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Global Witness and Open Knowledge – Working together to investigate and campaign against corruption related to the extractives industries

November 14, 2014 in Data Journalism, Featured, Visualization

Sam Leon, one of Open Knowledge’s data experts, talks about his experiences working as an School of Data Embedded Fellow at Global Witness.

Global Witness are a Nobel Peace Prize nominated not-for-profit organisation devoted to investigating and campaigning against corruption related to the extractives industries. Earlier this year they received the TED Prize and were awarded $1 million to help fight corporate secrecy and on the back of which they launched their End Anonymous Companies campaign.


In February 2014 I began a six month ‘Embedded Fellowship’ at Global Witness, one of the world’s leading anti-corruption NGOs. Global Witness are no strangers to data. They’re been publishing pioneering investigative research for over two decades now, piecing together the complex webs of financial transactions, shell companies and middlemen that so often lie at the heart of corruption in the extractives industries.

Like many campaigning organisations, Global Witness are seeking new and compelling ways to visualise their research, as well as use more effectively the large amounts of public data that have become available in the last few years.

“Sam Leon has unleashed a wave of innovation at Global Witness”
-Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of Global Witness

As part of my work, I’ve delivered data trainings at all levels of the organisation – from senior management to the front line staff. I’ve also been working with a variety of staff to use data collected by Global Witness to create compelling infographics. It’s amazing how powerful these can be to draw attention to stories and thus support Global Witness’s advocacy work.

The first interactive we published on the sharp rise of deaths of environmental defenders demonstrated this. The way we were able to pack some of the core insights of a much more detailed report into a series of images that people could dig into proved a hit on social media and let the story travel further.

GW Info

See here for the full infographic on Global Witness’s website.

But powerful visualisation isn’t just about shareability. It’s also about making a point that would otherwise be hard to grasp without visual aids. Global Witness regularly publish mind-boggling statistics on the scale of corruption in the oil and gas sector.

“The interactive infographics we worked on with Open Knowledge made a big difference to the report’s online impact. The product allowed us to bring out the key themes of the report in a simple, compelling way. This allowed more people to absorb and share the key messages without having to read the full report, but also drew more people into reading it.”
-Oliver Courtney, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness

Take for instance, the $1.1 billion that the Nigerian people were deprived of due to the corruption around the sale of Africa’s largest oil block, OPL 245.

$1.1 billion doesn’t mean much to me, it’s too big of a number. What we sought to do visually was represent the loss to Nigerian citizens in terms of things we could understand like basic health care provision and education.

See here for the full infographic on Shell, ENI and Nigeria’s Missing Millions.


In October 2014, to accompany Global Witness’s campaign against anonymous company ownership, we worked with developers from data journalism startup J++ on The Great Rip Off map.

The aim was to bring together and visualise the vast number of corruption case studies involving shell companies that Global Witness and its partners have unearthed in recent years.

The Great Rip Off!

It was a challenging project that required input from designers, campaigners, developers, journalists and researchers, but we’re proud of what we produced.

Open data principles were followed throughout as Global Witness were committed to creating a resource that its partners could draw on in their advocacy efforts. The underlying data was made available in bulk under a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license and open source libraries like Leaflet.js were used. There was also an invite for other parties to submit case studies into the database.

“It’s transformed the way we work, it’s made us think differently how we communicate information: how we make it more accessible, visual and exciting. It’s really changed the way we do things.”
-Brendan O’Donnell, Campaign Leader at Global Witness

For more information on the School of Data Embedded Fellowship Scheme, and to see further details on the work we produced with Global Witness, including interactive infographics, please see the full report here.

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