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Planning an investigation

After coming up with a hypothesis, a journalist can work out what information they have already and what information they want to get access to. The best way to do this is to produce a written research plan. A systematic plan requires systematic thinking. To produce a plan, we think up questions about the facts, sources, opinions and analysis, the background, and anticipated obstacles.
• The facts necessary to produce an investigation.
• The questions that lead us to those facts.
• The sources that answer these questions.
• The methodology
• Acceptable standards for evidence
Hypothesis: “There are injuries and deaths on the motorways in Country X because of construction defects caused by contractors cutting corners. The government committee responsible for oversight is colluding with the contractors.”
Point: There are injuries and deaths on the motorways in Country X
Questions:
• How many injuries on the roads from 2015 to the end of 2019?
• What roads did these injuries take place on?
• What kind of injuries are they? How serious?
• How many deaths took place from 2015 to the end of 2019?
• On which roads?
• What are these motorways?
• When were they built?
• What companies built them?
• How much did each road cost?
• Who launched the tendering process? Who oversaw its implementation?
• What are the specifications of each road?
• Why did these accidents happen?
• Precisely how and why did they happen?
• How many took place between 2015 and the end of 2019?
• How much time passed between the opening of each road and the first accident?
Source:
• Traffic Authority reports, Court judgements, Accident records, Municipal authorities and local councils, Medical reports, Ministry of Health Reports, Public statistics office, News pieces and relevant data, Relevant civil society reports, Victims and their families, Doctors, Experts, Eyewitnesses, Traffic Authority reports, Court judgements, Accident records, Municipal authorities and local councils, Medical reports, Ministry of Health Reports, Public statistics office, News pieces and relevant data, Relevant civil society organizations’ reports, Victims and their families, Doctors, Experts, Eyewitnesses, Criminal investigations, Accident records, Ministry of Public Works annual reports, Annual reports of the Public Contracts Authority, Contractors and construction companies, Road construction contracts, State budgets, Newspaper announcements, Media reports, Road construction contracts, State budgets, Individual company bids, Annual reports of the Public Contracts Authority, Contractors and construction companies, Accident reports, Families of people, Eyewitnesses, Families of people killed, Experts, Court judgements, Criminal investigations, Ministry of Public Works annual reports, Traffic Authority reports, Relevant civil society organization’s reports.
Point: Contractors are cutting corners
Questions:
• Who are these contractors?
• What are the names of the companies?
• When were they founded?
• How much capital do they have?
• Who are the owners and the shareholders?
• What experience do these companies have?
• Who runs them?
• How many employees do they have?
• What other projects have they been involved in?
• How are they cutting corners?
• Why are they cutting corners?
• How many times has this happened?
• What are the regulations that they are circumventing?
Sources:
• Public Contracts Authority, Ministry of Public Works, tendering announcements in dailies, Information provided at the site, Commercial registry, Company’s official website, interview with the CEO or an employee, Company’s official website, interview with the CEO or an employee, Contractors, Experts, Oversight and inspection committees, Ministry of Public Works, Contractors, Experts, Lab results, Technical plans, Notices of receipt, Technical reports, How many employees do they have?, What other projects have they been involved in?, Why are they cutting corners?, How many times has this happened?, How are they cutting corners?, Bureau of Standards and Metrology, Contract between the company and the Ministry of Public Works, Tendering announcements in dailies
Point: There are construction defects
Questions:
• What are these defects?
• Where are they?
• When did they happen?
• Are they getting worse with time?
• How dangerous are they?
• What are the reasons for these defects?
• What implications do these defects have for road safety?
Sources:
• Personal inspection, People who worked on the project, Contractors, Engineers responsible, Notices of receipt, Technical reports, Ministry of Public Works, Standards and Metrology Bureau, Experts, Researchers, Court judgements, Reports and data from relevant civil society organizations, Technical plans, Experts, Technical reports, Researchers, Court judgements, People who worked on the project, Project engineers, Contractors, Official government inspector.
Point: The government committee responsible for oversight is colluding with the contractors.
Questions:
• What are the committees that are colluding with contractors?
• Is the collusion ongoing?
• Is it constant and regular collusion?
• Have the committees done this more than once? If so, how many times?
• How do committees collude with contractors?
• Why do they collude with contractors?
• How are oversight committees formed?
• Who makes up these committees?
• How many members do they have?
• How many hours do they work?
• How are they paid?
• What sort of salaries do the members receive?
• What is the legal basis for these committees?
• What are the conditions for membership of a committee? What sort of oversight is there of the work of the committee itself?
• Where is this oversight?
• How many committees are there overseeing the committee’s work?
• How do these committees exercise their oversight?
Source:
• Ministry of Civil Works data on committees, Information available on site, Court judgements – Reports from the Public Accounting Office, the Treasury, or the Ombudsman, Reports and press releases from the Ministry of Public Works, Government committees, Contractors, Parliament, the Transport Committee, Experts and researchers, Reports from relevant civil society organizations, People who worked or are working on the project, Current and former project managers, Former members of committees, Current members of committees, Relevant former government officials, Court judgements, Investigative files, Reports from the Public Accounting Office, the Treasury, or the Ombudsman, Reports and press releases from the Ministry of Public Works, People who worked or are working on the project, Current and former project managers, Former members of committees, Current members of committees, Relevant former government officials, Government committees, Contractors, Relevant laws and regulations, The decree forming the committee, Report of working hours, Salary reports, People who worked or are working on the project, Current and former project managers, Former members of committees, Current members of committees, Relevant former government officials, Government committees, Contractors, Reports from the Public Accounting Office, the Treasury, or the Ombudsman, Reports from the Ministry of Public Works, Relevant legislation, The Ministry of Public Works, Director of the Oversight Unit, Reports from the Public Accounting Office, the Complaints Office or the Ombudsman, Current and former Oversight Unit employees, Current and former members of the Parliamentary Transport Committee, Oversight Unit annual reports and press releases, Government committees responsible for roads, Former and current oversight committee members, Experts, Researchers, Anti-Corruption Committee reports, Current and former Anti-Corruption Committee employees of relevance.
This schema will help our journalist to predict the results of the research plan. It will tell her where to start looking, and help her map out prospective and confirmed sources, establish sufficient standards of proof and decide on a methodology, budget and timeline for the investigation. When producing an investigation plan, we focus on proving that there has been logical, legal and ethical wrongdoing and establishing where this occurred, who is responsible and what their motives were (money, fear, coercion, maintaining the status quo, or neglect and incompetence). The schema answers the questions raised by the investigation plan.
• What is going on? Why should the public be interested in this investigation? Who is the target audience? The greater the likely audience interest, the more important it will be to the journalist and the news outlet.
• What is the mistake or wrongdoing that has taken place – that is, what is the event that we are focusing on? Is it a legal or an ethical violation? Does it make sense? How did this happen? Why did it happen?
• Who is the main actor? Who else participated? How did they do it? Why did they do it? Who benefited
• What are the ramifications of this mistake? What are its effects? What are the likely consequences?
• Who was harmed directly? Who was harmed indirectly? Who suffers from this mistake or violation?
• Who benefits from publishing the investigation? Who will be hurt by its publication? Will it help enrich the public discussion?

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