The Public Accountability Initiative is a nonprofit public interest research organization focused on corporate and government accountability. You might also know them by the name LittleSis (more on that later). Beginning later this month, Little Sis is offering a series of trainings on research tools for organizers, which seems like a good moment to learn more about the work of LittleSis and explore the training it offers. We asked Robert Galbraith, senior research analyst at Public Accountability Initiative/, to fill us in.

In the Public Interest: The focus of LittleSis is on “power research.” Can you explain what power research is, and why you think it’s important?

Robert Galbraith: Power research is the investigation of the people and institutions who sit at the top of our society—in terms of wealth, command of resources, and the ability to shape the world in the way they want it to be. Power researchers investigate the business and political networks of powerful people and organizations, the nonprofit and cultural organizations they support and direct, their country clubs and social networks, all in order to understand who is upholding and benefiting from the status quo, how they are able to do this, what they care about, and so on, with the goal of finding ways to disrupt that concentration of power and influence.

ITPI: You offer a toolkit on “mapping the power”—can you explain what power mapping is and how Little Sis created the toolkit?  

Galbraith: Power mapping is the use of power research to analyze specific networks of powerful people and organizations, whether that is around a particular interest area or in a particular place. Our “map the power” toolkit is essentially a research guide or flow chart that helps researchers understand the basics of where to look for this information using publicly available data. This tool is a complement to our public research training series that we run each year and shows demos of various research tools and techniques to try and inspire and empower more people to try out this approach to understanding power networks.

ITPI: Can you talk about the end user—who would benefit from understanding power mapping, and how would they use it?

Galbraith: To a certain degree, anyone who is curious and spends time thinking about how important decisions are made about policy or how resources are distributed is already engaged in power mapping. At LittleSis, we work to help people make these investigations in a more systematic way and, more importantly, to act on it to change things, whether that’s by exposing dirty deals and high-level corruption, confronting corporate boards in contract negotiations, beating back utility rate hikes, or anywhere else people find themselves coming up against organized money and political power.

ITPI: You’re offering a series of trainings over the next few months, beginning April 18, 2024. Can you give us the general scope of the content, and what you hope to accomplish with the trainings? Who should participate and what will they learn?

Galbraith: The “Research Tools for Organizers” series will cover our approach to power research and many of the tools we use most frequently in our investigations at LittleSis, including campaign finance and lobbying databases, corporate regulatory filings, nonprofit tax returns, and politicians’ financial disclosures. The aim is for a person who attends all of the trainings to come out with both the toolset to investigate corporate power as it relates to their areas of interest as well as strategies for using research to fight that power, with examples from real campaigns and history. The training series is oriented towards organizers and activists,

ITPI: Okay, what’s with the name?

Galbraith: Ha, this is a very common question! LittleSis is the opposite of Big Brother. So, while we may think of “Big Brother” as the powerful watching down, surveilling, and monitoring the people, LittleSis is the people watching up to hold the powers that be accountable. It’s as simple as that! A key mission of our work is to turn as many people as possible into power researchers so, while a little funny, it’s a pretty apt name for us.

LittleSis 2024 Research Tools for Organizers Training Series (click links to learn more about the session and to register):

Session 1, April 18, 7:00pm ET: Intro to Power Research

Session 2, May 16, 7pm ET: The Corporation

Session 3, June 20, 7pm ET: Nonprofits

Session 4, July 18, 7pm ET: Billionaires and Other Powerful People

Session 5, September 19, 7pm ET: Money in Politics

Session 6, October 17, 7pm ET: Researching Politicians