This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

By Kayla Benjamin

Howard University and Morgan State University have partnered with Georgetown University’s Massive Data Institute for an initiative that aims to make environmental data accessible and usable for a wider range of researchers. After launching a year and a half ago, the Environmental Impact Data Collaborative created an interactive platform that hosts more than 145 datasets alongside digital tools that make it faster and easier to combine and analyze them. 

“People can use our platform for data science tools, using programming languages to transform the data, merge the data and analyze and visualize the data,” said Michael Bailey, the collaborative’s director and a government professor at Georgetown. “But we really are focused on having impact—we want to avoid just having data for data’s sake.”

To that end, the collaborative supports more than 10 different data science projects examining environmental justice and climate change. Researchers at Howard lead five of those projects, which focus on environmental justice issues related to air pollution, health, transportation and homelessness.

Dr. Legand Burge, a Howard computer science professor, currently works on a project that collects and organizes community-level air quality data in D.C. and Baltimore. He also serves as the coordinator for Howard’s partnership within the Environmental Impact Data Collaborative. 

“Georgetown is one of those sites where you can actually get access to census data and all these various kinds of data, and they’re responsible for managing and governing it, making it accessible to folks,” Burge said. “What [Howard] brings to the table I think is the fact that a lot of our projects are looking at marginalized communities dealing with underrepresented populations.”

Part of Burge’s project involves collecting air quality data from residential properties, and his team has been experimenting with new ways to give individuals more control and ownership of the data they share with researchers. Burge said that Howard’s and Morgan State’s partnerships within the collaborative can make it easier to reach vulnerable communities that may otherwise feel more reluctant to engage with academic institutions. 

“If anyone wants to do research and they want to get real, real-time data, especially from vulnerable communities, there is a level of trust that needs to be established,” he said. “Working with churches or local organizations that are grassroots organizations already in the community is the best way to go.”

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