Re-Mix Workshop on Designing Governance Tools for Agricultural and Environmental Data
To read a synthesis of the workshop, click here.
On April 4, 2023, Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) co-hosted an Environmental Data Re-Mix Workshop with OpenTEAM. We explored and discussed the design of data governance tools for agricultural and environmental data.
During the workshop, OEDP’s Research and Policy Associate Emelia Williams led a conversation with Dorn Cox, OpenTEAM’s Project Lead, to learn about the Ag Data Wallet development process. This was a learning conversation, as part of OEDP's data stewardship work and in the development of a data governance model called Community Data Hubs. While these tools focus on different kinds of data—agricultural and environmental—they have some shared data governance goals.
Following the conversation, participants chose which aspects of the model’s data governance they wanted to explore further (social, technical, legal, etc.), joining breakout rooms to brainstorm around the design of the models. There was space to ask questions and give feedback with the goal of providing actionable suggestions. They also had the opportunity to share challenges and lessons from their respective fields and experiences.
We focused on the following themes: incorporating user community values and norms into data governance design, integrating data sharing agreements and responsible data practices, supporting individual protection and collective decision-making, data stewardship’s role in the design, and what lessons or practices can be adapted from agriculture for other sectors.
To read a synthesis of the workshop, click here.
Re-Mix Workshop on CA Drinking Water Quality Data and the Human Right to Water
To read a synthesis and recommendations from this workshop, click here.
To view the datasets used and original presentation, visit the CASWRCB Website.
On March 23, 2023, the Open Environmental Data Project and the California State Water Resources Control Board co-hosted a Dataset Re-Mix Workshop. We explored and discussed potential improvements to the state’s water quality datasets, and their uses in understanding and achieving Human Right to Water and Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) program goals.
These datasets were selected because they are among the Water Boards’ most important in regards to public interest. Because access to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water” has been recognized as a human right, it is critical to ensure that data on water quality, Safe Drinking Water Act violations, and assistance are broadly accessible, usable, and understandable to the public.
At the workshop, Water Boards Deputy Director Greg Gearheart, Chief Data Scientist Rafael Maestu, and Senior Engineer Paul Williams presented on the state’s Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) violations data and chemical data, with a focus on the Sacramento region. Participants then joined breakout groups where they brainstormed and explored how these datasets could be used, enhanced, and reformatted to be more inclusive or responsive to various needs.
Workshop discussions were guided by questions such as “How can these data help community organizations and researchers understand which drinking water systems are at risk and in need of funding or technical assistance?”, “What can we do as a water data community of practice to improve this data and turn it into operational information for the larger community water support network?”, and “How can these datasets be structured or shared to be more useful?”
We are grateful for the participation and contributions of all of our participants, and are excited to work towards assessing and implementing their recommendations. Participants in this workshop included: Ariana Hernandez, Badhia Yunes-Katz, Brian Currier, Christian Carleton, Christopher Tull, Clare Pace, David Okita, Drew Lester, Emily McCague, Erik Porse, Evelyn Wendel, Grace Harrison, Greg Pierce, Hannah Cushman Garland, Jennifer Hazard, Jenny Rempel, Juan Cano, Karen Nishimoto, Kyle McNeil, Kyle Onda, Luis Sanchez, Nataly Escobedo Garcia, Paul Williams, Seigi Karasaki, Tara Moran, Tien Tran.
To read a synthesis and recommendations from this workshop, click here.
To learn more, please contact Greg Gearheart (Greg.Gearheart@waterboards.ca.gov), Rafael Maestu (firstname.lastname@example.org), Paul Williams (email@example.com) or Katie Hoeberling (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Re-Mix Workshop on Urban Flooding Baseline Stormwater Photos Database
To read the synthesis from this event, please click here.
Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP)’s Environmental Dataset Re-Mix Workshops work on existing environmental datasets, articulating redesigns that make them usable to lay audiences, reusable to public needs, and inclusive of cultural knowledge within participants’ communities.
