When Global Integrity first began to publish the annual Global Integrity Report in 2006, we were managing a team of more than 150 contributing journalists and researchers in more than 40 countries, who together would ultimately generate more than 20,000 data points and two million words of narrative assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their countries’ anti-corruption safeguards. They all required care and feeding, from methodological guidance to project management support to being paid on time for their work. Some faced political pressure at home by working with us. It was a huge effort to keep the trains running on time while simultaneously publishing high-quality, best practice research and reporting on complicated public policy issues.
At our disposal, we had:
- Two and a half employees (all of whom had side jobs to help make ends meet)
- Two interns
- Recycled second-hand PCs
- An unreliable $50/month internet connection
- 462 square feet of office space filled with Ikea furniture
- Three months’ worth of funding
It was, to understate things, a challenge.
But the way we solved those challenges was not the traditional solution often embraced by the NGOs for whom many of us had previously worked: finding legions of unpaid or poorly paid interns and staff and throwing them at the problem. Brute force was the typical approach adopted by the larger, more established organizations where we had cut our teeth. But we didn’t have those luxuries; even if we had had the money (which we didn’t) we didn’t have the space to take on an army of 23-year olds to pore over hard copy print outs or emails sent in from the field, type them into a spreadsheet, and eventually build a website to publish all that complicated data and reporting. We needed to find a better way of managing geographically distributed fieldwork.
Our solution was software. Intuitive but powerful software that gave us the virtual army of staff we could have never supported (or afforded) in real life. Suddenly, we were able to scale our work rapidly without having to scale our overhead at the same rate. By 2007 we were covering more than 50 countries and also beginning to experiment with new fieldwork at the sub-national level; in 2008 national country coverage eclipsed 60 counties with multiple sub-national and sector projects running alongside. Today, Global Integrity supports nearly a dozen ongoing fieldwork initiatives – from our traditional national-level coverage to experimental work in health and education to cutting edge state-level assessments in the United States – all with a staff of fewer than a dozen employees. And we’re still using that same Ikea furniture and those second-hand PCs (much to the chagrin of current colleagues).
Sharing the tools we developed with other like-minded organizations – helping them become leaner, more efficient, and more impactful with their own work – has become a central priority for Global Integrity moving forward. While we could instead choose to simply take on dozens of new projects each year ourselves, we know that our core value-add, the area in which we have the greatest competitive advantage, is in the process and the tools we have developed for managing complex global fieldwork. We feel we do it as well as any NGO on the planet, and we want to share those tools to encourage a rising tide of efficiency and scalability that will hopefully lift boats in both the developed and developing worlds.
Indaba, the third-generation of Global Integrity’s core fieldwork management platform, helps organizations create information. It is a multiuser, browser-based platform that allows geographically distributed teams to create, edit, and publish original content. This content can include text, quantitative data, and uploaded files of any type. The heart of the system is a browser-based project manager that eliminates overhead by letting managers track progress towards goals unique to each project, build a unified content library across all collaborators, and publish that content directly from Indaba to their own websites (and, eventually, social networking and mobile outlets). No email attachments or back-and-forth emails required. Indaba is designed to make complicated, labor-intensive global fieldwork easier, systematic, and faster.
Indaba is a powerful hosted service for its users to design, execute and publish global research and reporting on governance and transparency issues with radically low overhead costs. One of the primary objectives is to reduce the time and effort involved with global fieldwork and data gathering in the “transparency and accountability” universe and to simultaneously allow data to be tagged, aggregated and analyzed across disparate organizations. Indaba is the latest evolution of Global Integrity’s ten years of experience utilizing software-as-a-service for our research, and represents an effort to extend our lessons learned to others for how best to streamline what has historically been slow, labor-intensive fieldwork. For more information about Indaba and how to use it, see http://getindaba.org.