This article is written to imagine a future in which an established and robust Civic Voice Platform, a tool for connecting local congressional districts to federal legislative lawmaking, is actively providing a streamlined and accessible method for engaging with community data. It’s April 2022.
It’s late and Amina Mendoza is working against the clock to get the community project funding application finished. This is the last revision before it hits her boss’s desk, and she needs to make the case as compelling and data-driven as possible. Ideally, her boss, Representative Jared Huffman, will review and sign it, moving it along to the House Committee on Appropriations for further evaluation -- she wants to make this document something easy to vouch for, easy to sign away approval for.
Aside from ongoing negotiations surrounding the dam removal, the question of how to manage future water and energy resources after removal is now front and center for district and local government, Tribes, and community members. The resources of water, energy, and ultimately, rights, are at stake and changing. The flow of the river will be returned, with projected increases in the likelihood of successful populations of Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout. While the removal project ultimately seeks to balance natural restoration with human needs, conflicting ideas of water rights and the loss of over 150 megawatts of electricity generation are becoming more real as the removal date draws nearer.
Concerning renewable energy generation options for the District, it is clear that citizens are supportive of expanding solar and wind power resources, but there is a strong contingent of voices that are reticent, largely due to the perception that the cost of their electricity will increase. The Yurok tribes have released a plan similar to their Energy Paths for the Yurok People, updated with a new assessment of the resources needed to ensure access, renewable energy opportunities, and proposed projects. Farmers are wary about access to water and would prefer community project funding to be allocated in a program designed to provide additional drought relief. For the community project funding application, the average gift is less than $3 million, so there is a limit on what can be done in terms of energy and water infrastructure, but it’s evident that any funding from this mechanism must be directed towards one of these two concerns.
Amina is using the Civic Voice Platform (CVP) to gather the relevant data and make sense of it, using a specific function within the technology that allows for the qualitative coding of information, and thus synthesis and visualization of user-inputted information. She is currently working on how to construct a narrative around the renewable energy generation possibilities in lieu of the dam removal on the Klamath. She wants to visualize what matters most to those who have used the CVP, but also those who spoke at virtual and in-person meetings.
Since the citizen and government users both code the qualitative data they input through tagging, it is relatively easy for the thematic analysis software to pick up on trends and patterns based on location and time, finding themes in text by analyzing the meaning of words and sentence structure. Meeting notes and transcripts are coded as well, capturing the voices of those who don’t interact with the CVP directly.
This functionality of the Civic Voice Platform is helpful to Amina, though she knows that one cannot rely solely on the results of machine learning models, because even in the best of cases, the limited data for minority populations may cause machine learning models to learn patterns or make inferences based primarily or exclusively on majority group traits (Chen et al, University of Washington). The Civic Voice Platform has an established set of algorithmic filters and tools that aggregate community data with a value system; for example, in the case of an issue or event that is tagged with words related to the environment or natural resources and there is also tagged Tribal input, said Tribal input will be highlighted. Each input is weighted with one point initially, but in the case of Tribal input on issues related to natural resources on their historical territory, their input is weighted with two points. Amina keeps this in mind as she creates a tag cloud to demonstrate the most commonly used tags within the events of the past three years: irrigation supply, energy generation, cost.
The Civic Voice Platform also uses a tool that can display geographically based input and code cluster analysis onto a map. Amina runs this tool to see that there are clusters of concern that differ between rural and more urban divides, agricultural crop distribution, and coastal and inland communities. The maps showed the geographic location of the energy access need, and where citizens were most concerned with price hikes.
When a series of events are analyzed, a disinformation filter is also applied to weed out any veins of blatant un-truths -- in this case, Amina can see that the region’s agriculturalists continue to bring concerns about the decrease in irrigation supply from the reservoirs when in actuality the dam removal will not affect the decisions regarding the supply or the supply itself. A report-out about the results of the anti-disinformation filter is then automatically emailed to her, she makes a note to call a meeting to discuss potential media or public education campaigns.
Seeing this data reinforces the conceit behind the project; at the beginning of the project ideation, Huffman’s team used the CVP in similar manner in order to determine what projects would be most feasible, useful, and wanted by the various stakeholders. Water programs are currently out of the District’s domain as the state government of California and the Klamath Basin Drought Relief Agency are addressing the latest issues stemming from another year of drought. The next most significant issue? The development of renewable energy options in the District.
Huffman’s team determined that it would be prudent to apply for funding for solar installations on ten public buildings and for Yurok community buildings, as outlined in the Yurok Energy Pathways Report. This would be a starting point, but the public nature of the community buildings could serve as demonstration sites to educate the public on the unobtrusive nature of the panels and how they can be utilized and controlled.
Outside of the community project funding, Amina knows that Representative Huffman is meeting with representatives from PacifiCorp in the next month to discuss the potentiality of increased industrial-scale wind installations in the district. Filling the energy generation gap that the dams create is one of Huffman’s goals, ideally with renewable energy resources located in the district. Amina knows that PacifiCorp is interested in developing wind resources, she’s seen their recent marketing on their Energy Vision 2020 that includes adding 1,150 megawatts of new wind resources, but she knows that the location of these resources is undetermined. Huffman wants to demonstrate to the company that citizens are interested in expanding the region’s renewable energy.
Amina makes a note to mention the utility of the assembled data from the Civic Voice Platform for the PacifiCorp meeting in tomorrow’s community project funding meeting with Huffman. She saves the application, with its appendix of data visualizations, maps, and key transcripts, and with fingers crossed, hits send on the email out to Representative Huffman and staff.