On January 26, 2023, OEDP and Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) co-hosted a workshop on a dataset compiling photographs of stormwater runoff collected by Cook County, IL south suburban residents.
The workshop began with a brief presentation of a stormwater runoff dataset led by Cyatharine Alias, CNT’s Manager, Community Infrastructure & Resilience. This grounding presentation was followed by breakout/group discussions and
brainstorming around goals and challenges in accessing and using the data. Our goal was to identify ways in which the dataset could be added to, enhanced, or changed, to be more inclusive, useful and accessible to user needs.
The workshop was based on guiding questions from data seekers such as “What information needs to be included so this can more accurately represent me and/or my community?”,and “What would you want a photo dataset on flooding to include?”, or “How can the back end data set be useful while still maintaining privacy for residents? “
To read the synthesis from this event, please click here.
Participatory Environmental and Climate Planning: Local Governance Needs and the Role of Data and Information (Winter 2022)
This Brain Trust resulted in the Opportunity Brief Look to the Local: Data and Engagement in Environmental and Climate Planning.
Our most broad-reaching environmental protections in the U.S. – and attempts at holistically addressing climate change and environmental injustices – are implemented via federal legislation. Yet, we are now seeing Build Back Better, keystone legislation in the Biden-Harris Administration efforts to address climate change stalled in the Senate, and critical air protection measures set to be tested in the Supreme Court with the advancement of West Virginia vs. Environmental Protection Agency. Executive Orders can rapidly turn over decades of environmental progress and leave federal agencies tasked with environmental protection and management mired in situations where legacy conditions must be addressed before forward movement can be made.
This uneasy balance has been present since the establishment of EPA. State inaction around the Cuyahoga River in Ohio pushed Nixon to set up EPA. Two administrations later, Reagan waged the first war against the agency, effectively whittling it down. While progressive administrations have generally been more respectful of the important role of environmental agencies, the push and pull continues today, when administrations like Trump undercut previous progress.
Environmental health, justice and prosperity should not operate as pawns in political battles, but this is the unfortunate history of environmental politics in the U.S. There is a critical role for non-federal environmental governance to provide a backbone for stronger environmental actions and practices in their localities. When the federal government fails, state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments can be places where work continues. This can be seen in the carryover from the Trump era when cities and regions focused on participatory planning processes in light of federal government inaction.
The OpenGov and CivicTech movement of the last decade(+) modeled and built foundational partnerships with government actors at these local levels. This was possible in part because they are better equipped to work with civil society to test new innovations in their own communities. Community solution identification and development happens when government falls short. These spaces of community innovation can be important starting points for government investment in workable climate and environmental solutions.
Non-federal government can also face fewer barriers to interacting with models and frameworks for collaborative planning centered on communities. For instance, citizens/residents having leading roles on task forces or planning committees to build city and county climate plans. Look from state to state and you’ll find examples of local governments producing responsive impact (e.g., the New York state ban on fracking) or making plans for action when the federal government isn’t moving quickly enough (e.g., Michigan’s 2050 carbon-neutral plan) .
In February 2022, Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) is articulating the role of data and information to strengthen models of participatory development and governance in non-federal government. We are bringing together a Brain Trust to examine how data and information can enhance the ways that SLTT governments work on behalf of communities, while also navigating potentially competing priorities in environmental governance decisions. We’re also interested in understanding how local communities are innovating outside of formal governance procedures or perceived community scientist or volunteer roles to identify and advance environmental solutions.
In OEDP’s first Opportunity Brief, Environmental Data as a Public Good, we built on the ideations of a Brain Trust to identify opportunities for further consideration. These included models for how data use and collaborative processes strengthen each other through structures such as community review and advisory boards, placement of environmental data officers, and training programs to support interaction between SLTT governments, and communities. We’ve also started to articulate models of collaborative community data governance while others have explored and modeled best practices for local climate action planning and the necessity of a workforce ready to put climate information into practice. In our next Brain Trust, we’ll ask the following questions to dig deeper into how data-informed participatory governance can lead to better climate and environmental planning:
- What models work and why? How can community-developed solutions enter policy conversations?
- How can these models be scaled up or built into existing approaches?
- How can environmental data better support these approaches? What stops this data from supporting them and where are the entry points for environmental data use?
 State action can also have adverse environmental consequences, such as the case of the Texas Railroad Commission who, while legally entitled, doesn’t exercise control over methane leaks and production, and thus authorized almost 7,000 flaring and venting expressions in 2019.
Environmental Data Beyond Original Intent (Summer 2022)
This Brain Trust resulted in the Opportunity Brief Beyond Original Intent: Environmental Data Stewardship for Diverse Uses
While open data policies (e.g., the US OPEN Government Data Act enacted in 2019, the Open Government Partnership, and hundreds of actions related to the Covid-19 data) have set a foundation for data transparency and availability, they often fall far short of making data accessible, usable, and in many cases, findable. Disparities in access to resources and lack of diverse representation in the development of standards to guide open data practices like FAIR also threaten their broad and equitable uptake. And as the Global Indigenous Data Alliance has articulated, there are ethical gaps in their formulation and practice. Data sets that can be put to use for those beyond originally intended end users, can help us make sense and meaning of environmental and climate scenarios in new and useful ways.
As the urgency grows around climate change and other environmental crises, so too does the need for environmental datasets to be opened up for use beyond their original intent. Take for example, data collected by states and aggregated by EPA for permitting and compliance purposes, or datasets created by researchers (often with government funding). These could be used by other researchers, community organizations, journalists, and lawyers to advance more equitable and effective local solutions to environmental problems. Relatedly, community data can be better integrated into government data systems to strengthen their relevance to communities and improve community representation. In the wake of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on West Virginia vs. EPA, it is more critical than ever that environmental governance systems leverage as much existing data and as many tools as possible to inform climate action, including expanding evidence on the drivers and impacts of climate change, as well as the effects of climate policy and decisions.
In creating such data, and the infrastructure needed to make them truly accessible, usable, and inclusive, it is important to integrate diverse data sources, with data coming from communities, researchers, civil society, and government. Such integration would allow for a greater variety of potential uses by these actors.
Data from communities and civil society can provide highly localized details about environmental change over time, socio-environmental impacts, and time-sensitive depictions of place and experience. It can also help identify gaps, both in terms of data itself and knowledge not adequately captured by existing datasets. But creating and using community data can be an uphill battle. Its collection can be resource-intensive and capacity-reliant, expensive to maintain, and complicated to put to use for environmental compliance, regulation, and enforcement. In order to reduce the burden and resources needed to collect and maintain community data, recent conversations in both environmental and open fields have sought to prioritize data fit for purpose and data that is good enough for intended use cases. While such data are helpful for such narrow intents and purposes, their value often ends at community or media engagement, education, and co-management, or baseline research. OEDP asks: how can these data be collected, structured, and shared so that they can be better integrated into environmental decision-making?
On the other hand, existing datasets from government, industry, and research could be powerful tools for environmental action at many levels—both on their own and paired with the detail that community data can provide. To ensure broad findability, access, and use of such data, however, we need to design data infrastructures with multiple uses and stakeholders in mind, and that can accommodate and promote open practices. For instance, Fair Tech Collective’s database of benzene emissions consolidates data reported by oil refineries to the EPA to help communities understand their exposure to the carcinogen, as well as to support research on benzene’s environmental health impacts. And data used by the IPCC or National Climate Assessment, if made more understandable and usable, might be applied at more local scales to support cities, tribes, and states in more effective climate planning. Pairing these with locally-collected community data and places for community input in the process of data use could also help ensure equity and inclusion in planning processes.
Projects such as OEDP’s Beyond Compliance Network (in partnership with Fair Tech Collective and Intertidal Strategies) aim to modernize environmental data systems and democratize knowledge creation and use by investigating and re-thinking approaches to management and sharing of compliance data. The obstacles faced in this process are immense, systemic, and nuanced. They include, for example, a common reliance on personal relationships in order to find or understand data, gaps in metadata and data dictionaries, and large variations in data’s scale and granularity that make it difficult to integrate.
In August 2022, OEDP hosted a Brain Trust on building the cultural capacity and infrastructure around environmental data that can be used beyond its original intent. We were interested in interrogating and building upon existing systems and structures, and how these can be paired with open practices and values to enable data reuse and solve environmental problems. To this end, we focused on the following questions:
- What kinds of datasets do non-governmental actors use or want to use for environmental and climate research, assessment, management, and compliance?
- What challenges do they run into? What features of data and infrastructure (digital, human, or policy) have facilitated or could facilitate this use?
- What approaches for expanding data’s use have worked, and why? How can these approaches be adapted or scaled for different kinds of data and uses?
- How can government data infrastructures better integrate data from communities, researchers, and other non-governmental actors? What needs to happen to make this possible?
- What improvements can be made by individuals and what will need more collective action, consensus-building, or infrastructure development?
Collaboratively Managed Data (Fall 2022)
This Brain Trust resulted in the Opportunity Brief Collaborative environmental data stewardship: Opportunities for ecosystem building and project application
When we imagine how environmental data can be managed for more democratic and effective environmental decision making, we must conceptualize what collaboratively managed data looks like—how to design infrastructures that reflect the values of diverse data stewards. The FAIR principles offer data producers, owners, managers, and users collective guidelines for enabling data and infrastructures to speak to each other. The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Use consider the social life of data from an indigenous perspective, and more broadly brings to light a concern that should resonate across all decision-driven data spaces: how do we ensure collective benefits, control, responsible use, and ethics as community data weaves an important layer of context and localization into data ecosystems? How can better environmental data stewardship and management lead to more democratic and effective environmental decisionmaking?
Health and/or socioeconomic data stewards have embraced data guilds, trusts, and collaboratives as ways for people to engage in community, shared agreements, and legally binding relationships that govern how their data is managed and accessed. But such collaborative structures are rarer in environment and climate data spaces due to an overwhelming complexity of laws governing the environment (in the United States and on an international scale) and the need for multi-directional input (i.e., from various governmental agencies, court systems, communities, industry, non-profit interest groups, and academia, all with varying degrees of power and influence). Histories of extractivism and appropriation throughout interactions between frontline communities and those collecting, using, or managing communities’ environmental data are well documented. Additionally, while successful partnerships have integrated Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) into data systems, namely in ocean observation datasets, many have struggled to integrate cultural and ecological knowledge. Challenges also stem from disagreements over what is included and who owns information about the environment; can you actually “own” a dataset about water quality from a particular stream in a watershed?
To address these conceptual and material challenges, we’re exploring what collaborative data stewardship can look like in varying environmental contexts, in service of frontline communities.
The open source community—with roots in collaboration, community, and attempts to connect shared social spaces with technological meaning—has given us strong models for creating common places for shared knowledge and practice. Several organizations and communities have begun developing ideas around community environmental data stewardship. In this work, it is critical to interrogate legal mechanisms that define these collaborative spaces, as well as to ask the harder-to-scope social questions of how, with whom, where, and when data is shared. Exciting examples of work in this area include:
- OEDP’s 2020 look into collaborative data models, and related imaginings of an Environmental Trend Platform and Community Data Hubs
- Writing from the Aapti Institute on what environmental data stewardship could look like in the fight against climate change
- The creation of an Open Environmental Stack to enhance community data stewardship
- The use of creative commons-styled tags to indicate data types in the Local Contexts Hub
- A collaboration led by Intertidal Agency working to improve data governance in the Blue Economy and to expand access to essential ocean data
We’re interested in connecting the dots between discussions of data stewardship, sovereignty, and collaboration, as well as in building zones for considering how and what data is shared with whom. To this end, we hope to facilitate the design of infrastructures for collaboratively managed data that apply FAIR, CARE, and open principles while also respecting the social and cultural life of data and promoting greater community utility.
In September 2022, OEDP will host a Brain Trust to ask questions around environmental data stewardship and explore how collaborative models can support multi-sectoral environment management. We’re interested in bringing together practitioners, researchers, and data stewards to focus on the following questions:
- What models and approaches have been successful in collaboratively managing environmental data in community settings?
- How can these models best prioritize community needs, capacities, and abilities?
- What system design considerations are most salient when considering the sometimes conflicting social, cultural, and technical priorities in data management and sharing?
- How do we ensure that people who are managing environmental resources have access to the information they need?
- What are good open licensing practices in the creation of infrastructures that host collaboratively managed environmental data?
Environmental Data as a Public Good In Efforts to Address Climate Change (Fall 2021)
This Brain Trust resulted in the Opportunity Brief: Environmental Data as a Public Good.
Current State and Future Thinking
Environmental data will be integral in addressing the climate crisis at all levels of governance and across the gamut of mitigation, adaptation, and migration efforts. The warming climate is causing increased variability in our natural systems, which in turn increases the variability in our social, economic, and governance systems.
Part of this variability includes a shift within the U.S. government, as we witness long-awaited federal attempts on action on climate change with the Biden-Harris administration. There is pressure to address the climate crisis with a lens that prioritizes environmental justice with a recognition that environmental data (in all its iterations) will be necessary. The federal government is realizing what communities collecting and utilizing data have known all along: We will need the stories that data can tell us in our pursuit of addressing the climate crisis.
The significance of environmental data requires that we catalyze its understanding and mechanization as a public good, something that is nonrival and nonexcludable; a tool that is provided with meaningful access and available without limit. How do we make environmental data a public good that serves communities in their efforts of adapting, mitigating and migrating from climate change? What pathways, levers and incentives are ripe for actionable change in the environmental data landscape?
We seek to understand the landscape of environmental data as a public good within the scope of the climate crisis, before imagining future narratives. The goal of this project is to produce an opportunity brief and a set of future narratives examining these questions.
- How data systems work now: when, where and how data is collected along the decision-making process and how data moves between actors?
- What changes could be made to the data: what new or overlooked forms/sources of data could inform your work?
- What changes could be made to the system: how can a data system adapt to changing community needs?
- How might we value and communicate community solutions and innovations and incorporate them into data collection and governance efforts?
- How could we build future representative data systems for community environmental governance while considering the need for legacy environmental governance systems?
Methodology, Audience, Timeline
The opportunity brief will be informed by an internal research desk review and by a September "Brain Trust" with up to ten people. It will focus on the current landscape of data systems, largely focusing on the first three questions above. The participants will include those who interact with data at the local, regional, and state level. The opportunity brief, will examine, analyze and communicate where there are opportunities and a route for change within data systems that inform climate policy within the United States.
Design Trust (Spring 2022)
This Design Trust resulted in the Design Brief: Environmental Data as a Public Good.
A critical part of making real change in environmental data ecosystems is to imagine what it might look like when we get there. Our opportunity briefs have provided a foundation by collecting insights and opportunities for change in local environmental and climate planning, and more broadly exploring environmental data as a public good.
Using design processes and focusing on products outside the traditional policy brief or memo, we will host OEDP’s first Design Trust.
The Design Trust will focus on translating policy opportunities into prototype designs and future narratives. Prototypes might range from a re-thinking of process, procedure, management tool, or policy, to re-designs of data management methods or visualization models. Future narratives illustrate where and how these re-designs of environmental data and governance show up in policy, community spaces, and in everyday life. For examples of future narratives, see our series on the Civic Voice Archive prototype.
Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) works broadly with data producers, collectors, and users to understand how participatory environmental governance approaches can be leveraged to work better for data users across the data spectrum. Design Trusts will specifically bring together designers, writers, and multimedia creators that are interested in environmental data and its uses to develop prototypes and create future narratives demonstrating what different environmental data futures look like.
Our first Design Trust will use opportunities identified in our two most recent briefs as jumping off points for brainstorming. We will invite ~10 writers, designers, and multimedia creators to explore design challenges and ideas together, as well as several data users to provide helpful insights and direct observations from data experiences. An interested subset will then work individually or on small teams to build out these ideas as prototypes or future narratives.
The Design Trust will serve as both a brainstorming session and place for participants to connect with one another. We will examine “How might we?” questions in relation to the insights delineated in our opportunity briefs, and the broader goal of fostering environmental data as a public good. Participants will brainstorm around solutions, and ultimately create a slate of concepts to prototype.
For example, the group might focus on the insight that:
“Communities intimately know the environmental and climate issues with which they grapple, and often understand potential solutions. But avenues for communicating information and solutions to local governments often remain unclear or are inaccessible. This points to the need for local governments to make it easy for communities to be in conversation, to understand how input is incorporated, and how accountability will be tracked and communicated back to communities.”
(For more insights, see our latest opportunity brief)
From this insight, individual participants or teams can explore “How might we?” questions to center solutions: How might we better facilitate government learning from communities? How might we implement models where government does the facilitative and iterative work of creating value-imbued engagement?
We will offer five stipends to interested participants who want to explore a design or narrative further in written, audio, or visual formats. For example, they might create a slide deck delving into the design considerations, a written future narrative that places this prototype in use in a futuristic setting, or an explainer video that explores a specific use case. Participants will have three weeks to work on their prototypes, and a chance to share their designs with each other during a second Design Share event. OEDP will publish and distribute the work among our partner networks and via our social media, website, and newsletter.
Open Climate Calls Overview
The Open Climate collective formed as a collaboration between colleagues from the open technology, data & knowledge movements who felt the pressing need to address the missing opportunities for collaboration in climate action through building a space to understand and instigate links between the planetary and the digital commons. Open Environmental Data Project co-convenes this collective as part of our mission to leverage the tools and methods of open data towards a healthy environmental future. We organize this work on the Appropedia Wiki.
In 2020, Open Climate started to investigate the promises and challenges of articulating intersectional open and climate movements. In June 2021, we published an article, “Open Climate Now", on the experience of organizing a series of debates with activists, researchers, and technologists on the possibilities of bridging the ecological and the technological commons. In the article a broad vision was articulated: “The open movement with its values, community and action has the potential to greatly contribute to climate research and activism, and climate scientists and organizers should join the fight for the (digital) commons. We need open climate action, and we need it now!”
Our first season of talks was organized between March and September of 2021 with members of the broader open climate community to explore the question of “openness” in climate research and activism. What resulted from our conversations was a set of points of convergence and divergence to be further explored for the purposes of advancing collaborative work across technological and ecological domains of collective action. The guest speakers and participants who joined us bridged various academic disciplines and domains of political practice (sciences, humanities, community organizing, alternatives to intellectual property). Many had a strong background in the open movement (Free and Open Source software, data, hardware and science) and others brought invaluable global experiences that are sorely lacking in the Euro-American ecological discussion.
In 2022, we expanded on these initial talks, but also brought them to concrete action through workshops and public seminars:
- Season Two of our Open Climate Community Calls.
- Piloting a model for community workshops. If you have a question that you think members of the open movement could help solve (e.g. how do we open data used in the IPCC reports?) and are interested in convening a workshop, please reach out.
- Drafting the syllabus for a public seminar on the question of the planetary and digital commons. Our seminar will be open to the public and will have a hybrid format, so it can be taken as a course for those who are interested in diving deep into the literature on the commons.
For up-to-date events, please visit open-climate.org.
Additional resources and links:
Environmental Dataset Re-Mix Workshops Overview
In this virtual workshop series (January - February 2023), participants will work on existing environmental datasets, articulating redesigns that make them usable to lay audiences, reusable to public needs, and inclusive of cultural knowledge within participants’ communities.
Each workshop will have three parts:
1) A data steward will describe and present the dataset they manage, providing contextual information about data collection methods, processes, and considerations.
2) Breakout groups will articulate design challenges and opportunities for use and reuse of the dataset in question.
3) Participants will come back to A report-back to event conveners and other participants.
This workshop is made possible through CS&S's Event Fund, with funding from the Wellcome Trust.