Big Data is Not Always Bad

Grow Observatory –

After writing this brief piece recently for Treehugger:

Using Data and Citizen Science for Gardening Success

I’ve been thinking more about ‘big data’ and both the challenges and opportunities wide scale data gathering can bring. We tend to think of ‘big data’ in negative terms – as a tool used against us rather than something we can contribute to and use to our advantage.

I think rethinking data, its availability and its usage is key to developing sustainable systems and practices moving forward.

Many people want to make a change, but there are barriers to sustainable progress. These can include:

  • The limitations and restrictions of the current economic system.
  • A lack of access to funding (and sometimes concrete information) for those who want to manage land in a sustainable, eco-friendly way.
  • A top-down governance approach that makes it more difficult for individuals to make change.
  • Political short-sightedness that prioritises economics over ecology and people.

Collaborative models, citizen science, and co-operative ways of being can part of a holistic approach to solve these problems.

In plant growth, gardening and agriculture, access to data enables sustainable practices to develop, and thrive. And this is just one sector in which contributing to and making data accessible to all can make a big difference.

By measuring and quantifying certain measures of many areas relating to sustainability, from materials, to infrastructure, to energy… we can begin to proceed towards concrete solutions.

The key things, of course, are where data comes from. And, crucially, how it is used and disseminated. When we all work to contribute to scientific data through citizen science, and when that data is then made accessible to all, then we can all begin to see the power we wield as individuals to make a big difference.

We increasingly move in a world in which everything about us and our environments is captured, stored and analysed with artificial intelligence algorithms. But data gathering is not just something to fear. It is crucial that we develop strong systems of control and accountability.

But by taking a collaborative approach, we can harness to our advantage the useful scientific data that we can all gather together to learn more about ourselves and our world.

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