Credit: Image by United blue on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Latvia is not like other European countries when it comes to heating bills, investigative journalist Inga Springe explained to a conference today. Instead of having the choice of a range of energy suppliers, the cost is set by a "building manager", she explained.

Springe, who founded the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, known as Re:Baltica, was aware that heating costs varied widely in Latvia. And in a country which regularly experiences winter temperatures of minus 30, the topic is close to people's hearts.

Speaking at Digital Journalism Days, a conference taking place in Poland this week, Springe explained how, inspired by ProPublica's various crowdsourcing projects, Re:Baltica kicked off a project to find out what people were paying to heat their homes.

By asking for details of the cost-per-meter-squared, the project, called Hot Bills, gathered energy costs from more than 3,000 people across the country (which has a population of 2 million).

More than 2,400 responses were plotted on a Google Map, which displays the building number, but not the apartment number for individual residences. This meant people could then compare their bill with how much their neighbours pay.

Latvia crowdsourcing

Re:Baltica not only collaborated with the audience to grow the story, but worked in partnership with different news outlets, including a TV channel, a national newspaper, a radio station, and a news site.

All partners received branding on the map and each covered the stories best suited to their particular platform, with TV journalists tackling visual stories, for example.

Journalists were able to find a range of stories within the data provided, such as the cheapest and most expensive heating charges.

Investigative journalists at Re:Baltica wanted to “dig out some dirty data”, Springe said. One example related to the spending of EU funding, which sparked much debate, both among the public, and in the political scene.

Schools project

Re:Baltica has also carried out a crowdsourcing project to "count the cost of sending your child to school", Springe, a previous Fulbright fellow, said.

Another big talking point in Latvia, as elsewhere, is the cost of textbooks, school uniforms and other bills parents face when sending a child to school.

Called E Reporter, the crowdsourcing project asked parents to answer questions. The schools data was pre-populated, which meant parents could then choose the school from a list.

Schools map Latvia

Crowdsourcing information aids transparency, Springe said, as facts are checked. As with the building managers in the Hot Bills project, the schools were quick to inform Re:Baltica if they disputed information provided by parents.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).