News Application: Statements of assets from Argentina’s main public officials



How to show the statements of assets from public officials in a friendly way?

That was the first question we asked ourselves when starting the project. So, after four months of intensive work, on January 13 th we launched an interactive application that allows users to read a large volume of information and do comparisons, with an easy visual interface, that includes the possibility to explore every original PDF document in detail, using DocumentCloud.

The result combines an end to end process of datajournalism : Foia requests, 100% data typing, data checking, data analysis, journalism, database design, interface design, programming and data mining. Therefore, the project involved more than 10 people with very different profiles. 

Then you have the “behind the scenes” of the application

 How do we get the data and work?

The project: end to end.

First, a journalist requested the statements of assets to the Anticorruption Office (OA), she came with a box full of papers. 48 files containing 2003 and 2011 statements on 24 public officials. Each file was around 5/7 pages.

As we had them, we did a survey of the documents provided by officials in different years to find the best ways to design a data model and enter it into spreadsheets.

We decided to group them into different categories of analysis: personal information, government´s position information and categories related to assets. For each of them, we created specific columns. Then we manually entered all the data in distributed Excel files, everything coordinated by our data producer. After this one by one typing in sessions we called “data-thons”, we grouped in pairs and checked it in sessions we called “check-a-thons” (yes, … these efforts need self motivation!).

At the same time, we started designing the interface of the web application with the front-end programmer and the interactive designer.

We planned a schedule to load, check and normalize data. During the four months, we paid particular attention to the verification of the data, which was checked after entered, after processed and, finally, in the web application. Three times!

We designed the database using MySQL. Thus, the spreadsheet serves as a power source and database update.


What about the display?

The challenge was to transform the boring visual and complex statement forms in a friendly graphical and user friendly interface. The two big bets were iconography and color criteria, both worked as facilitators when interpreting the assets declared.

When it comes to navigation, it was decided to give the reader a double option: through photographs or a list of names. Thus, recognizing the face of the officer could use the camera as a way of selection, and instead, if you only knew his name, he could do through a dropdown list located under the picture strip and ordered by last name.

There were two large reading levels: at first glance the reader can recognize the evolution and kind of property declared without the need to interact with the application, and in a second instance, you can find out through the roll over on each icon, details of all assets.

For those interested in viewing details of the original documents, we scanned the files removing sensitive information and uploaded them to DocumentCloud, linking them from each statement in the web application.


Opening data … 

The application includes the feature to download Data in JSON, CSV or XML.


Finally, developing …

The connection to the database was made with Ruby on Rails (Ruby framework). The program developed for this language allowed process information to save and view data. Finally, the design was implemented in HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

We believe this tool helps to enhance transparency and accountability of public servants in Argentina.

This application is intended to work as platform and a knowledge base updated in a continuously way by the different NGOs as they get more declarations (previous, current, future) from existing and upcoming public servants. After having received more than 480.000 page views to the aplication pages, we are working to keep data updated and increase the amount of statements in 2013.

Stories: Previous and current president wealth statements (from 7.000.000 to 89.000.000) and News application presentation article.

Impact: After these two interactive visualizations, our President announced to promote a national law regarding asset declarations for all public servants during the opening of the Annual Sessions of Congress 2013. (search for “transparencia total” to find the paragraphs related to this).

 ”Finally, we will also send a bill that has to do with total transparency to the public regarding the wealth statements of all of us in the authority of the Government, in the Executive, Legislative or Judicial. Because information is very selective to public knowledge as it is access to asset declarations. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. March, 1st, 2013″.


The Team

Journalistic Production: Maia Jastreblansky

Production and analysis: Gabriela Bouret and Romina Colman

Interactive design and visualization of data: Mariana Trigo Viera

Programming: Cristian Bertelegni

Consultant: Sandra Crucianelli (Knight International Journalism Fellow)

Head of Interactive Design: Juan Diego Lopez

Newspaper Editor: Juan Pablo Sioffi

Editor: Gastón Roitberg


More on LNdata

VIDEO: How we open data in a country without open data goverment portals or FOIA law (presented at Strata Conference 2013, Santa Clara, California)