Civic Activism Awards - NI Foundation
The NI Foundation will be using Digital Fact Checking.

Civic Activism Awards - NI Foundation

28 July 2015

The Northern Ireland Foundation was started in the belief that local communities and neighborhoods are best placed to take decisions for themselves when it comes to providing public services.

Their work with Ulster University and its Advanced Diploma on Civic Leadership and Community Development brought together elected members of municipalities and representatives of statutory bodies and the voluntary and community sectors.

In the international arena, the Foundation-run Forum for Cities in Transition brings together the same mix of people from contested places around the world, who meet annually to share experiences and lessons. At the culmination of the forum, delegates pledge to undertake projects in collaboration with each other.

The NI Foundation’s Civic Activism Awards project will do exactly what it says on the tin. It will work to address the issue of false or misleading information in the public domain, through undertaking and publishing high quality research into key issues of public concern.

Tranformative Connections, an organisation focussed on the role of technology in peace building and positive social change, will be working with the NI Foundation as training and research partner on the project. 

In doing so it will seek to reduce public confusion regarding political issues in NI, will enable citizens to hold public figures, political groups and the media to account on public statements made, and it will distill key facts from complex data for use by the community and voluntary sector and others.

A 2013 survey carried out by the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London, showed that public opinion is repeatedly off the mark on many issues including crime, benefit fraud and immigration.

The difference between perception and reality can have a negative impact on intercommunity relations, with misinformation spreading quickly through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Fact Check NI will be a platform that promotes a collaborative and bottom-up approach to the political debate, working with members of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, community workers, media editors and journalists, politicians and the general public.

They aim to work with as many of the 4,836 voluntary and community sector organisations in NI as possible to identify issues and gather information.

The project will aim to influence public policy in regards to the community and voluntary sector, keep politicians right in terms of both their promises and their rhetoric, and also influence the general public by providing access to non-biased, un-opinionated facts. The project will also encourage newspaper editors to publish corrections after inaccuracies appear in their outlets.

The digital fact-checking tool was chosen because, even though fact-checking sites are on the rise worldwide and there are currently three in the UK, none are dedicated to Northern Ireland or the island of Ireland.

The basic model for a fact-checking website is a blog-type format, with analysis of specific claims sorted by topic. The groups behind fact-checking websites tend to be independent non-profit organisations who often take on commissioned work and requests or suggestions for specific fact checks from the general public.

The Fact Check NI project will be divided into three phases. The first will include in-depth research into the various fact-checking mechanisms, drawing upon the best practice of these models to design a Northern Ireland-specific model. Alongside this the Foundation will make key appointments in personnel, soft launch the website and begin qualitative and quantitive research.

Phase 2 will see the training of members of the public and third sector in fact-checking and anti-rumour techniques and processes. At this point the Foundation will also publish initial content and add an interactive fact-check guide to the website. In total the project will train 500 people in fact-checking methodologies.

In the final phase Fact-Check NI will increase the scope and complexity of its publications, initiate a crowdsourcing project for a live fact check for the NI Assembly elections in 2016 and publish its final findings from the research.

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