The ambition

Bellingcat is one of the world’s leading organisations in the field of open source and social media investigations. Established in 2014 by Elliot Higgins as a global online network of volunteer investigators, it is a pioneer in the field.

By using data from publicly available sources and social media, such as Google Maps, Facebook and YouTube, its citizen journalists identify, triangulate and analyse information to hold those in power to account. It investigates a variety of subjects; from Mexican drug lords to conflicts fought around the world.

The team gained particular recognition for its work on issues such as the downing of MH17 in Ukraine and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Their work focuses on investigations, developing open source methods and tools, conducting training and setting standards for the open source community.

To scale up and increase impact and secure new funding, Bellingcat needed to formalise its operations, without losing the strength and uniqueness of its approach and volunteer network. Firetail was asked to provide an organisational review, develop a three-year strategy and advise Bellingcat on organisational and governance structures.

Our approach

We engaged with internal and external representatives across a variety of fields, including open source and journalism, human-rights advocacy, media, funders and technology companies. We reviewed the organisation’s model of working, activities, impact and the landscape it operates in, identifying the challenges that come with working at the forefront of a new and disruptive sector. Working closely with Bellingcat, we developed a new vision and mission, set priorities and objectives for the coming three years, and established a new organisational structure and roadmap for growth.

The impact

As a result of our work with Bellingcat, the organisation changed its organisational structure, introducing thematic departments. It is also in the process of assembling a Board of Trustees. This allows the organisation to be more deliberate and focused, setting it up to further increase impact in the future. As a result, Bellingcat has secured major core funding from a number of established grant-makers. Bellingcat is using the strategic findings to plan for the future and is developing partnerships in new areas and geographies.

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