Roddenberry Fellowship Application–N. Shapiro

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Describe one or two of the most important experiences in your personal life that have contributed to your desire to work on your chosen issue. (183 of 200 words)

In November, 2016, I emailed a dozen friends and colleagues to initiate a collective conversation on how we might be able to collaborate and organize in anticipation of the new administration’s likely dismantlement of federal environmental and climate protections. This email led to the founding of an organization that catalyzed a national movement to archive environmental data, develop software to track changes on federal environmental websites, and interview current and recently retired EPA personnel. University and NGO scientists, federal scientists, legislators, archivists, software engineers, top news media outlets, watchdog organizations, and thousands of volunteer environmentalists from all walks of life overwhelmed us with clear demonstrations of how vital this work is. Working with communities in the deep south–where I grew up–and northeast–where I now live–on toxics and energy issues, and witnessing the effects of climate change in southern Louisiana have all informed my desire to work on environmental justice and climate change in general. However, my dedication to this particular project is motivated by the large-scale and consistent demonstrations of need by those who have been working on it far longer than I have.

What inspires you to make impact? (52 of 100)

The thoughtfulness, poise, and dedication of my EDGI collaborators provides daily inspiration and a rejuvenation of my passion for the project. Likewise, I am inspired by the thousands of other grassroots networks, organizations, and movements that form constellations of action, working to reroute our collective future towards true sustainability and equity.

Have you received support for this or other initiatives, you have undertaken, and what did that support look like. (Financial, organizational, personal support, etc). (100 of 100 words)

I, as an individual, have received no financial support for this work. I facilitate financial support for EDGI from large foundations, and established and maintain our organizational support via our fiscal sponsor. Initiatives I have undertaken have received funding from the NSF, the NEH, the University of Oxford, the Passport Foundation, the Argentine federal government, the European Research Council and others. I have received personal support from EJ scientists/activists such as the late Steve Wing. A project in which I am a core collaborator, but not leader or initiator, has been endorsed by climate change diplomats like Christiana Figueres.

This work is hard, describe what keeps you going? (93 of 100)

Having instigated the founding of this project, which is both made possible by and grown from the insights and hard work of thousands of others, I feel a personal responsibility to see through our mission. Endurance is always a challenge and we have been sprinting for the last ten months. Working hard for the next three and a half years is necessary in order to turn the greatest threat to American environmentalism since the founding of the EPA into an opportunity to build more robust and accountable infrastructures for environmental and climate stewardship.

What is the name of your proposed Initiative?
The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI)

Describe the initiative you plan to work on as a fellow (197 of 200 words):

The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, founded in November 2016, is an international network of academics and non-profit professionals addressing potential threats to federal environmental, climate, and energy policy, and to the scientific research infrastructure built to investigate, inform, and enforce those policies.

EDGI has three primary program areas. 1) We build online tools, large public events, and research networks to proactively archive, and restructure how we archive, public environmental data to ensure its continued public availability regardless of presidential administration. 2) We develop novel software to monitor changes to tens of thousands of federal environmental websites including EPA, DOE, NASA, NOAA, and OSHA. Our analysts compile reports from detected alterations that inform articles in new media outlets such as the New York Times and the Guardian. 3) We conduct interviews with current or recently retired EPA and OSHA staff to better understand changes to federal regulation, enforcement, research, and funding.

In addition to aiming to serve the environmental community and its allies, our initiative is developing and advocating for more just, equitable, and transparent evidence-based environmental governance on behalf of citizens, communities, organizations, and experts, and promotes principles and protocols of integrity in environmental monitoring and governance.

Describe what you hope to achieve by then end of the 12 months (144 of 150).

1) Implement the public launch of our Data Together project (in collaboration with Protocol Labs + qri.io) which will create resilient decentralized storage of the most critical, at risk, and hard to access climate and environmental data.

2) Publicly launch version 1.0 of our website change monitoring software, so that it can be a public resource to watchdog organizations and journalists across social issues and national boundaries.

3) Build out a robust plan for, and beta implementation of, our environmental data justice (EDJ) project. For robust change we cannot only be reactionary, as much of our work is. EPA staffing levels at the end of the Obama administration were at 1989 levels. We don’t want our work to insinuate a simple nostalgia for the previous administration, but rather to actively build policies or procedures to better leverage environmental data for equity, community self-determination and ethical sustainable industries, which we term “Environmental Data Justice.”

