The Kit is a collaborative, self-learning resource that makes investigative techniques and tools used by experienced investigators more accessible to people and communities who feel motivated to start their own investigations, collect and verify information, build evidence and create a better understanding of issues without losing sight of ethical or safety considerations.
What is the Kit?
The Kit is a project of Exposing the Invisible and is meant as a starting point for those who believe in the power of information as evidence but who recognise that working with information does not necessarily lead to immediate results or desired changes.
The investigative process itself can be time consuming, demanding, tiresome and even dangerous; but it can also turn a curious individual or an incidental witness into a skilled documentarian, researcher or activist. We see investigation as a journey in the literal sense, but also in the broader sense of what it can achieve and the impact it can have on the investigator.
Our small team at Exposing the Invisible has been actively experimenting with ways to promote investigation as one of the most important forms of engagement – not only political engagement, but engagement understood much more broadly, in the sense that every action is an important step toward the goal of wider public participation. Our reason for doing this is simple. We want to help people develop the ability to question information that is false, find information when it is scarce and filter information when it becomes overwhelming. We see this set of skills as a way to counter the suppression of opinions, bypass censorship, combat excessive secrecy and increase transparency so that people can rely on facts rather than opinions and assumptions. We all need the ability to assess the weight and seriousness of the narratives that are shaping our decisions and our sense of justice, and we should all be capable of differentiating between information that is misleading and information that we can rely on.
From the outset, we have been interested in finding ways for people to expand their own unique skill sets, including the techniques they have developed by mastering their devices or by inhabiting particular digital and physical spaces. We did not want to limit ourselves to digital environments and data driven practices. We wanted to shed new light on effective ways to document issues, find information and verify facts. In short, we put our faith not in technology or data but in information and knowledge.
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Who is The Kit for?
The Kit is meant for everyone. It does not matter what skills you may or may not have; it does not matter if you are just thinking of starting your first investigation or if you have already carried out several. As long as you have questions and curiosity, this is the kit for you.
This kit is issue-agnostic. It is not intended only for those who are challenging corruption or abuses of power. We believe that change happens all the time and everywhere. Neither the scope nor the scale of your investigation matters. Spending some time here will be worth your while even if all you are challenging is your own assumptions. This is meant to be a place where you can refine your thinking and determine how to go about your work in a thorough, step by step manner. The Kit is also a work in progress. We are developing additional content that we will publish in the weeks and months to come.
This kit promotes ethical and safe ways to seek answers, gather evidence and bring new narratives to the forefront. We encourage curiosity and creativity – or, as we call it in Exposing the Invisible, “seeing sideways” – and we acknowledge that these virtues sometimes require a great deal of patience. Based on our own experiences and those of our peers, we are under no illusion that any of this is easy. Turning information into evidence, then into knowledge, then into wisdom or justice requires time, effort, persistence and courage. But we believe these transformations are necessary. Investigating the issues that define our here and now, as well as our future, is vital if we want to remain engaged, active and most importantly, aware.
So, You Are Here - You Are Already an Investigator
You are already an investigator. That is why you are here. You have the curiosity, or the skills, or a problem that needs solving. You need to gather information, or you’ve already found information and you want to know how to use it.
This kit will show you how to move from curiosity to investigation to action.
The content here is being developed collectively by a group of researchers, activists, journalists, developers, artists and others eager to share knowledge on how to conduct investigations using a wide range of skills, tools and techniques. Like you, they are curious and motivated to learn about problems affecting their surroundings and to act on that information.
Using this kit, you will uncover different ways to build knowledge that can help you address an issue or simply to verify information instead of taking it for granted. Whether you are seeking to uncover corruption in local politics, document the manufacturing process of a product you consume, or map the scale of environmental damage in your neighbourhood, here you will find inspiration, useful techniques and important safety tips.
Investigating is like putting a puzzle together. The pieces are scattered around; some of them might be lost. You still want to find out what the big picture looks like, and you don’t need all the pieces for that. That’s what we want to show you here: how to collect relevant pieces, put them together and draw meaning from that incomplete picture.
If you are already familiar with this process, this kit may still offer new ways to investigate, new sources of information and data, new tools to gather, process, verify and analyse that data, and new ways to use it meaningfully.
If you have not yet applied your skills or time for investigative purposes, don’t worry. In this kit you will also find inspiration from real stories about people like you who have transformed from curious observers to skilful investigators tackling important issues. Amateur photographers, trainspotters, artists, coders, activists or kids researching on the internet in their bedroom - many have turned into investigators by chance, even without claiming the title.
Investigation is a mindset
An investigation is a process of collecting and analysing information from different sources and drawing conclusions that address an initial question, problem or assumption. This process allows you to build a body of knowledge about a person of interest, an organisation, a place, an event, a crime… you get the idea.
Investigations serve a clear purpose: it might be seeking the truth, understanding a pattern or creating – or countering – a narrative. The key to fulfilling that purpose is turning a body of knowledge into a body of evidence, an unbreakable proof, by interpreting and giving meaning to that knowledge. The process of setting your purpose, gathering information and extracting meaning is the central structure of any investigation.
An investigation is not a linear process that can be mastered by following a step-by-step guide. Rather, it involves a certain mindset to approach questions from different angles and with various tools and techniques, as you will see throughout this kit.
Investigations are often non-linear, iterative processes. You may need to rethink your strategies to find more information if your current path reaches a dead end. You may consider alternative methods to interpret that information or search elsewhere for additional evidence that refines your understanding of the picture you’re putting together.
Before we continue, let’s get rid of some stereotypes, too. Investigations and evidence collection are not limited to traditional detective-style work or to a path that only investigative journalists can follow.
It is now easier than ever for people to conduct or contribute to investigations thanks to greater access to information and the availability of free and easy research tools. Activists and civil society organisations are conducting investigations to inform campaigns, public debates and policies. Artists are visualising the scale and impact of corruption, human rights abuses or environmental degradation. Programmers are making sense of data that is often manipulated by politicians. Citizen journalists and open-source investigators are breaking ground in digital investigations.
Risks and rewards
As you start investigating you really don’t know what you will find out there, so be cautious and aware. There may be safety concerns, legal risks or unexpected situations, such as facing a dead end and having to simply give up, or encountering problems that go beyond your skills and abilities. Anticipating such challenges is always healthier than having to face the unexpected.
Before diving in, be mindful of your own safety and the risks involved in whatever tools, information sources and techniques you may want to use. Think of whether you need to work alone or collaborate with others, and whether you can find alternative ways of obtaining data if your initial plan seems too risky. Consider the technology and devices you use in the process and be aware of the physical environment you live and work in. Just as traces can be found of events or individuals that you are investigating, your own investigation can leave traces that can put you, your collaborators, your sources or your information at risk.
As you become aware of potential risks, you can plan mitigation strategies and measures to secure yourself and others you are contacting or working with. Of course, you can’t predict everything, and each investigative experience is unique in its own way. But whether you are dealing with a low-tech environment, a restrictive environment or simply the internet, you will be able to assess the risks you might take and identify possible safeguards by following the tips and techniques outlined in this kit.
This kit is yours
At a time when we are all saturated by data and confronted by misinformation, it’s important on a personal and community level for us to be able to identify sources of problems and counter misleading narratives that are not based on facts and evidence. If facts are valuable, then the process of uncovering and documenting them is also valuable.
Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on others to determine the facts. Journalists, civil society organisations and others who investigate for a living are often unable to keep up with the speed at which misinformation and corruption currently spread and affect everyone. Sometimes you need to find out answers for yourself and conduct your own inquiries because you care too much. Luckily, there is now an abundance of information of public interest that can be collected from offline and online resources with accessible tools and techniques. Also, for every technique developed to mislead you these days, there are more and more open-source tools and opportunities to verify or de-bunk.
This kit wants to take advantage of all these opportunities and amplify the investigator’s mindset. Whether you are just starting, or you already have some experience, this resource can help you in many ways.
Here you can explore tools to access websites that have been removed from the internet, content that does not appear in search engines or data from videos and images that would otherwise remain invisible. You will discover ideas on how to approach investigations into companies and public funds or to find out how products you use and consume were made, and what abuses might have happened along the way. You can figure out how to use maps to investigate places and events, or how to prepare for field research. You will get tips about talking to people and observing places, assessing risks, collecting and using information safely and ethically, and making sure that you and others involved can stay out of harm’s way. You will also see how to approach data from unexpected points of entry or discover information resources and tools you didn’t know about.
Case studies and first-person examples from the Kit will help bring these techniques and resources to life, and help you find similarities to issues and problems affecting your community, or even inspire you to start your own investigations.
Investigators are continuous learners. The greater your arsenal of tactics the more you are able to grow and apply your investigative skills beyond what you are already doing.
Most important, this kit is yours - yours to use, adapt, share, localise and contextualise. It is also yours to contribute to if you feel that it’s missing important ideas, topics, tools and methods. We continue to develop it with people and groups from all over the world and from diverse fields of practice, and we’ll add more content on a regular basis. We imagined this kit as an ever-evolving resource that will eventually enable a new community of investigators to emerge and take this work further. Join us.
Do you want to be involved?
Please contact our team with feedback, questions, suggestions for additional content or intentions to collaborate on expanding the Kit by writing to:
- GPG Key fingerprint: BD30 C622 D030 FCF1 38EC C26D DD04 627E 1411 0C02).
Please visit the Credits section of the Kit to learn more about our contributors. The Kit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.