Co-written with Peter Pulsifer and originally published for the Arctic Horizons Program.
Data is a hot topic right now. All over the news and social media, there are mentions of “big data,” “data science,” “data visualization,” and beyond. It is no secret that data, and lots of it, can be powerful tools for scientific research, enabling research questions across broad spatial scales over deep time periods. A close collaborator (who likes to avoid all things digital) once said in response to a presentation on aggregated archeological faunal data across the whole of Europe, “I think being able to aggregate all of these data provides interesting interpretations, but I always wonder what’s behind those pie charts and visualizations…” She was right to be skeptical, highlighting an urgent need to consider all aspects of data life cycle, because in addition to the need of “lots of” data, these data also need to be high quality and reliable. Indeed, when compiling lots of data from many different sources (if you can even find them and access them), how reliable are those aggregated data?
While my collaborator would never use this term, she recognized the need for data “curation,” which is far more than simple data storage, archival, management. To be reused and aggregated, these data need to be high quality, accessible, discoverable, which takes a lot of time and effort from both the scientist and the data manager (if they are two different people, of course!) to document metadata, employ standard terms and vocabularies, and provide file formats that can be accessed by open source software now and in the future. In addition to being scientists, however, we are also social scientists, meaning we often deal with data that are sensitive in nature, contain identifying information about our research subjects, or provide information about locations that need to be protected (e.g., sacred or archaeological sites). Another term that comes up often that we need to carefully consider is “open data.” While “open data” is a championed scenario (to enable data sharing and access) and often required by funding organizations, we like to add the word ethically to the start of that phrase. By ensuring “ethically open data,” we can make the data appropriately “open” based on the specific needs to the data, whether by ensuring the anonymization of research subjects or randomizing the location of protected sites.
Fortunately, many initiatives are ongoing in the Arctic research community to build capacity, infrastructure, and community to enable data curation for the Arctic social sciences and to ensure high quality data are accessible, discoverable, usable, and linked with various projects. Based out of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Strawhacker leads the DataARC (formerly known as cyberNABO) project (supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation - SMA 1439389 and SMA 1637076) designed to support the linking of databases from archaeology, climate science, paleoecology, and the humanities and the development of data products to enable research on the long-term human ecodynamics of the North Atlantic. Another project, Patchwork Barents based out of the Jefferson Institute, is designed to make data more widely available and easily visualized for data journalists working in the Barents Region. Both of these projects show how we can approach creating data products for a variety of audiences.
While this focus of this blog has been on social science data, given our research context in the Arctic, it is not surprising that much of this topic feeds into Indigenous Knowledge. In the previous blog, we discuss the special considerations needed to curate and manage data, information, and documentation of Knowledge coming directly from Indigenous communities in the Arctic, focusing on many efforts from the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge in the Arctic (ELOKA, eloka-arctic.org).
Indigenous Knowledge, Open Data and Connecting to the International Research Data Community, #IDW2016 and #IKatIDW
Co-written with Peter Pulsifer and originally published for the Arctic Horizons Program.
Indigenous knowledge holders of the Arctic and their communities are representing and using their knowledge in new ways. At the same time there is an increasing recognition by non-Indigenous researchers, policy makers and the general public of the value of this knowledge. Consequently, we are seeing many activities that result in the collection and documentation of Indigenous observations and knowledge.
IK has Many definitions. One definition is:
knowledge and know-how accumulated across generations, and renewed by each new generation, which guide human societies in their innumerable interactions with their surrounding environment.
While Indigenous Knowledge and ways of knowing have existed for millennia, digital technologies and data sharing are relatively new, necessitating careful and thoughtful approaches to managing and displaying this information. There are many questions and some concerns around the most appropriate ways to represent this knowledge outside of its original cultural and geographic context. As alluded in our previous blog about social science data, the focus on “open data” has serious implications when it comes to Indigenous Knowledge. What are the limits to that openness? How can communities share while maintaining a level of control that is appropriate for any given usage situation?
The Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge in the Arctic (ELOKA, eloka-arctic.org) has been working in partnership with a number of Arctic communities to create data, information and knowledge representations tailored to these needs and has extensive experience in achieving balance between the desire for data to remain open, but protecting and respecting the Knowledge that belongs to Indigenous Arctic communities. These products include community websites, atlases documenting important places on the landscape, and databases where Arctic residents can upload their local observations. Building relationships and collaborations with Indigenous communities has been a major activity for the ELOKA team, in recognition that the indigenous communities should be driving the products that ELOKA creates.
For example, the Yup’ik Atlas was developed under the leadership of Calista Education and Culture with a strong sense of ownership by community (see http://www.deltadiscovery.com/story/2016/03/02/from-the-editor/yupik-place-name-atlas/4064.html and http://www.deltadiscovery.com/story/2016/03/09/in-our-native-land/traditional-yupik-tales-and-narratives-and-stories-of-war/4099.html). The community makes the decisions and drive the design with support from ELOKA. Starting in 2015 and continuing in summer of 2016, Indigenous youth interns have been adding and modifying the data. Another example is SIZONet, which provides an online interface to a database that archives and shares these important sea ice, weather and wildlife observations gathered by the community. The community drove the design of the user interface, including priority on the use of graphic icons, as well as the development of the “Use Agreement” that must be accepted before accessing data, providing a level of security for the database containing the local observations.
While ELOKA’s main priority is to build partnerships with the Indigenous Communities that are based on respect, responsibility and reciprocity, we continue to meet these challenges by engaging in the wider international community centered around data and cyberinfrastructure. To contribute to the dialogue, ELOKA staff has been working closely with the organizers of International Data Week, an event that “will bring together data scientists, researchers, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, policy makers and data stewards to explore how best to exploit the data revolution to improve our knowledge and benefit society through data-driven research and innovation” during the second week of September in Denver. Below is a schedule of events that are specific to the challenges and considerations of working with Indigenous Knowledge, and we will be tweeting actively about the events at #IKatIDW for those who cannot attend. These events, as well as other ELOKA activities, aim to positively contribute to a movement being led by Indigenous people of the Arctic that will see all aspects of Indigenous data production, research, and knowledge under their authority, resulting in Information Sovereignty. Over the coming years, ELOKA will be prioritizing partnerships and activities that move toward that goal.
Tuesday, September 10th - SciDataCon
8:30 am - 12:00 pm
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Wednesday, September 11th - International Data Forum
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
7:30 - 9:30 pm
Thursday, September 12th - Research Data Alliance Plenary
2:30 - 3:00 pm
6:30 - 8:30 pm