Ocean Data for Decision-Making

Project Overview
The ongoing data revolution has created opportunities for governments and organizations to produce and use data more effectively for environmental policy and decision-making. Simultaneously, this trend has opened up avenues for communities and individuals to engage more meaningfully with decision-making through civic action and dialogue related to environmental protection. Despite this, many groups (e.g. those with lower incomes, indigenous communities) are still unable to fully participate in the processes that generate and transform knowledge into relevant policy and action to address environmental change within their communities and beyond. The voices of these populations remain pervasively underrepresented in decision-making activities; and yet they tend to be the populations most significantly affected by the negative impacts of changes to the marine environment. The reasons for this exclusion are varied and intertwined, including social norms, political considerations, historical research practices, limited appropriate data literacy and research method learning opportunities, and scientists’ own limited understanding of and ability to practice local and indigenous ways of knowing. Effective and equitable environmental policy requires addressing the above barriers to enable deeper involvement of typically marginalized populations in the evolving data-enabled decision-making processes aimed at mitigating or responding to environmental change.

This project draws upon principles of knowledge democracy to develop data for decision-making (D4D) tools and resources that local organizations can use to more effectively work with (and within) their target communities and with scientists and policy makers to generate and use marine data to manage marine resources and ecosystems. The goal is to focus on one of the above-mentioned reasons for low community engagement - limited data literacy and research method learning opportunities for communities. While scientists and policymakers would also benefit from resources and training to increase their capacity to engage with local communities, developing such resources falls outside the scope of this project. We focus on building capacity at the community level - with the expectation that increasing communities’ agency to engage in ocean D4D (OD4D) activities (encompassing both western and indigenous approaches) will contribute to reducing power disparities, thereby triggering a learning process for scientists as well.

Project activities will be designed with and for local organizations such as nonprofits and public libraries. Being at the frontline of serving communities, local organizations are uniquely placed to provide insights on local context, customs, and priorities relevant for generating meaningful D4D processes at the community level. They can ensure localized, culturally sensitive approaches to engaging with communities. Further, making public libraries and other social organizations key partners in developing knowledge democracy strategies could potentially facilitate more effective knowledge sharing within and across institutions, through the strengthening of organizational networks.

What is D4D?
Data for decision-making (D4D) is the process of creating and using data to make decisions. This term is relatively new. Our approach to D4D is related to other fields such as “data-driven” and “data-based” decision-making. However, whereas the latter two domains typically focus on meeting organizational objectives and indicators, our notion of D4D extends to multiple contexts, including communities. We approach D4D from a broad perspective, moving beyond data and statistical literacy to include the full range of research and activities that go into decision-making. Importantly, this involves the incorporation of local context and epistemologies throughout the process and addresses ways to enhance community engagement and leverage local knowledge in support of the project goals. In this way D4D seeks to change the tendency for affected communities and their voices to be brought into data generation processes only at the data-collection stage. Contextualization and adaptability are important to allow for communities to determine areas of emphasis in any D4D process.

Our D4D model includes 4 key components:
- Research design (e.g. organization/community assessment; methods, indicators, sample populations)
- Data collection (e.g. data lifecycle, instruments, tools, storage)
- Data analysis (e.g. statistical tools, data interpretation)
- Using data for decision making (e.g. storytelling, making decisions)

In this framing, “data” generally refers to quantitative information, as that is what most decisions in the natural sciences are based on. However, in arguing for underrepresented communities to be more engaged in the D4D process, this project is also arguing that the notion of data should be expanded to incorporate local and traditional knowledge, which is often not in the same form as the typically quantitative data used by policy makers. This project seeks to develop training resources that incorporate and encourage this mindset.

Further, our D4D approach does not assume communities need to become experts in all the above listed skill areas. Indeed, any one of the areas requires months, if not years, to master. Rather, the goal is to engender, at a minimum, a basic understanding of the processes and vocabularies used in D4D.

Driving Questions
The project is driven by the following questions:
- What key skills and knowledge do stakeholders see as necessary for better participation in the OD4D process?
- What do communities, experts, scholars, etc see as the most pressing upcoming policy issues/conversations?
- What does "participation/engagement" mean to these stakeholders?
- What skills/knowledge do these stakeholders believe that communities need to participate in future policy conversations?
- What are the key diversity and inclusion issues that stakeholders need to consider for effective community participation in OD4D?
- What technological tools and organizational arrangements can be effective in teaching OD4D skills at the organizational level?
- To what extent could technology be a tool to support the building of OD4D skills?
- To what extent could community organizations and public libraries play a role in supporting the growth of OD4D skills in their communities?
- What lessons from past research and policy projects can be used to maximize the engagement of communities?
- How have community members experienced participation in past ocean policy projects?
- How can future projects be responsive to community experiences in order to build appetite for and longevity of OD4D participation?

The project will be structured in two phases. The first phase, ending in Q4 2020, will begin with participatory methods to seek stakeholder and key informant feedback on the project design. It will also investigate local organization and community needs, interests, and cultural considerations related to participation in marine-related D4D projects or processes. Further, it will undertake desk and field research for insights on the experiences coastal communities have had with previous data projects. The second phase, to be completed in Q4 2021, will develop content and pedagogical approaches for D4D tools and resources based on the synthesized findings of the first phase.

A comprehensive project design will be released by the end of April 2020.

The project is a part of research at the Nippon Foundation Nexus Center, a new initiative at UW EarthLab, which is focused on ocean equity and wellbeing. The official launch of the center will be on April 14th, 2020.

We'd love your thoughts, questions, or feedback. Please contact Chris Rothschild by clicking his name under "Quick Facts" on the project page.