November 27, 2012

Crowd Sourcing to Promote Transparency in the Baltics

What does a Latvian activist do after witnessing the power of crowd sourcing on a visit to New York during her Humphrey Fellowship? Inga Springe decided to establish an online map that uses crowd sourcing to track and compare heating bills in her own country of Latvia.

“In the beginning of 2012 we implemented an innovative experiment for Latvian journalism by combining crowd sourcing and mapping to compare heating costs across the country,” explains Inga. “We asked people to send their heating bills to us, and posted the data on an online map. The project was called Hot Bills. To make this project more successful, we organized a network of the largest Latvian media outlets to advertise the project and to report on the received data. I got the idea for this project from [discussions with] ProPublica in New York during my exchange.”

Not only did Inga start the Hot Bills project but she subsequently hosted the American professional who had hosted her in the United States at an investigative journalism conference in Latvia, where her American counterpart was a guest speaker. Experiences such as these helped Inga see her own country with a fresh perspective.

“Although the Soviet Union collapsed more than 20 years ago, we still feel that people are unaware of themselves here in Latvia,” explains Inga.. “We are afraid of people that are different from us in any way. Getting the opportunity to see how people live in other countries and learning what kind of problems they face, I clearly saw the advantages and problems in my country. I also realized the many good things that we have here in Latvia, which I had not noticed before. For example, I now recognize the value of our strong work ethic.”

Inga credits the Department of State for providing valuable contacts and other resources to help bring her innovative ideas to life.

“I am trying to implement many of the ideas that I learned in the United States here in the Baltics,” says Inga. “I have been doing this via the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, Re:Baltica, which was launched with the support of the Alumni Innovation Engagement Fund (AEIF) in August 2011. The seed money from AEIF was crucial for us since it helped secure funding from other sources such as the Open Society Institute.”

The exchange experience also influenced Inga on a more personal level.

“The Humphrey Program experience changed me in a lot of ways - professionally and also personally,” reflects Inga. “Personally, I learned to be more self-confident and open to diversity… I have been influenced by the scent of freedom and diversity.”