By Alejandro Paz
In July of this year, EDGI’s Website Governance Project participated in the Earth Science Information Partners’ (ESIP) summer meeting in Pittsburgh. ESIP is a collaboration network made up of government scientists, research centers, and educators working to make earth science and related data more accessible and usable. The theme for this year’s summer meeting was “Data for All People: From Generation to Use and Understanding.”
The Website Governance Project ran a session titled “Context is Key: Enhancing Data Access, Use, and Understanding,” where participants worked together to find and access datasets that were used to craft the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule (MATS). Participants explored EPA’s MATS rule website, searched for data using EPA’s Environmental Dataset Gateway, and evaluated various datasets’ and data tools’ landing pages for their ease of access to data underpinning the MATS rule. This session’s purpose was to actively think about how members of the public learn about and use federal environmental data. To achieve this we tried to start a conversation about the discoverability and usability of data underpinning environmental regulation. We hope those who participated in this session became more aware of how data and information supported by data are cross-discoverable and serve as reciprocal pathways towards understanding.
Participants had mixed impressions of the MATS website. Some thought it effectively communicated information about the rule to users without background knowledge. Others found navigation problematic and many participants indicated it was difficult to access data from the website. Overall, participants found little success accessing data that underpinned the justification for the MATS rule, and they offered various suggestions for addressing this issue. For example, one group suggested the rule in the federal register should include citations for datasets. For a detailed look at the session’s results, please look at the session notes, slides, and video recording.
Several suggestions made by participants, such as that federal environmental websites include citations to datasets from which their information was derived, accord with recommendations we have made in previous reports. We look forward to building on the ESIP community’s feedback from this session and continue to advocate for sound federal website governance.