FactCheckNI Case study
The Building Change Trust’s Civic Activism Programme aimed to bring decision-making closer to the citizens of Northern Ireland, through the use of innovative and creative engagement methods.
The Civic Innovation Toolkit documents 29 such methods that had never or very rarely been used in Northern Ireland before. Eight awards were then made to VCSE organisations for the purposes of experimenting with one or more of these methods in relation to a named social or environmental issue.
This series of Learning Resources documents the successes and challenges of each of the eight projects and provides practical information for those who would like to adopt these methods in their own work.
Misinformation and rumours have the potential to spread rapidly on social media, undermining trust in public discourse and damaging the prospects for reconciliation. FactCheckNI have established a fact-checking website (the first in Northern Ireland) in addition to offering training to community groups and members of the public on social media, fact-checking and critical thinking skills.
FactCheckNI is a collaboration between the Northern Ireland Foundation and Transformative Connections. It aimed to create a bottom-up approach to political debate in Northern Ireland, rooted in facts rather than stereotypes and prejudices. It is specifically aimed at people and communities who are not traditionally engaged in political discourse. The project has two elements:
- A fact-checking website at http://www.factcheckni.org/, and
- Training for members of the public and community / voluntary groups in social media, fact-checking and online critical thinking skills.
FactCheckNI is the first dedicated fact-checking site for Northern Ireland. It is guided by an advisory panel, reflecting the functions and audiences of their work, including official statistics, journalism, law, training, education, community engagement and public affairs.
Fact checking is a process of scrutinising assertions of fact, either in written texts or verbal statements. The rise in open data and advances in digital technology increasingly enable members of the public to access fact-checking tools and information, often through specialist organisations focused on specific countries or regions.
What Worked Well
Initial research of fact-checking websites across the world enabled the project to get a good understanding of the range of activities underway in other communities. In addition, the project team actively networked with other fact-checking organisations and they built an active mentoring relationship with Full Fact, a highly respected and well-established organisation. This enabled the project to gain valuable lessons and insights as they set up their website and avoid reinventing the wheel. Peer support from the wider fact-checking community has been very helpful. Feedback on the FactCheckNI website has been positive.
The advisory panel has played an important role in building credibility. This has been particularly important in the context of Northern Ireland where, unlike in Great Britain, cross-political party support for fact checking is not readily available.
The training offer has also been well received, with a wide range of people taking part: from young people not in education or employment in Belfast, to a rural development group in Cookstown. Over the course of the project they expect about 250 people to take up the training.
The team has experimented with some advertising on social media. They found Facebook more useful than Twitter: Facebook generated comments and shares, over a longer period; Twitter produced a short-lived peak in engagement.
What Lessons Can Be Learned
Gaining traction with the mainstream media has been a challenge. This is something that the project team hope to tackle next.
The intention over the longer term is to transition from a time-limited project to a sustainable fact-checking and training offer, whilst at the same time maintaining independence. The project team have been developing a sustainable funding model, but they do not underestimate the challenge of doing this.
All projects in the Civic Activism Programme were supported by The Democratic Society and Involve, who provided mentorship, guidance, international experience and access to a range of Learning Partners.
The Building Change Trust was established in 2008 by the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund) with a National Lottery grant of £10 million, as an investment for community capacity building and promotion of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. This funding was both invested and spent in full by the end of 2018 when the Trust closed.
The Northern Ireland Foundation promotes a shared future in Northern Ireland, local community activism, and the exchange of international best practices.
Transformative Connections (TranConn) is a technology and research consultancy organisation promoting peacebuilding and positive social change.
For more information about the organisations and the project: