IMN@UCBerkeley Meeting: Kai Henifin

Note: IMN@UCBerkeley convened mapping practitioners, indigenous community members, indigenous rights organizations, researchers, and technology professionals to discuss current issues in indigenous mapping. Our meetings were intended to create a platform for supporting indigenous mapping collaborations and linking communities with emerging technologies. We organized a series of invited talks hosted on campus; I wrote articles about these talks which were posted on the IMN website to share with other members of the group who weren’t able to attend. Below I have reproduced the article with permission.

July 2009 meeting of the Indigenous Mapping Network at UC Berkeley: Kai Henifin from the Conservation Biology Institute in Corvallis, Oregon presents their upcoming data collaboration product, Data Basin

Article by Melissa Eitzel

As an almost-second year grad student from Berkeley with a growing interest in traditional ecological knowledge and citizen science, I was thrilled to be able to attend the monthly IMN meeting last night. Kai Henifin had brought us a demo of Conservation Biology Institute’s new product, Data Basin, which will be ready for beta release later this year. The product and demo generated a lively discussion among those in attendance on issues in collaboration for different stakeholders. One reason for this was the informal way Kai presented the tool, and her specific request for feedback on it. Though those in attendance were primarily academics from the Geography and Environmental Science departments at Berkeley, there were also representatives from nonprofits and agencies of various kinds.

The Product:
Data Basin is a data sharing and visualization product built on ESRI servers and platforms and customized by CBI web devlopers to deliver a user-friendly mapping tool couched in an environment intended for communication and collaboration between users. Personal profiles and comment systems allow users to get to know each other and offer (hopefully positive and/or constructive) feedback on their uploaded datasets. Mapping and export tools allow users to create maps and export datasets to shapefiles or kml. Uploaded datasets can be made private or public at the user’s discretion, allowing sensitive datasets to be shared internally using a key the user can create for other users to temporarily view their data. CBI will exert some quality control on the datasets by requiring thorough metadata and explanations of attributes as well as publication atttribution information where appropriate.

The Discussion:
Data Basin will be an invaluable tool for conservation, allowing data storage to be centralized and creating a forum for users to communicate and establish collaborations, as well as offering mapping tools which allow users to visualize spatial data without the considerable training that ESRI’s products typically require. The hope is that these features will make the tool useful to indigenous peoples by creating a user-friendly and safe forum for uploading data either privately or publicly. Groups can share private data among and between themselves, perhaps encouraging communication between different tribes facing similar issues, for example. The interface of the website feels fairly ‘slick,’ however, and user needs studies which target tribal stakeholders in particular were suggested to ensure that the interface was appropriate for their needs.

Another issue brought up at the meeting was the question of what constitutes a conservation-related dataset; in particular, how involved does CBI intend to be in evaluating and accepting or denying specific datasets for upload? If the types of data which are allowed are restricted, then the suggestion was made that CBI be very explicit in their criteria for appropriate datasets. The issue of public and private access to the datasets was also raised; Kai pointed out that they are looking for ways to incent users to make data public as much as is appropriate. In particular, there was some discussion of funding this tool by allowing some minimum number of private datasets or some kind of storage limit before a user must upgrade their account and pay a small fee. This may be a difficult problem to solve, as some stakeholders may be in a better position to make data public than others, and some stakeholders will have more experience with large geographical datasets than others.

Finally, there was a particularly animated discussion involving the concept of rating datasets using a 5-star system (similar to a product review). This system was fairly consistently discouraged by those in attendance due to the strong possibility that it could be easily abused. Several alternative suggestions were made for allowing users to flag specific datasets as particularly useful and/or insufficient. This topic brought up the overall issue of what makes a dataset insufficient, and who is evaluating the datasets. It was suggested that involving many different stakeholders, from scientists to practitioners to community members, will be needed to generate a balanced discussion of what data are practically useful and what is required from them to be scientifically valid as well.

CBI is looking for beta testers for Data Basin when it goes online later this year, so feel free to contact Kai if you are interested. The more varied the stakeholders participating in the beta release, the more useful the tool will be for different groups when it is publicly released.