Convening a network to expand environmental health data systems beyond compliance
August 17, 2022

During the first half of 2022, Open Environmental Data Project, the Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University, and Intertidal Agency teamed up to conceptualize data ecosystems that move “Beyond Compliance” to put data created for regulatory compliance to greater use. Our overall goal was to support researchers in repurposing data to ask and answer new questions, both inside and outside regulatory agencies. 

Our work additionally draws inspiration from the role of open practices when trying to reimagine legacy systems that don’t prioritize broad data access and reuse. In addition to updating infrastructure to provide open access to the information required to make environmental decisions, open frameworks can provide a solid grounding for how we come together as a community to draw momentum and enthusiasm around this work.

In the current era of climate crisis, it is time to revisit the data policies and architecture of the past. We need to enable greater data sharing across public and private boundaries, including opening up compliance data, to unlock new insights and innovations. The U.S. government’s interest in open data is growing, as shown through the Federal data strategy and federal funding directives under the Inflation Reduction Act, while open source data analysis tools and increasing data literacy mean more people and institutions can engage in  environmental stewardship and oversight. 

The first phase of this work explored how agencies collect and use environmental data, both through their own monitoring and tracking programs and through compliance data collected and submitted by regulated entities. Based on a series of interviews, we drafted a synthesis of key findings and recommendations with our initial audience in mind.

In November 2022, we’ll move to the second phase of this project and begin building a network of people and organizations that are likewise interested in rethinking environmental data and its infrastructure. We envision a network of data stewards, curators, managers, and researchers who can act collectively to change the system we have now into one that is more open, accessible, and interoperable to meet the needs of the future. On November 3 and 4, we’re convening a small group at Drexel University to create a shared agenda for improving systems through which environmental health data are stored and shared, and to envision how to expand the network.

While we are sending out direct invites, if your work is aligned and you’d like to submit an expression of interest, we would appreciate hearing about your conjoined interests and goals. This first convening will focus issues and opportunities related to data used for environmental health assessment. We will eventually expand the scope of this project to include climate change and other environmental justice topics.