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People, Planet & Technology #15
🛰 Satellite data literacy: Why it’s need human-readable instead of machine-readable data?
long time no see, right? What a phrase. I wrote exactly the same thing almost exactly 6 months ago when the last issue appeared. Well, every 6 months is regular, isn't it? Anyway, also this year I plan to send this newsletter to you once a month. In the meantime almost 600 people are reading it regularly. Impressive. For me. So first of all: Thank you very much for being here!
In the last issue I announced to report what I have been up to the last months. I will keep this promise: I was lucky enough to become a fellow of the PrototypeFund. Thanks to the support of the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Research and the German Aerospace Agency, I was able to work on my project OpenSpaceData for 6 months. It was a great time! Why I did it and what the project is about, you can read here:
Satellite data literacy: Why it’s need human-readable instead of machine-readable data?
We have a right to information. In Germany public institutions are obliged, with restrictions, to provide information, for example in the form of open data. Open data offers transparency. This newfound transparency can make corruption more difficult, decisions more comprehensible, and thus win new trust in politics and administration. Above all, however, thanks to open data, the opportunity to participate in social processes and innovations is made possible. The only problem is that the debate about openly accessible data is often conducted only in the technology bubble and thus only in a very abbreviated way. Two issues need to be focused on: Data must be available in the first place. But it must also be usable - for everyone.
The right to access information does not apply to everyone equally
Imagine you have a right to an island. It is - Surprise! - surrounded by water. You have two options to enter your island: You buy a boat or you swim. Boats are sometimes expensive and you need a license. No problem, you can swim. But what if the distance to swim is too far? Or maybe you can't swim at all? Tough luck. What does the right to your island bring you now?
Like you in this simplified example, many people experience open data. Some people lack the technical skills to access data and analyze it statistically correctly. Others can't distinguish meaningful from meaningless information in the data - how could they?
When discussing freedom of information and open data, it is often assumed that machine-readable data is optimal. They are there and usable, but that is bubble thinking. Because in the end, a human must be able to read the data, so it needs human-readable data instead.
In its Global Risk Report 2021, the World Economic Forum ranked growing digital inequality 7th out of 35 risks. According to the report, this not only furthers the gap between rich and poor, but also fuels misinformation. I think that's crazy, because today we have more access to data than ever before in history. But often it's mainly privileged people who can use it, people who know how to work with modern technologies, how to interpret data, and what benefits - but also what risks - they bring.
Why it is important that open data is accessible, usable and understandable was already explained by Eileen Wagner in 2017 in her TEDx Talk "From Open Data to Open Knowledge":
Focus on Zero Knowledge Tools
With OpenSpaceData, we want to democratize the world of open satellite data. Public space agencies, like ESA, NASA or even JAXA, make much of their satellite data openly available in near-real time. Anyone of us can use it, regardless of income or origin.
Satellite data offer incredible possibilities and an inexhaustible wealth of knowledge about our environment and its citizens. For example, the Sentinel satellites of the European Space Agencies allow us to observe changes in the vegetation of forests or even agricultural areas. What sounds banal at first, opens up incredible possibilities. This information provides a huge archive of farmers' harvesting behavior: How much has the harvest time shifted due to weather and climatic changes, for example? But we can also observe urban developments or see on which borders military bases are expanding or even new ones are being built. All this information is not only available to the military or some scientists, but to all of us. We should use it and, above all, develop tools that allow everyone to use this data without restrictions. I am convinced that everyone can benefit from this data, no matter if you are a student, a journalist, an activist, a teacher, a politician, a citizen scientist etc. - I could continue this list endlessly.
Benjamin Strick, Investigations Director at the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), for example, uses open Earth observation data to investigate acts of war and war crimes:
Our approach with OpenSpaceData
There are already great tools that facilitate access to Earth observation data. Most of them, however, are aimed at professional users. Some of them also address beginners in their communication, but in the end they always make a compromise: efficient tools for professional users vs. a maximally simple user interface for beginners.
OpenSpaceData (OSD) is explicitly and exclusively aimed at first-time users, so it does not have to compromise on professional users.
What does that mean exactly? Of course, we do not want to provide another tool that takes over all processing and analysis steps from the user. A big difference to other tools, besides prioritizing the target group to first-time users, is that we want to "empower" people. Not only with the service of providing data, but also with building competencies.
"Education" is the key word here. We provide users with the right data and step-by-step instructions on how to process the data and then extract the right information from it. Our goal is that after they have worked with OSD once or twice, they will be able to go further on their own and will have built up enough basic knowledge of handling Earth observation data to continue working with more professional tools.
A key point of our strategy is: We offer the easiest possible access for first-time users and do not rely on users working with our solution permanently. We are successful with our project if users can subsequently switch to professional applications.
How does OpenSpaceData work?
We do not require any programming skills or prior knowledge of Earth observation data. The interface speaks as simple a language as possible and does not overwhelm with technical terms, nor does it require complex input.
Users only have to answer three questions:
What do I want to analyze? Here, users can choose from a variety of predefined use cases, such as whether they want to determine the health of vegetation or the effects of drought on a particular lake.
Which area do I want to analyze? Users have the option to select a location to be analyzed. This works via a simple search field, similar to what is known from Google Maps or OpenStreetMap.
Which time period should be analyzed? The Earth is constantly changing, so satellite data must always be seen in a temporal context. Users can specify whether they want the most recent data or data from a specific time period, for example, May 2008.
Our software now ensures that users get the best possible satellite image and provides a step-by-step guide on how to analyze the data and then derive the right insights from it.
Data literacy is one of the issues for enabling everyone to participate in a more socially and climate responsible future. But we must not always conduct the data literacy debate from a privileged bubble. Rather, we must ensure that no one is left behind. Everyone must be included - regardless of their skills or financial income. This requires easy-to-use tools that provide practical support for users in their everyday lives or during research and that dispense with technical language: Interfaces for people instead of data for machines. Of course, one requires the other, but the priority must be comprehensibility and accessibility for all.
Did you like what you read? Then please share this post with people you like and leave a comment what you are thinking about data litercy in space industry and beyond.
👉 Miscellaneous things
🌍 The effects of climate change can be seen around the world, in the present. The New York Times uses a mix of maps, charts, videos, illustrations, and photographs to imagine postcards sent from every country in the world to show what’s happening.
🌪 Cold, heat, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes: 2021 in weather disasters
🌏 Visualisation of 109 different climate model simulations covering the climate history of the last 540 million years. Wow.
🌳 A map to find a spot that would be ideal for a new parklet - a 🚗 parking space that could be transformed into something for people to enjoy.
🛰 Is Climate Change Heating up Central Asia’s Border Disputes? Clues from Satellite Imagery
💦 I’m totally in love with this idea: The Berlin Refreshment Map shows cool, windy and shady areas in the city, and indicates which places are particularly suitable for refreshing and lingering in summer based on their natural characteristics or infrastructure.
💧 Drop a raindrop anywhere in the world and watch where it ends up
📢 Pollution: Find out how noisy a property is before you buy
🌳 Quantifying Urban Greenness: Obtaining the greenness of each street and neighbourhood in the largest Dutch cities ♥️
🏠 An interactive guide on how to protect your home from wildfires
🔥 No doubt: The climate disaster is here
⛴ Track ships, containers, carbon emissions over one year
🧑🍳 No idea what to cook? Here is an open source cookbook.
🚲 You want to learn something new in 2022? My tip: A five week course gives you the building blocks and basic skills required to start designing your cycling city.
Finally, a great documentary from the heart of the planet’s slums, squats and shantytowns, individuals have taken over these marginalized worlds and erected cities in their own image:
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