Crowdsourcing community review of politican expenses

It was a busy week last week, with both of us in New Zealand, which provided an opportunity to actually meet face to face for the first time since launching the blog!

While I was in Wellington, a story in the Dominion Post caught my eye – a crowdsourcing exercise to review documents obtained under Freedom of Information about expenses charged to politicans’ credit cards. The story is reported extensively on www.stuff.co.nz:

When we heard we had eight boxes of receipts and other documents coming from an Official Information Act request, we took inspiration from Britain’s Guardian and decided to let our readers pick which receipts they thought were worth investigating.

Professional reporters quickly noticed some outrageous claims, which led to major political shakeups. We didn’t really know what the public would think of our crowdsourcing idea.

The response was a gush of interest. So far more than 15,000 people have looked through the documents, with more than 4000 people submitting reviews. We’ve had more than 6000 documents marked by you for us to look into, and about 7000 notes on documents.

Now we’re going to go through what you’ve told us and see if there’s anything we can turn into a story.

Each receipt had to be reviewed by three people before we considered it checked. We used a threshold of three to stop mistakes and anyone who tried to abuse the system (for example, by targeting the opposing party).

More than half the receipts had been checked by three people within 24 hours. That translates into more than 50,000 views of documents, which is incredible. We had about 80 percent checked within 48 hours.

The site invites readers to review receipts and identify any that warrant further investigation.

So, what do you think? Is it an example of civic involvement in evaluation and much needed transparency? Or sensationalism and point-scoring (making a fuss over a packet of cashews from the minibar) that actually distracts from public scrutiny of politicians?

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