Just Good Enough Data and Environmental Sensing: Moving beyond Regulatory Benchmarks toward Citizen Action

Jennifer Gabrys, Helen Pritchard


Discussing a research project that investigates citizen sensing practices in relation to monitoring air pollution from hydraulic fracturing sites, this paper investigates the types of data that citizen monitoring generates, and the uses to which it might be put. The discussion is located within the wider context of the rise of environmental sensing technologies and practices that are emerging and that seek to enable citizens to use DIY and low-tech monitoring tools to understand and act upon environmental problems such as air pollution. These “citizen sensing” projects intend to gather data that can indicate environmental change and give rise to political action. However, regulators often contest citizen-gathered data as inaccurate, and as collected through sub-standard instruments and practices. Drawing on a report developed by the US EPA, we use the concept of “just good enough data” to demonstrate that citizen-gathered data can have multiple other uses beyond regulatory comparison and compliance. Describing the collaborative development of an environmental monitoring kit, as well as the deployment of this kit within a participatory research setting, we suggest that the relevance of citizen-collected air quality data should not be solely evaluated through absolute criteria such as alignment to state- or federally managed air quality data, but rather should be incorporated for the unique citizen-based insights and perspectives it provides.


Citizen sensing, citizen science, just good enough data, air pollution, participatory research, environmental regulation

Full Text: