a web app for
participatory watershed/community science

Peter Donovan
Estimated availability: August-September 2020 and the coming expanded, improved, more flexible which will be hosted here, are open-source web apps designed to support participatory watershed or community science, and a shared, localized, evidence-based intelligence on the complex and emergent relations between sunlight energy, ecosystem function, and human decisions. This is the opportunity for human society to learn how to work with the most powerful planetary force: coupled carbon and water cycling. This learning cannot remain exclusively digital, but information technology can play a support role in recording and sharing evidence and feedback, and displaying observations and data on maps with a variety of additional layers and contexts.

Participatory watershed or community science around carbon and water cycling can help students, land managers, citizens, and professionals engage with the various flows and variabilities of solar energy, in addition to the more popular emphases on species, substances or elements (such as C, N, or P), problems, and practices.

Three generations of data collection

  1. Data collection can be a tool of surveillance, for which standardized and categorized data is needed. This is like the one-way mirrors used decades ago in psychology research that separated the observers from the subjects, and enabled the observers to observe the subjects but not vice-versa. One modern equivalent is the surveillance camera. The subjects of the observation typically do not know how the data is being interpreted or used, and sometimes it is used by rule-based systems in inscrutable ways to gauge compliance, assign a category, make predictions and judgments, or target a market for a product or service. It fosters distrust. Much of what is termed research has tended to use surveillance methods and framing because it makes it easier to aggregate consistent data, and make conclusions that are of interest to researchers.
  2. Data collection can serve the purposes of feedback, and become a reflective mirror by which you see yourself, and increase your self-awareness, and perhaps compare yourself with some kind of average. This can be like knowing your bank balance or your net worth, how fast you can run 5 kilometers, or approximately how well your soil accepts and holds water. It can be a way of asking good questions, and it can help you make decisions toward what you want and need.
  3. Data collection can serve as feedback, mirror, and a platform for a shared intelligence at the group or community level. The designs that foster this will be more collaborative and locally adapted. They will resemble platforms more than pipelines (see for example this Harvard Business Review article). They may be less aligned with rule-based systems and more adapted to complex domains such as ecosystem function, with the overlapping concerns of land, people, and money.

These are different purposes, and they overlap. The design of is slanted toward the second and third, toward feedback, inquiry, participation, a platform for a shared intelligence, and less toward surveillance, judgment, or the delivery of expert solutions with their requirements for data consistency and categorization across space. will add:

because no two places, people, ranches, or farms are the same, or are asking the same questions!

Confucius said:

Tell me, and I forget.

Show me, and I remember.

Let me do, and I understand.

Can a data management platform be designed to facilitate participatory learning, inquiry, and feedback, big-picture (yet local, grounded, and shared) understanding of the circle of life, the most powerful planetary force?

If you are coordinating or wanting to help start a participatory watershed science effort, and would like to participate in the use or design of a flexible web app, please contact me:

A project of the Soil Carbon Coalition