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Building knowledge systems that hold value in the public interest

CIVIC Data Library of Context

The Vision

The CIVIC Data Library of Context will serve communities that span disciplines, lived experiences, regions, and cultures to engage the stories told and untold by data. Grounded in social justice, this public resource centers those the data seek to represent (data constituents) through participatory collaboration. This work aims to:

  1. Bring visibility to the gap between people's lived experience and how they are represented in data

  2. Provide a practical framework for restorative practices that will then improve scientific and cultural insights

The public launch of the platform in mid-July 2021 will provide a scaffold to begin repairing past harms inherent to data capture — illuminating the potential to provide equitable value and promoting governance that can prevent instances of future abuse of and breach of trust in the information landscape.

CIVIC is now seeking data publishing partners and CIVIC Context Team members. Read more about what we're building and how to get involved below.

Our Approach

CIVIC’s process is highly participatory, centered on applied learning for our partners and collaborators. The program will focus on methodologies that expose and mitigate embedded bias, and demystify the ways technology systems can reinforce or undermine the humanity of diverse populations, geographies, and events represented in data.

What is a Data Library of Context?

The concept of a data library is fundamentally different from a traditional data portal or dashboard. The foundation is a set of metadata standards designed to increase the data's longevity. Data are grounded throughout their lifecycle in their lineage and provenance. This keeps data connected to its roots, making it adaptable to shifts in collective understanding and able to account for variations across culture and environment—an essential function of archiving. The Library will curate and catalog the context surrounding data, thus becoming a new source of data in and of itself.

Why Context?

Data context is collected as metadata associated with each dataset. That metadata, in its simplest form, gives information about the dataset, which helps a practitioner understand and apply the data toward a purpose. A structured approach to metadata includes technical documentation about methods, assumptions, and limitations situated within an awareness of anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices. Context is essential as we begin to unpack hidden inferences embedded in our systems and is an ethical prerequisite to drawing conclusions from data or making decisions that can impact people’s lives and bodies.

Join Us

Onboarding begins in February 2021 with the Product Launch planned for mid-July 2021.

There are two possible ways to get involved:

  • Publish Data: partner with us to co-create and publish context to the Library

  • Join a CIVIC Context Team: contribute your expertise & insight to help create structured context

Note: The full program has limited space for both data publisher and context team training.

Create and Publish Context to the Library

Participation is open to teams or individuals within institutions. Data publishing organizations may include:

  • Public sector data stewards and practitioners (federal, state, & local)

  • Issue-based, non-partisan activist organizations

  • Nonprofit and academic research groups

  • Private sector data publishers

  • University faculty

Estimated Time Commitment: 5 hours per week per team member, 8-14 weeks (including onboarding) depending on the structure coordinated with each institution

What to Expect

  • Work with a CIVIC Data Library Curator to identify one or more datasets or schemas to contextualize

  • Receive orientation and onboarding to prepare for structured context collaboration process

    • Optional: Expanded training to support advanced competence on principles and practices of applied intersectional methodology, structured context framework, and metadata remediation

  • Opportunities to engage in the creative process with CIVIC’s product design team before public launch

  • 6- or 12-week applied collaboration sprint with a dedicated CIVIC Context Creation Team

  • Completed context metadata documentation will be visualized and accessible as part of the public launch

Benefits of Participating

  • Teams, individuals, and organizations will receive prominent attribution and visibility alongside their context material and/or special collections within the Library

  • Networking and resource sharing across CIVIC’s global network of data publishers

  • Access to the CIVIC team’s private virtual collaboration space and internal process documentation

  • Further the institution's values of transparency, community engagement, and deconstructing embedded racial biases

Note: The CIVIC Data Library of Context is a platform for publishing metadata, and for security purposes it is not required that the source dataset is open or publicly available.

Talk to a Curator

Join a CIVIC Context Team

We are seeking individuals with an intrinsic motivation to contribute to this experimental and socially innovative platform. Applications, open to the general public January 2021, are especially encouraged from:

  • Librarians and archivists

  • Historians, anthropologists, & ethicists

  • Software engineers, data scientists, & tech industry strategists seeking experience with anti-racist practice

  • Individuals who identify with, and bring the lived experience of, historically marginalized groups such as Indigenous peoples, communities of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, etc...

What to Expect

  • Work with CIVIC Leadership Team to create a personal roadmap to maximize your learning experience and be placed into a role that supports your professional goals, skill building, & ability to create a positive impact and contribute to a larger vision

  • Participants accepted into the program will be placed into one of 4 training tracks to develop competency and specialization within CIVIC’s structured context practice. These include:

    • Data Lineage and Provenance

    • Social Justice and Restorative Frameworks

    • Ethical Data Governance and Security

    • Civic Data Librarianship and Curation

  • After completion of the 6-week specialization training, participants from each track will be placed into multi-disciplinary CIVIC Context Teams and enter a 12-week applied learning phase, including active collaboration with data publishing partners, real world data sources, and data constituents

  • Completed context metadata documentation will be visualized and accessible as part of the public launch of the CIVIC Data Library of Context, and will feature attribution from the team

Estimated Time Commitment: 10-15 hours per week, March-June 2021

Benefits of Participating

  • Opportunity to gain expertise in an emergent and highly specialized practice

  • Gain applied experience working with meaningful material and fascinating partners

  • Access to CIVIC team’s private virtual collaboration space and internal process documentation

  • Team members often build lasting relationships within the CIVIC community, and we support long term engagement and professional advancement across our global network of contributors

  • Visible attribution and recognition for individuals and teams

  • Satisfaction and thrill of seeing your work come to life and be a part of something that’s making the world a more equitable place

Apply to Join a Team

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Contact Us

Creative & Tech HQ

Portland, OR


Organizational HQ

Washington, DC


Civic Software Foundation is a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization. EIN 46-5498921
CC BY License