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Data chefs and problem-solvers: Meet ICIJ’s global data team

ICIJ's data unit has been tapping into the power of data for 12 months now. Here, we tap into their minds with some non-data questions...

Cécile's desk.

Twelve months ago ICIJ set out on a mission to expand its data, digital, and research capacity by creating a new data and research unit, under the leadership of editor and ICIJ member Mar Cabra.

Since then, the team has expanded to five full-time members spread across four countries, working virtually on everything from data analysis through to interactive graphics. Here we test them with five non-data-specific questions to see how they do…

How would you describe your job in five words or less?

Mar Cabra (Editor, Data and Research Unit; based in Spain): Data unit's air traffic controller.

Matthew Caruana Galizia (Web Applications Developer; based in Costa Rica): Making investigative journalism more efficient.

Rigoberto Carvajal (Data Analyst; based in Costa Rica): Data chef

Emilia Díaz-Struck (Research Editor; based in Venezuela): Cross-border data exploration and analysis.

Cécile Schilis-Gallego (Data Journalist; based in the United States and France): Structuring data and producing statistics.

What’s your favorite (or most frequent) work tool?

Mar: Spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, Google spreadsheets).

Matt: A laptop.

Rigo: Talend Open Studio for Big Data.

Emilia: Excel. I love spreadsheets.

Cécile: My favorite tool is Kimono, which enables you to easily create APIs.

What piece of work or story are you most proud of, and why?

Mar: I'm proud that ICIJ now has its own data team, which is almost 50% of the ICIJ staff. In just one year we did great reporting projects (LuxLeaks, SwissLeaks, Evicted & Abandoned) and built top-notch platforms to do better collaborative investigative journalism (including Knight-funded Global I-Hub).

Matt: Luxembourg Leaks. It had a really measurable, effective impact.

Rigo: SwissLeaks. It required very challenging technical work in all the phases: data extraction, cleaning, transformation, deduplication, analysis and visualization.

Emilia: I should create a spreadsheet of my favorite stories! I look for lessons learned, importance for society, findings, quality, the challenge and the experience. Collaborative investigative projects that I have been part of at a global scale and in Venezuela usually have involved a bit of all of these.

Cécile: The work we did on the impact of World Bank projects, estimating how many people had been physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects. We managed to estimate the scope of those displacements, information that was not publicly available.

The electricity has gone off – what do you do?

Data team Skype session.Mar: Keep working until my computer and cell batteries die. But I should've gone out to get a drink.

Matt: Try the circuit breaker.

Rigo: If it has gone off forever, I would buy or try to build a solar panel. If it has gone temporarily, I would use as much as I can my computer’s battery and after that I would write ideas or design solutions using pen and paper for current problems we have or nice to have solutions.

Emilia: Been there, done that. Hopefully I am not inside an elevator. Back to basics: patience, pen and paper. Hmm… But wait? Why is the electricity gone? When it returns, we should check records and data.  Is there a potential story?

Cécile: Get candles.

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?

Mar: Politician or activist. I like helping change happen.

Matt: Something else that I enjoy so much it doesn't often feel like a job, like this one. Those are hard to find.

Rigo: Ideas proposer. I love to solve problems, improve things or come up with crazy ideas, if I could do only that, it would be the best job in the world.

Emilia: I would try with other things I love. Perhaps being a philosopher or a dancer.

Cécile: Investigative reporter.

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