In my research, I’ve learned about important data gaps but also about huge amounts of data collected by activists over years of work. Often this data is stored in activists’ homes, inaccessible to others working on related issues. I’ve thus also learned about the need for civic data infrastructure and begun asking questions about how such infrastructure should be designed, governed and sustained going forward.
In process, I’ve learned that data infrastructure has many layers and technical components (from data collection technologies to repositories, technical services, user agreements, visualization capabilities, etc.), and depends on many types of expertise. I’ve also learned that to build good civic data infrastructure, we’ll also need to continually reflect on what is needed, and on the limits and affordances of the infrastructures we’ve built so far. I’ve come to see civic data practices, expertise and infrastructure as an important focus for ethnographic research, with rich, politically important possibilities for collaboration with the communities ethnographers study.
There is a long history of communities impacted by the same companies trying to organize (see "Communities against Corporations" in Fortun 2001), which continues to raise questions about how to bring communities into visibility and what kind of infrastructure is needed to connect across places.
When responding to corporations, state agencies, and other stakeholders, community groups often encounter divergent data, creating the need to provide more situated evidence and developing critical readings of the data.
In the global environmental movement and related advocacy efforts, writing reports is a way to share analysis, provide advice, and build a track record of evidence to make a problem public. While important, they often take a signficant time to prepare, depending on their scope and length. I argue that such reports can be supplemented by community archives that allow for more rapid forms of "staccato reporting" and multimodal forms of expression. See for example a rendering of the industrial incident table as interactive timeline.
Morever, a digital community archive might become a venue to reflect and annotate reports – enabling a focus beyond the outcomes of campaigns and on the "dilemmas and trade-offs, curves and forks in the road" that characterize what Lichterman (2021, 259) calls different styles of advocacy or civic action.
In 2016, the U.S. EPA under Donald Trump began to remove references to Climate Change from their website, leading to a concerted effort of scientists and advocates to "rescue" data, but also elaborate methods to monitor websites (Tirrell et al. 2020). In this example, almost the opposite is going on: Formosa Plastics is trying to "greenwash" the website for it's latest petrochemical complex in the light of activist campaigns.
Civic community archives can help document such data rescue and monitoring efforts. Further, they can help make data available that is otherwise precariously stored.