goal is for it to operate fully in both languages.

For aid on its quest, Poder has turned to other transparency organizations around the world: it is discussing how to connect databases and share data with OpenCorporates; collaborating on data collection and analysis of the extractive industry with OpenOil; and sharing knowledge and experience with Poderopedia.

Eventually Poder would like to take Quién Es Quién Wiki to other Latin American countries, likely the ones in which they have already partnered with local organizations: Peru, Brazil and Argentina.

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