The Plague of Redundant Data Collection

(written by Intro to GIS student, H. C.)

Data access and sharing is an issue that I admit is very close to my heart. It’s hard to believe it hadn’t really crossed my mind until last summer, when I spent weeks upon weeks in the field in chest waders and 40°C Southern Ontario weather collecting redundant data. I say this data was redundant because most of it had already been collected by a partner organization to the Canadian governmental organization that employed me (the agency will remain nameless). And why, you ask? Because they had spent employee wages and Canadian tax payer dollars collecting it, but couldn’t decide how to price it out to sell to us. And even though the end result was equally beneficial to both partners, giving the data to us free of charge was completely out of the question.

On a government level, this seems to be a fairly common problem. The Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources (CGER) recommends that national policies be implemented to reduce pointless data collection. I think the Canadian government, as well as associated organizations on the provincial level, could benefit greatly from something like it. The United States, for its part, is considering something similar for Florida, and in the USGS Third Annual Caribbean GIS conference the advantages were discussed in detail.

Presumably, some of this redundant gathering is the result of uncoordinated guidelines of data collection. Taking an example from my own experience, the data being collected was physical measurements and locations of culvert barriers to fish mobility, and the other organization had not normalized barrier numbers, photo references, or GPS accuracy. For certain sites, then, it would have made sense for my partner and I to recollect the information we needed. However, for the cases where we actually ran into members of that organization checking their temperature monitors the same day we drove to out-of-the-way sites, we did indeed feel rather ridiculous waiting our turn to crawl down to the culvert and take ten minutes worth of measurements. It’s clear that data sharing would reduce the total cost and effort associated with any data collection initiative, but in the current situation it seems like data is more jealously guarded than shared, even between partners working towards a common goal.

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