Just use of conservation geospatial data

Geospatial data are increasingly used by conservationists, both in spatial prioritisation and systematic planning (Runting et al., 2020) and in evaluation of conservation impact (e.g. Wolf et al., 2021). The increased public availability of satellite imagery and its products since the end of the Cold War alongside advances in computing technology (e.g. high performance computing, cloud computing) have widened access for conservationists to process, handle, and visualise big geospatial data, spurring development of environmental products (Arts et al., 2015).

However, these data, while widely perceived to be objective, often reflect the ontological and epistemological assumptions of the people who created them. For example, widely used land cover and land use classifications may seem universal but in fact, contradict local understandings of how their land is used (Robbins, 2003). Geospatial data at the global scale that do not incorporate local peoples’ participation and perspectives can thus perpetuate injustices, especially when such data is used to inform policy and make decisions that subsequently impact these people on the ground.

Following a data justice approach, which considers data composition, control, access, processing and use, and consequences (Pritchard et al., 2022), this project will explore the data and models commonly used in conservation. It will consider potential data harms that may arise from the use of such data in prioritisation, planning, and evaluation, and what potential data layers could be created that might mitigate some of these harms.   

Jocelyne Sze

Postdoctoral Researcher