New paper: Responsible Innovation with CARE principles of Indigenous data governance

By Cathy Robinson and Rebecca Coates

Faceless shot of modern Indigenous businesswoman working on laptop and typing on keyboard at table in office

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We live in a world saturated by data. Data that is becoming increasingly more accessible and detailed, and there is more of it than ever before in human history.

In the last ten years or so, there has been a global shift to allow data to be stored in a single place and shared in many places. This enables, for example, baseline surveys to be carried out on vulnerable ecosystems and monitored over time.

The concept of national and global datasets is loaded with risk. Each time data points are reused, they become increasingly ‘decontextualised’ – which means they are removed from the place and purpose from which the data was originally collected.

Without a responsible approach to de-contextualised data analysis, there can be significant negative impacts on society. This is particularly relevant to Indigenous Australians. For example, Indigenous Traditional Owners insist that data collected about them and their lands need to be negotiated in an ethical way and be used and analysed to benefit local Indigenous communities.

Collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility and ethics (CARE)

Indigenous scholars around the world have recently come together to tackle the challenges with use and misuse of Indigenous data, and to protect Indigenous data sovereignty, producing principles for Indigenous data governance called CARE- which includes Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility and Ethics.

A recently published paper out of the Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform, led by Dr Cathy Robinson, reflects on how scientists can use CARE principles for Indigenous data governance to guide big data collection, analysis and translation practice. The paper discusses the efforts of a CSIRO multi-disciplinary research team to analyse the multiple benefits of Indigenous land and water management activities in Australia.

This paper is among the first in Australia and internationally to put the CARE principles into practice and is a significant contribution to Indigenous data governance scholarship. A case study using data collected by Indigenous rangers on cultural and natural resource management was used to demonstrate how the CARE principles can be applied to data collection, integration, analysis and translation practices.

The research team worked with a Project Steering Committee and Indigenous Agency Advisory Committee to co-design the project’s goals. The CARE framework was the foundation from which the research team worked with an Advisory group made up of Indigenous and government agency representatives responsible for Indigenous job, employment and environmental program data to identify what benefits from federally funded environmental management programs might be most significant and meaningful to support Indigenous land and sea managers and enterprises.

Some of the data analysed in this project by the CSIRO research team included rich ‘stories of change’ that are difficult to interpret to guide and evaluate the benefits of large programs. The research team used an Artificial Intelligence (AI) language model to gain further benefit from the data by allowing greater insights to be drawn from the data by quantifying the results and generating a word cloud to represent the rich tapestry of stories captured in the datasets.

Responsible innovation isn’t always about strictly adhering to a set of prescribed principles but can also be an approach that uses elements of Responsible Innovation, such as responsiveness and reflectivity, to develop new frameworks for conducting research. The use of the CARE principles for analysing Indigenous cultural and natural resource management data provide an important example of how with the adoption of responsible frameworks, greater benefits and value to communities and ecosystems may be delivered.

More information

Paper citation: Robinson, C.J., Kong, T., Coates, R. Watson, I., Stokes, C., Pert, P., McConnell, A., C. Chen. (2021). Caring for Indigenous Data to Evaluate the Benefits of Indigenous Environmental Programs. Environmental Management. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-021-01485-8

Read the full paper here: Caring for Indigenous Data to Evaluate the Benefits of Indigenous Environmental Programs (springer.com)