03 Sep 2012 to 03 Sep 2012
Moving to environmental practices that are more sustainable requires an understanding of whether our values lead us to actions that improve or are detrimental to sustainability. This is a complex issue to understand in that sustainability includes social and economic aspects in addition to the environmental ones. And while there is much technical information available in digital form, it is stored in many places, it can be hard to find and difficult to understand. Datasets are more often collected for specific rather than general reasons; sometimes even for historical reasons. Ideally, they need to be sufficiently accessible for people to discover them, and preferably be able to explore them in a way that the viewer develops a deeper understanding of relevant sustainability issues.
The case study used in this project is the sustainability of planted forests in New Zealand. There are many values and issues that people associate with planted forests and forest operations, both negative and positive. There are also many datasets, models and expert knowledge on or relevant to the forests. This research is developing an approach to link people’s values and meanings to visualisations of datasets and models, to facilitate understanding of issues of sustainability.
The design needs to address a number of features. Individual datasets are only of limited use for depicting sustainability; an important ability is to be able to explore different datasets simultaneously. A number of international sustainability approaches have been adopted in the country: the central government reports against an international framework for monitoring the sustainability of forests, and an international certification scheme for forest management is used by the forest industry for market access. The criteria and indicators from these approaches provide frames for structuring the design. Most important is the ability to interactively move from values to data.
The approach is developing a new way of organising data that is centred on stakeholders. The emphasis is on ease of access. Different visualisations used include draping data over Google Earth, 3-dimensial views that allow a use to e.g. look at below-ground processes, and techniques developed for information visualisations.
The understanding gained on linking sets of values and meanings to datasets is applicable to other areas where lay people need to grapple with large volumes of interrelated information.
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