Introduction to Investigative Research

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Public Corruption: The misuse of public office for private gain
Political Corruption: Corruption that influences the formulation of laws, regulations and policies.
Administrative Corruption: Corruption that alters the implementation of policies. Source: The World Bank
Corporate Corruption: The misuse of private and public funds, accounting practices and legal loopholes to enhance private gain.

In spring 2010, a group of researchers in the Globalisation, Communication and Democracy research cluster at the University of Strathclyde decided that they needed sharper methodological tools in order to investigate corruption in the public and private spheres. This led them to the summer school of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University in London, where they were inundated with information about how best to expose society’s ills.[1] What you see here is an attempt to convey what they learnt to fellow researchers in this field. It is the result of furious note-taking, which means that any errors are more likely to be ours than those of the people presenting at the summer school.

Spanning a range of approaches to investigative research, this manual outlines the tools needed to access the information to which every UK citizen has a right. Beginning with the public sector, it considers how the Freedom of Information Act entitles members of the public to monitor the ways in which decisions are taken that affect their lives. This leads into a consideration of how specific financial and contractual information may be elicited from local authorities and police forces, and how public sector accounts are interpreted. This exercise is then repeated for the private sector, where the terminology shifts and the stakes increase but the potential for corruption remains the same. Moving from organisations to individuals, subsequent chapters demonstrate how to find people online and how to uncover details of their activities using sophisticated powers of detection. In the closing sections, attention turns to investigating misuses of the political system through spin and lobbying. And, finally, suggestions will be offered about how to write up your research in a way that will both engage readers and protect you from legal action.

Investigative research isn’t easy and it can take a huge amount of time to sift through the facts, but it is socially necessary and it can be immensely rewarding. Always remember that, in an era of corruption, knowledge really is power.

These pages are by researchers for researchers, 2010.



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