By Samantha Hinton
Resource Watch provides trusted and timely data for a sustainable future. The American Geographical Society (AGS) had the opportunity to sit down with them to hear more about how they are using datasets to help visualize global geospatial issues.
There is more data available today than ever before. However, too often policymakers and analysts do not have access to it to make informed decisions about the environment and human well-being. Resource Watch has taken the initiative to provide free and open data visualization to confront persistent global challenges. Their platform curates comprehensive geospatially referenced datasets across a wide scope of global problems from climate change to poverty, water risk, state instability, human migration, air pollution, and more. They have made it their purpose to deliver a repository of the best available geodata to the analysts, journalists, teachers, leaders, and other innovative minds and problem solvers of the world.
Resource Watch was built under The World Resource Institute (WRI), a global research not-for-profit established in 1982 working to advance solutions that protect both people and nature. Their initiatives center around seven urgent and major world challenges: cities, climate, energy, food, forest, ocean, and water.
Launched in 2018, Resource Watch has already made some profound strides. Paramount to their success is their dashboards. The dashboards are curated micro-sites of comprehensive data-driven analysis on major world challenges, reflecting the overall mission and focus of Resource Watch and WRI. The featured dashboards cover topics like forests, society, water, food, oceans, cities, and energy. Other dashboards on related sub-topics include Air Quality, Climate-related Physical Risks, and Coral Reefs. Various and intersecting challenges that threaten these sectors can easily be visualized on the dashboards. For example, the forest dashboard includes data on different types of tree cover, forest watersheds, tree cover gain, deforestation, and more. They offer the unique opportunity to visualize the intersectionality of global problems. By breaking down traditional silos and overlapping datasets from different topics, more effective understandings of the causes and solutions to key geospatial problems emerge that might not have been clear with a single dataset.
When asked about why data transparency is important, Anders Pederson, the director of Resource Watch stated that transparent data is for “anyone who wants an open society to hold people accountable — open geospatial data can provide the public with a tool to get the insights that are needed and make the argument for change.”
In other words, they view their accessible, transparent data as the direct pathway to innovation. Geospatial data is the “tool” to solving major world problems and people need access to it if they are going to develop the solution. Furthermore, they believe in the power of collaboration and that innovative solutions do not originate from just one company.
To ensure accountability, they have a detailed data collection, creation, and review process. Their datasets are curated by WRI’s independent, non-partisan experts and drawn from the best peer-reviewed and verified sources. The platform was created for the public so they value providing trusted and verified data.
Resource Watch is growing every day and creating a community of data providers and users who are now better equipped to act on challenges facing humanity and the planet. They see themselves as responsible for helping others to visualize world problems as well as complementing other researchers. Resource Watch has over 30 partners including the academic community, technology companies, NGOs, global institutions, and governments. They are leveraging new technology and opportunities to open up data to the public that would normally be sequestered into separate arenas for regulation and development. For example, they partner with a South African NGO that is monitoring local restoration of vegetation. They also partner with the government of Mexico City, helping officials visualize air quality data.
The future of Resource Watch is full of potential. New datasets are being added all the time, sorted by their high standards for quality, raising the bar for the growing world of open data. They hope to improve data resolution, increase affordability, and accessibility. The team reports that while they have already made progress in the data visualization, geospatial, and mapping worlds, there is still room for improvement. They acknowledge they are always eager to collaborate with officials and policymakers on the ground for their data to translate into real-world change. The future of Resource Watch centers on growing awareness about open geospatial data and continuing to offer open and usable data for everyone, but also getting the data directly to the policymakers that can use the information for change and the improvement of humanity. Bringing these datasets together from all corners of the world and sectors is a big challenge but it’s one WRI is prepared to tackle.
Make sure to keep a lookout for their upcoming Data Literacy Dashboard, an initiative built for teachers and students of grades six through eight. It will include activities, notes, and other materials to help students increase their data literacy, ability to read maps, and critical thinking. The organization hopes that this platform emphasizes the importance for educators to have access to data and encourages students to be more involved in the discipline.
You can learn more about Resource Watch and all that they do at https://resourcewatch.org/. You can also follow them on Twitter at @resource_watch and sign up for their regular newsletter to keep up to date with what’s new on their platform.
Feedback is extremely important to Resource Watch as they want to ensure they are serving data that has a purpose to you. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or contributions, you can
Suggest a story https://resourcewatch.org/get-involved/suggest-a-story
Contribute data https://resourcewatch.org/get-involved/contribute-data
Develop your app https://resourcewatch.org/get-involved/develop-your-app
Contact with feedback, comments, or questions https://resourcewatch.org/about/contact-us