What pressing social issues do you seek to solve through your work, why is this issue so important and urgent (250 of 250)

Climate change and environmental justice are cross cutting issues that often subvert civil rights entitlements, spur displacement, and disproportionately affect marginalized populations. Further, the ramifications of these changes are truly global and threaten the very foundations of life on this planet.

Data is a lynchpin, that if erased could jeopardize the global advancement of environmental progress. We have seen anti-environmental regimes attempt to erode the empirical backing of policy with the Harper administration in Canada and with G. W. Bush’s failed attempt to shutter the EPA libraries in 2007. While we work to enhance the evidentiary backbone of environmental governance in the U.S., we now see that the problem of environmental data centralization is a problem of the architecture of the entire internet. In order to robustly approach this issue we formed our Data Together project with the developers of the hypermedia protocol that is positioned to create a peer-to-peer internet. Now the threat to US environmental data may be an opening into a more open, resilient, and safer architecture of the internet.

Fighting nightmares almost always gets priority over creating the dreams we want to inhabit. The Roddenberry Foundation’s commitment to brave, paradigm shifting thought is an ideal community in which to start building the structures of environmental governance that the communities most impacted by industry want, rather than endlessly tinkering with the infrastructures that we have been handed by the people that accelerated the current environmental crisis.

STAGE 2
Strategic Impact

Please describe what specific strategies you intend to use (activities and tactics) in addressing the issue you outlined in your first round application. (250 of 250)

EDGI’s strategies are multiple, each contributing to increased accessibility to crucial environmental information.

Resilient infrastructure: To ensure information is available, we safeguard public information in a distributed public network via our Data Together collaboration. With this approach, our archiving team is currently transitioning to a sustained working group model that will provide for higher quality output and less demand on core organizers than our initial model of large scale events.

Digital Watchdog: This era of fake news requires novel forms of data driven journalism. Within a month, our website monitoring team will launch version 0 of our website monitoring platform. We will work with key stakeholders to improve the platform’s reliability and usability. In collaboration with Climate Central, we are pushing narratives about losses of information to the Hill and media/public audiences, which will populate a Climate Data Watch platform, based on the model of SPLC’s Hate Watch.

Archiving Institutional Knowledge: To preserve the insights those at the heart of environmental policy, our interviewing team will expand to new interviewees and perform follow-ups with existing interviewees. Interview questions will be updated to move from a focus on the transition to the new status quo, soliciting topics that would be of interest for us to investigate from a broad array of environment and climate organizations.

Just Systems: Our emergent Environmental Data Justice team recently received significant support from the University of Toronto to begin advancing interventions into environmental and climate issues as they intersect with other forms of social injustice.

Please describe who will be impacted by your initiative. Please include details on group/community size, location, and your current relationship to this group. (150 of 150)

Our work impacts multiple large-scale communities. We have become a trusted resource for the general public, environmental professionals, and journalists. We aid the efforts of former EPA staff who seek to continue the environmental protection they have always worked to provide. Our Data Together work seeks to build decentralized infrastructures for U.S. data, with direct applicability for people and organizations throughout the U.S., but with the intrinsic capacity to scale across the globe. The Environmental Data Justice working group plans to translate EDGI’s national and international scale work into interventions at the forefront of intersectional violence and oppression. The EDJ team has significant expertise in indigenous liberation, with members working from the US Arctic to aboriginal Australia. Interrogating and providing alternatives to the racial, ethnic, and class biases inherent in environmental data collection and analysis practices will impact historically marginalized communities and environmental and climate governance writ large.

What are the key milestones in implementing your initiative over the next 12 months? (149 of 150)

A key milestone for the website monitoring work is the launch of version 1.0 of our website monitoring platform, which would transition us from being a public service, with our team performing all of the analysis, to a public resource that will enable various environmental and climate stakeholders to monitor changes to websites that most impact them and of which they have higher expertise. Another key milestone will be the release of a second comprehensive report by summer 2018, prior to the midterm elections, by our agency personnel interview team who will investigate and contextualize agency change under the current political regime. Additionally, within a year the Environmental Data Justice team will have developed a pilot intervention into data injustices with multiple forms of oppression or injury. Our Data Together collaboration, will develop, apply, and have begun to spread the distributed network model within twelve months.

