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Good ideas are like baby birds. They poke their way into the world in fits and starts, feathers in disarray. But in time, they take flight. That's how it's been watching our tool for viewing oil and mining contracts emerge, waddle and take off over the past five years.

Even when the law requires corporations and governments to disclose the deals they make in the "extractive industries," the contracts that set the terms can remain hard to find and even harder to understand. As internet director for Revenue Watch Institute (now NRGI), and as strategy consultant to the Open Contracting Partnership and other allies, I've had a front row seat—and a few hours of game time—in the struggle to make these contracts literally and conceptually accessible.

When we present data and information, the medium is often the message. “Download our full dataset (19MB),” sends a different message than “New figures suggest the oil spill would cover Lake Erie.” The tension between data depth and clear narratives is not a simple one, though. Sometimes the most important story data tells is in the relationships between data sets.

In the oil, gas and mining sector, a complex web of relationships governs the flow of money from private companies to governments to the local communities that benefit from government spending and services. Groups like Publish What You Pay and NRGI are in Ottawa discussing better tools to promote accountability in the extractive industries by extracting data on these fiscal flows, which can also include foreign aid and local taxes, among other things.

The World Bank has been working with colleagues from these fields to draft a tool that can illustrate the web of relationships in the extractive sector, and serve as a visual backdrop for posting data in context.

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