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Beyond Original Intent: Environmental Data Stewardship for Diverse Uses
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December 7, 2022
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To read the full opportunity brief, click here.

Environmental data is collected and used by researchers, regulatory agencies, communities, and businesses for a variety of purposes, though much of it only in single projects or to check regulatory boxes. While more data is being shared than ever before, spurred on by recent open data policies, increased availability does not guarantee that those who might use it can find, access, understand, or apply it in new contexts, nor that such data will be governed ethically.

In Summer 2022, Open Environmental Data Project convened stakeholders from government, academia, environmental nonprofits, journalism, community organizations, and the private sector to discuss the challenges and promising solutions they’ve faced in sharing, using, and reusing environmental data. Four major needs emerged: findability and accessibility, data formats and infrastructure that enable interoperability, high quality or detailed enough data to answer different questions, and user capacity to understand and analyze the data. This brief offers nine opportunities to address these needs, each building on or leveraging existing efforts:

  1. Federal agencies and legislators can remove paywalls, ease restrictions, and invest in data infrastructure to ethically broaden access to public data.
  2. With support from federal agencies like OSTP, all levels of government can design and encourage the use of data sharing and visitation agreements.
  3. Funders and regional hubs can create shared spaces for storing and pointing to related environmental datasets to avoid siloing information and build community.
  4. Research institutions and networks can leverage data stewards to integrate community priorities and perspectives into data collection, management, and curation.
  5. Research institutions and regulatory agencies can intentionally design and document APIs and other digital infrastructure to enable data discovery and connection.
  6. Data managers from all sectors can share data and metadata in machine-readable formats, standardize vocabulary, and apply tags to make it easier to understand and use data ethically.
  7. Research institutions and community organizations can use applied learning approaches to support informal data science education.
  8. Journalists and community organizations can visualize data to offer more accessible interpretations, and technologists can develop tools to enable more groups to use and analyze data.
  9. Community data collection can be used to fill data gaps, provide local context, open up environmental governance processes, and point to different ways of examining environmental scenarios.

With contributions and participation from stakeholders across sectors, a cultural shift can help us manage and share environmental data in ways that enable multiple uses, use existing datasets to answer pressing environmental questions in varied and novel ways, and enable diverse communities to ask their own questions.

Recommended citation:

Hoeberling, K. (2022). Opportunity Brief | Beyond Original Intent: Environmental Data Stewardship for Diverse Uses. www.openenvironmentaldata.org/research-series/beyond-original-intent.

DOI: 10.15868/socialsector.41283.