How will you evaluate your results and impact? What metrics, outcomes or other indicators will you use? (148 of 150 words)

Data Together (archiving):
–How many federal climate/environmental datasets we hold.
–The robustness of number of other groups holding the same data.
–How many communities are registered as part of our network and how diverse these groups are.
Web Monitoring:
–The scale of webpages monitored (currently 25,000).
–The robustness of the diff (the tracking of changes).
–The accuracy of the machine learning change prioritization system that allows monitoring to scale computer-supported human analysis.
–After version 1.0 is released, uptake by and satisfaction of diverse stakeholders.
–Readerships of news articles featuring our reports will be indicators of success.
Interviewing:
–The scale of intra-agency office comprehensiveness.
–The number of interviewees.
— Circulation of our reports.
Environmental Data Justice:
–The scale of truly critical dialog generated by our work.
–The satisfaction of key community partners with our pilot project.
–The potential for the pilot to scale into systemic shifts in data practices.

Please describe how and if your initiative addresses one or more of the overlapping issues (civil rights, immigrant and refugee rights, LGBTQIA & Women’s rights) that impact the primary problem you are tackling (Climate Change and Environmental Justice) (200 of 200 words).

Beyond the intrinsic links between environmental & climate justice and civil & refugee rights, additional avenues of work that we intend to expand this coming year are Environmental Data Justice interventions that are specifically aimed at interrupting systematic discrimination.

In our EDJ work we want to advance capacious understandings of the environment as, for example, epidemiologists note the negative health impacts of hostile immigration policy environments upon Latinos regardless of documentation status. With the current administration attempting to leverage data to advance voter suppression and criminalize undocumented immigrants, the interdependence of environmental, racial, and immigration data justice work is crucial.

What could be read here as a vague strategy for EDJ is, rather, a commitment to first building a diverse team and partners, finding precedents and allies, spanning data justice (don’t monitor us!) and environmental justice (more monitoring!) communities, defining our principles, and researching tactics before pledging a particular mode of engagement. Our track record demonstrates our ability to rapidly and robustly implement paradigm-shifting initiatives once we have found the most efficacious strategy.

Indigenous justice struggles are at the forefront of climate change impacts and resistance, and our EDJ work is fittingly being led by a Métis professor/activist.

Feasibility

Do you seen any potential barriers in developing your initiative? If so, what are they and what are your plans to overcome these barriers. (145 of 150)

As EDGI is composed almost entirely of volunteers (150 core organizers, 100+ coders, and thousands of short-term volunteers), many of whom volunteer at nearly full-time levels, burnout is a key barrier to sustained high quality work. To date, our members have been extremely, almost-super-humanly, dedicated and consistent. Creating small contracts and payments for this core work with fellowship award funds will help to mitigate this issue (see below). For a long time we have had an asymmetry between the executive privileges of the steering committee (being able to vote on organizational decisions) and executive responsibilities (the duties that keep the organization running and running in the right direction). Those duties were hyperconcentrated upon myself and co-chair Lindsey Dillon, but we are redistributing those responsibilities now across the Steering Committee and creating a schedule for rotating responsibilities, to enhance the sustainability of the voluntary work burden.

Do you envision your project as a time-limited endeavor or a long-term venture? If long-term how do you envision ensuring that this project has the resources to continue beyond 12 months? (98 of 100 words)

Our vision is currently of a medium-term endeavor, one that will likely continue to exist for the next three years but one that we hope ceases to be necessary in the truly long-term. After researching incorporation as a 501c3, we have decided that we can better use our resources to achieve our goals as a fiscally sponsored project. Our current funders have expressed interest in increasing their support for us and our newly appointed Director of Development has successfully secured tens of millions of dollars in grants (both individually and as past of multi-project centers) over his career.

What is the initiative’s overall operating budget for this initiative in 2018? (we understand that the fellowship may not cover the entire operating expenses). (10 of 10)

$166,242.73, this may expand 3-fold during the fellowship.

