Understanding the problem space: Part V: Tools and processes

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Understanding the problem space: Part V: Tools and processes

Written by Shannon Dosemagen and Elizabeth Tyson

Part V: Tools and Processes: Incorporating and managing environmental data

Complexity in coordination

In the United States, among local, state, regional and federal government there is a lack of coordination among agencies on environmental issues pertaining to the management of air, water and land resources. For example, when a local environmental quality technician requires more information about the state of a river through their town, they face administrative and technical hurdles to incorporate data from other local, state and federal agencies that might have environmental data for that stretch of river. Some conclude this is because there is no cross government tool to track and share environmental data resources. The workaround is usually a “good faith” sharing agreement that is entirely dependent on individual relationships. This can be a challenge when trying to establish causal relationships in complex environmental systems that operate across scale.

Lack of collaborative actions by agencies

Currently, the only tool in the federal government toolkit for acknowledging and using data from non-traditional sources is administrative correction and certifications for new sensor systems. For example, instead of the federal government accepting new data from a growing air sensor network and correcting for data quality after they receive the information, the government pushes for a certification of the sensors instead. This approach is demonstrated in the Puget Sound Air Quality Sensor Map that adjusts purple air sensors (private air quality sensors) data to the standard set by the agency norms. This is limiting because it places the onus on the private sector, and small community groups, to find the resources to conform to their standards versus correcting for internal data quality needs after the data is received.  

This is indicative of a more systemic consideration. While agencies (especially federal) have become increasingly interested in working with citizen and community science efforts, the majority of these efforts are controlled and designed by the agencies. In and of itself, this is not a problem and it is hopeful to see interest in these types of programs. However this type of interest does not matriculate to projects that are not agency led and controlled for an assortment of reasons that have been discussed in other portions of this blog series, such as administrative oversight, incentives to incorporate new datastreams, and issues with sensor sensitivity. This only perpetuates silos of environmental data, which can lead to alternate realities of understanding of an environmental problem.

We acknowledge there are many actors and stakeholders in this space that are actively working towards remediating these problems and if we haven’t already, we’d be interested in hearing from you. Please tweet @OpenEnviroData about your project or send us a note at info@openenvironmentaldata.org.

Next up: Part VI: Environmental monitoring regulation infrastructure