EDGI’s data program examines the role of environmental data and its governance through the lens of power, justice, and equity: which communities are invited to participate in environmental data’s production and management, in what ways, and which are not. This spans on-the-ground concerns such as access and data portability, as well as more theoretical work at the level of data protocols, tech ethics, and centralization. The purpose of working at these two levels is to have a sense of both the current challenges to good data-based environmental governance and of the potential scope of an idealized data-centric system of governance.
Early EDGI work in this sphere centered around the identification and preservation of potentially vulnerable scientific data and web pages. This archiving work led us to these broader questions of power and control around environmental data for environmental governance.
The two primary projects through which EDGI now approaches this work are:
Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW), which is a collaboration with EDGI’s Environmental Data Justice Working Group. EEW explores open environmental datasets in partnership with community groups using data science tools.
- Engage meaningfully with existing environmental datasets to answer questions that are important to affected communities;
- Critique the open datasets: understand and outline challenges of access, accuracy, and other limits to the ability of the public to answer important questions and seek accountability using provided tools; and
- Maintain active collaboration with justice-centric community groups, learning from their domain expertise (on-the-ground organizing, local knowledge, group members’ skills) as we lend ours (research methods, networks, media access) toward shared goals.
Data Together, which is a mostly external-facing partnership led by EDGI. The group’s purpose is to examine models for distributed stewardship of data through community-led reading and discussion groups. Data Together conversations aim to decompose how decentralized and peer-to-peer web infrastructure can enable communities to access, discover, verify, and preserve data they care about.
- Create guided space for people building impactful technologies for the decentralized web to think through potential downstream social, political, and justice implications of technical choices;
- Spread ideas from EDGI’s highly context-aware approach to data (especially data justice) across organizations whose central purpose may not be social impact (e.g. corporations producing for-profit technology); and
- Develop community with other groups who are interested in decentralization technology for political and social good purposes and collaborate with them on projects to nudge decentralization technology towards those purposes.
Theory of change:
By inserting justice- and community-centric values and principles into conversations around the governance of data, especially environmental data, we can positively influence the enactment of those principles.
For example, we create and support:
- Media buzz around failures in the enforcement of environmental protection laws, through stories shaped by impacted communities and reaching and putting pressure on the regulatory bodies surrounding those people;
- White papers outlining principles for improved environmental data collection that can be passed to the EPA to influence how regulation is carried out;
- Conversations with CTOs and other core strategic members of technology development processes highlighting issues of justice and accountability not ordinarily considered in the decision-making phases of technology development, improving the eventual impact of the technology products; and
- Principles and processes for data technologies to help operationalize values and ethics in technology design.