Everyone has different needs; how will you use the fellowship award funds in support of your initiative (E.G. salary, convenings, vendors, etc)? (173 of 200)

My current contract at CHF expires on the 1st of July, 2018. At that point I will be able to work full-time on the project for the final half of the fellowship, paying myself with the funds. The other half of the funds we plan to distribute across the organization, paying members as contractors for work they had hitherto done for free as volunteers. The ancillary and infrastructural work of maintaining our distributed network of members has proven to be the most essential work and also the work that is hardest to get funded for a nascent organization within the deliverables culture of foundation funding. We also plan to hire a consulting professional in nonprofit administration to do a small-scale audit on our strategic planning and internal and external communication policies.

We have been very lucky to have in-kind donations from most of our vendors, and for our highest cost vendor (website monitoring software) we are almost ready to launch our own, more robust, open source, and more scalable software and discontinue subscribing to the paid service.

Is this initiative part of a larger organization or is it a separate “stand-alone” organization? (100 of 100)

Organizationally, EDGI is an independent, stand-alone organization. EDGI has obtained a fiscal sponsorship from Public Lab (publiclab.org) to enable tax-exempt status for grants and donations we receive. EDGI is a horizontally-organized, member-driven organization, governed by an 11 member steering committee. Public Lab charges us 10% overhead on all income.

[A small caveat on the first round application is that I wrote it in a car while returning from a research trip to perform science experiments with NASA during the eclipse in Idaho. Many errors resulted. A revised version of my full application is here https://envirodatagov.org/roddenberry/ ]

What is your role/title?
Co-founder, co-chair of the Steering Committee

How will you use the fellowship to amplify or expand your work? (99 of 100)
The breadth of the fellowship, that crosscuts multiple domains of injustice, aligns directly with the aspects of EDGI that I personally want to direct my time to and that as an organization we are dedicated to expanding. The opportunity for our environmental data justice work to expand by potentially responding to or being informed by the needs of other selected projects is truly exciting. The fellowship will give myself and others the first chance to dedicate paid time to this project and the mentorship and peer support will provide external checks and enable us to make better strategic decisions.

What successes have you had to date? (99 of 100)
We have stimulated a national dialog about environmental and climate data, with hundreds of articles on our work, better informing the public. We have seen the successful archiving of hundreds of thousands of federal webpages and data sets. We have documented systematic shifts in the way environmental and climate data is analyzed and communicated, which could have otherwise happened silently. We have created the most comprehensive collection of oral histories that document the institutional knowledge of and ongoing transformations to the EPA, in addition to two widely circulated reports on the changing state of environmental governance (next is climate).

Have you received any funding to date? If yes, please describe. (50 of 50)
Crowdfunding: $29,864; Doris Duke Charitable Foundation: $50,000; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation: $82,020. DDCF and Packard have expressed their interest in continuing and expanding support for our work. Tremendous in kind support has been donated by Google, Compute Canada, DataKind, Amazon, and the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic.

Please name the organization that you are currently affiliated with, employed by (and if available please provide a link) (no word limit)

I am a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), CHF will be renamed the Science History Institute in February 2018.
https://www.chemheritage.org/profile/nicholas-shapiro

I am a visiting research professor at Drexel University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society.
http://drexel.edu/coas/faculty-research/faculty-directory/NickShapiro/

I am the Open Air Fellow at Public Lab, through which I am paid only via an NSF grant.
https://publiclab.org/profile/nshapiro

Please describe any leadership roles you’ve held or one entrepreneurial venture or project you’ve initiated or led. (149 of 150)

In college I received a scholarship based upon my joint public leadership and scholarship (the Trustee, Leader, Scholar program) for leading a HIV education and harm reduction program in Indonesia. At 20 I was a NREMT and the Director of an Emergency Medical System in New York. In graduate school I studied where and how interventions into large and seemingly intractable problems could be most effectively made. Towards the end of graduate school I began leading interdisciplinary teams, one of which tracked 120,000 toxic emergency housing units (FEMA trailers) that were being resold across the nation or donated to Native Nations. I’ve led the co-development of fracking air pollution sensors and software (for both EJ and climate advocacy) with impacted communities, and developed low cost and highly effective air remediation systems. I lead environmental engagement for the utopic Aerocene project directed by Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno.