Managing Human Sources for Your Investigations

This is a plan and content for a workshop on how to start building contacts for possible future sources, learn how to develop, interact with and maintain sources and how to enrich investigations with their cooperation. This workshop may be conducted as an independent training or as part of a larger training that includes our workshops on: "Interviews - the Human Element of Your Investigation" and/or "Interviews Requiring Special Approaches." As a workshop facilitator, you can choose to run the workshop sessions in one day or divide them across multiple days, especially if your workshops take place online. The plan below includes sessions with a proposed average time of 1 hour to 1h30’ per session.

Outline 0- Introduction 1- Safety First! • Approaching tools and methods • Risk assessment • Building trust and establishing and maintaining boundaries. 2- Creating a database

Part (or all) of the content here about digital and personal security would be in POINT 3: Discussion Risk Assessment so if both curricula are part of the same training we should consider what relates to sources and highlight it, and insist in certain aspects.

Duration 4 hours training including:

  1. Introduction to sources 1 hour • Breaking ice (10 minutes) and introduction (15 minutes). • Identifying and reaching out to sources 35 minutes
  2. Safety First! 2h • Approaching tools and methods 1h (might be ran independently) • Risk assessment (30’). • Building trust and establishing boundaries (self-care) (30’).
  3. Creating a database of sources: 50’
  4. WRAP up 15 minutes quiz about sources what they are; how to deal with them, how to set boundaries.

Participants Number of participants 3-15

Goals Knowledge • Understanding what a source is and where to find it. • Understand and asses risks during your interaction overtime and how bias might affect in different stages. Skills • Being on the lookout for potential sources. • How to maintain a database and a long lasting, healthy and safe interaction with sources. • Risk assessment: Checks and balances. (should refer to the same content in interviews [*see DISCUSSION. Identifying risks and mitigating them] this will only ran independently when the workshop is taught on its own). • Self-care

NOTE that the information we cover in the Interviews track of this training package (Plan 1), on types of human sources, how to identify them, conduct background research, establish their biases and trustworthiness, reach out to them, communicate safely, etc, applies as much to long-term sources as it does to one-off interviewees, therefor we will be using the same exercises making clear the difference between those human sources we will interview and those we will be interested in establishing a longer relationship with.

0- Breaking ice and introduction

1- Identifying and reaching out to sources the first part of the training repeats the content that we use for interviews

When addressing this part of the training is important that trainer/s think in longer term interactions and that adapt/s the samples not to an investigation but to a field of investigation and the sources that the investigators will be dealing with and that might be able to help them or provide tips over time.
5 minutes break

2- Safety First!

a) Approaching methods and tools (1 hour). Resources Security in a Box ( EFF guides (

b) Risk assessment: (30’). Repeats the content that we use for interviews about the research cycle c) Building trust and establishing boundaries. (30’) this slot of the training highlights the need of building trust and establishing healthy boundaries and how. Ask the participants to explain how they nurture their professional relationships and what do they think that they can apply to the relationship they establish with sources (10 minutes): Some of these could and should be mentioned: • Keeping contact: law of the three calls. Check-ups for non-research purposes. • Informal meetings • Invitations to a work related event they might be interested in (consider if you care of being seen hanging out with that particular source (risk assessment). • Trust. Give and receive trust protecting your sources. Sharing previous work may be helpful in order to gain trust from your sources.

The trainer/s should make clear that building trust and establishing and maintaining boundaries is essential when dealing with long term sources.

Ask participants to share experiences or indicate/guess what challenges may occur (10 minutes). Problems that may occur: • Mutual trust disappears • Sources stepping into the personal • Power balance • Blackmailing (emotional or other type)

Discuss them and propose ways to mitigate it writing two columns for Problems and Mitigation/Solutions (10 minutes). The trainer/s may suggest to elaborate a set of healthy practices: • Gender related. Unwanted advances of a source /// Use a work phone and a personal phone to keep things separated/ bring a colleague along for your next encounter

3- Creating a database of sources: 50 minutes

20 minutes Working teams take the sources they have identified at the beginning and order them meaningfully creating a sheet (or several) with the information they think they need to consider/gather about the source. How do the database look like? Share input and project or write in a board the contact sheets. (25 minutes) Highlight diverse angles to gather the info meaningfully: • topic-specific contact list of environmentalists, lawyers, political activists, human rights researchers, officials, etc. • names and occupations • organizations • Countries Cross reference is often useful. Remember (Safety recommendations for storage devices, encrypted comms, anonymizing/codifying identity and contacts for sensitive sources and those at risk… etc).

Tools (open source) and links that we can recommend.

  1. WRAP up 15 minutes quiz about sources what they are; how to deal with them, how to set boundaries…. Etc.

First published on December 21, 2020

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