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Self-Reported Data versus Purposeful Data Collection Through Local Involvement

Over the last decade or so, technological advancements with increasing soft- and hardware integration and the increase in the portability of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices have stimulated the vision of an ever-connected world where ubiquitous sensing of the environment would generate vast amounts of user-reported data that, in turn, can be used for better decision-making in various contexts. In this emerging technology-centric world view, passive sensing would be complemented by subjects carrying out voluntary or involuntary (paid) data collection tasks (active sensing) for the various data to be reported to corresponding databases for later use. 

The figure below shows an example of voluntarily reported meteorological data from the Weather Observation Website (WOW) that is maintained by the UK Met Office. Inspecting the WOW map, two striking observations can be made.

First, people voluntarily report data to an institution that uses this data to improve global weather models. By doing this, they do not directlyderive benefit apart from knowing that they contribute to a societal good, i.e. to improve the understanding of instantaneous global atmospheric conditions of concerned agencies and societies. As a confirmation of these activities, their data is displayed on the website, always ready for others to see and for it to be integrated in weather models, among other things. The active users and ‘data reporters’ do not get any other benefit from this.


Second, the voluntary reporting of this atmospheric data is almost exclusively limited to developed places, i.e. regions with relatively high GDP in functioning states and conditions of peace. In other words, it appears as if empirical evidence points to the fact that voluntary reporting of non-traditional environmental data is done by cohorts that can affordto do so, time- and money-wise. The complete absence of non-traditional data reported from developing places, i.e. regions where data is generally considered to be a scarce good to start with, certainly is an expression of different factors. These include information and technology barriers among other things, i.e. a) lack of awareness of about the campaign (the vast majority of the society is unaware of e.g. WOW), b) general lack of capacity, e.g. due to daily livelihood struggles, lack of connectedness to internet (including for reasons of costs and connectivity), c) lack of access to sensors (even cheap ones), etc..


In short, repeated voluntary reporting and data collection for a larger social good by local stakeholders in the development context appears, at least for now, difficult. The societal good might neither be understandable by individuals (i.e. the concept of environmental sustainability, high precision forecasts, etc.) nor are direct benefitsnecessarily derivable by the individual under consideration once the societal good has been provided.

The collection-oriented ‘geek’ culture, which is characterized by individuals that are heavily invested in their hobby/interest, is a western phenomenon. Born in and from relative affluence and abundance, the geek culture can afford to be geeky and invest in the digital technology that, among other things, allows them the participate in such campaigns. The young generation even the earliest age, has maybe already been exposed to the philosophy and technology behind these geek campaigns as democracies are making increasing use of digital tools which, in addition, is further shaping the contours of the digital collection and exchange society in the future.

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