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Strategizing around next steps in the CDH design process

Published onOct 10, 2023
Strategizing around next steps in the CDH design process

This is the ninth post for the Community Data Hubs Documentation series. This series will document the thought and conversation trajectories within the process of creating the building blocks of our Community Data Hubs model and OEDP’s broader data stewardship work. The first of these blogs will document the progress of the Community Data Hubs Advisory Group, which is working alongside OEDP to tackle conceptual questions related to the model, including social and technical infrastructures, stewardship, and community data.

This post documents the seventh meeting of the Community Data Hubs (CDH) Advisory Group on August 9th, 2023. In this meeting, Advisory Group members deliberated on next steps in the CDH design process. In the initial phase, Advisory Group members participated in several internal meetings, during which we refined our collective understanding of both the prevailing issues within the environmental data ecosystem and considered how a CDH model might address those problems. In the second phase of our design process, OEDP will seek out one or multiple partner organizations working with environmental data before hosting a series of workshops to refine and troubleshoot their process alongside our CDH model. 

In planning this next phase, OEDP staff articulated two potential routes forward before soliciting advisory group feedback on the respective affordances and constraints of each. Those two routes can be summarized as follows:

  1. With one community partner, we could host three targeted workshops to create a refined design articulation of a CDH that digs deep into particular complexities of one data project.

  2. With three different community partners, we could host three design sprints culminating in a diverse playbook of case studies. 

The group’s deliberations centered on these major questions:

  1. What are the design advantages and disadvantages of depth versus breadth in selecting the number of community partners?

  2. How can we negotiate a commitment to OEDP’s own vision for CDH while also recognizing the various practical constraints shaping the design process?

  3. How can we articulate clear outputs from the design process without overly pre-determining what we envision to be an open-ended collaboration?

What are the design advantages and disadvantages of depth versus breadth in selecting the number of community partners?

Group members identified a range of reasons why they might wish to move forward with one community partner. One group member indicated that in their own data governance work, the highest hurdle was often merely getting people to the table, convincing them to make time to think intensively and talk collaboratively about data stewardship. Given this, perhaps one especially successful, rich example of the CDH model at work could serve as a powerful tool to persuade skeptical institutions or community groups to expend more energy on questions of data stewardship

Another group member wondered, if we were to proceed with three partners, if one design sprint would provide enough time and space to do much of value for the community groups themselves. Unless there is an existing relationship that proceeds and continues on after the encounter, this “one touch” model may do very little to substantively shape that community group’s work. This group member pointed us to the concept of liberatory design as a model for what transformative and emancipatory partnerships look like. In line with this, one group member floated that, in either the case of multiple or one partner organization, we might consider hosting check-ins at the three-, six-, and twelve-month marks to revisit challenges and to keep each other accountable. 

On the other hand, group members raised a few questions about the wisdom of proceeding with just one community partner. If just one partner were to be chosen, they would need to be precisely the right fit, having deep and wide-ranging data issues in order to merit three workshops. In terms of building a broadly useful model, there are obvious drawbacks to a design process that, in digging deep into one case, misses a world of complexity at play in other contexts. 

How can we negotiate a commitment to OEDP’s own vision for CDH while also recognizing the various practical constraints shaping the design process?

Group members agreed that there were multiple ways to determine the path forward. One option was to proceed by revisiting our initial goals and selecting the design strategy that most closely matched those ambitions. If the CDH is meant to be a modular assemblage of data governance procedures, technical resources, and stewardship guides, then perhaps we are best served by articulating a design process with multiple, diverse community partners.

However, group members noted the importance of thinking practically. What kinds of potential partner organizations are in OEDP’s existing network? Do we have the capacity to lead a recruitment drive of sufficient scale to accumulate three partners who are a good fit—that is, partners who can both benefit from collaboration with OEDP and who can help refine our CDH model? Rather than proceeding with reference to abstract goals, group members suggested assessing the concrete possibilities available within OEDP’s network and then making ultimate decisions about the number of partners. This constituted a kind of “third option”: we would proceed by publishing a call with open enough language to solicit a range of partnerships. We would then consider the feasibility of partnerships with each interested party and select up to three.

How can we articulate clear outputs from the design process without overly pre-determining what we envision to be an open-ended collaboration?

In considering the process of recruiting partners, group members wondered about how much to specify the final products of this round of the design process. On the one hand, specificity is important in recruitment because prospective partners should have some sense of what they might expect from the collaboration at the outset. Indeed, clearly articulating compelling final outputs can entice engagement from community groups. On the other hand, Advisory Group members felt it was important to keep the process open enough to allow for outcomes to shift throughout the proposed workshops and in response to the community groups needs. 

One group member noted that a major emphasis of the CDH as it stands now is diagnostic: it identifies problems, bottlenecks, and ethical concerns within a given data ecosystem. Should we lean into this existing tendency, or is our hope to offer more concrete solutions?  

Group members came to the following final decisions regarding next steps:

  1. Advisory Group Members decided to proceed with a third option: OEDP will articulate a capacious open call, broad enough to solicit various kinds of community partners, while narrow enough to paint a clear picture of our expectations and likely outcomes. The actual number of partners we select will depend on the number of parties for whom a collaboration might be mutually beneficial. 

  2. Advisory Group Members wish to build systems for long-term communication with however many partners ultimately participate. This could be as simple as establishing the expectation for follow-up meetings at some set intervals, but could be more intensive if this becomes mutually desirable and feasible. 

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