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Making Data Flows Visible

This part of the project develops a method for making visible the existing data practices in the governance of flood events. The primary research sites are the “Centres of expertise”, CEMADEN, which acts as a major hub or ‘centre of calculation’ for current data related to the monitoring and alerting of flooding events in Brazil. With CEMADEN as a starting point, we will then follow the flows of data to two local government sites (São Paulo City Council, Acre State Government). This research revolves around the creation of data diaries at each of the three sites. This method was prototyped in Tkacz’s previous ESRC project, “Interrogating the Dashboard: Data, Indicators, and Decision-making”. Diaries are a common method in qualitative ethnographic research, although to our knowledge this method has not been used to gather qualitative accounts of data practices. The diary method involves situated observations and interviews focused specifically on the elaboration of data practices.

The method is more than simple mapping in that it seeks to make visible not only what data are used, when, and by whom, but also to account for data usage over time as different people move in and out of the space. The method will also seek to understand which data different decision-makers use and why. The method will be repeated within the São Paulo City Hall and Acre Government. While the method will be adjusted to suit each site, all three involve the creation of a data inventory (a detailed account of the different types of data in use); followed by observations, where a data log documents which data is being used and for what purpose, and with interviews used to enrich the observations. The resulting data diaries will make visible the existing data practices used within the context of monitoring and responding to flooding events at the levels of "Centres of expertise" and local government. The creation of three diaries across these sites will allow us to understand not only exactly how data flows within and between these sites, but also how these flows shape the capacity to act in relation to flooding events in site-specific ways.