Data can be used to be strategic about solving problems, highlighting new ones, and, in turn, to help society forge its way forward, however imprefectly. But there is so much out there distributed multimodally across the world and on the web. Even if the information is accessible, knowing what to look for and what is important (not to mention access to corresponding metadata to understand where the data came from and its reliability in the first place) is challenging.
Beyond information itself, there’s the looming issue of ownership. Much like academic publishing, online data is acquired and traded by big businesses and corporations. Since our call for contributions (and within the same month), Interfolio was bought out by Elsevier, and Elon Musk acquired Twitter. Platform owners no doubt have an influence on what and how information is preserved and promoted, changing the rest of the knowledge sharing and production ecosystem.
As we continue to build out Underlay, a community-based distributed knowledge graph, we have a vested interest in ensuring that data stewardship is maintained ethically (though certainly, we are by no means the only ones trying to build the infrastructure for equitable data curation—nor should we be). We believe that it takes intentional community building to have effective and purposeful meaning-making through data collection and analysis. Ideally, researchers (scholarly or otherwise) are able to answer important questions by interacting and connecting with the existing and emerging data. This process for creating knowledge allows anyone to join and participate in knowledge production and annotation. And with an open call for everyone to participate, it becomes even more clear that we need to set up boundaries and spaces to ensure that the existing and produced content doesn’t just exist but is connected meaningfully to become practical and of use in interoperable—not siloed—ways.
The goal of this “Useful Accessible Data” series is to identify and discuss the sustainability and maintenance of digital infrastructure, in addition to how data is discovered and used within and amongst communities. As our call stated: “Mere access to information and data isn’t always enough for it to be equitable, effective, and sustainable.”
Our first three contributions span a wide range of topics, identify important problems, and propose potential solutions. Each touches on a key aspect of data stewardship within a specific use case, yet can still be applied to any area of research:
“If even big government institutions and universities have now turned to [Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft’s] ‘cloud-based’ services… how can we seriously entertain the idea of designing, implementing, and sustaining our own digital tools, infrastructures, and data services for community-driven action research?” demand Luis Felipe R. Murillo and Shannon Dosemagen. Instead we must “see the face and recognize the labor of our colleagues across various fractal dimensions in community, research, and technical work,” especially when the data pertain to our relationship to our environment.
“Qualitative data does not speak for itself,” says Momoyo Mitsuno, “but is produced and is made sense of in the context of a researcher’s interaction with research participants” and as such data collection and its analysis needs to reflect and make transparent that process.
If data are published as distributed non-fungible tokens (NFTs), “the author… can choose how many copies are published and if they want to charge an amount of the native token or give free access to their work,”argues Jorge Sandoval, thus putting information ownership into the hands of its producers and not sold to or bought from big publishers.
Already, this series shows strong motifs of people-focused data acquisition and distribution with ethics and sustainability in mind. These are beautiful themes and we are so thankful to the authors for sharing their ideas with us. The Commonplace is excited to see more conversations emerge in the margins and as more ideas are submitted to the series!
As contributions keep coming in, we’ll be identifying emerging themes and grouping articles accordingly and dynamically on the series page.