Opening a second work track for BONSAI #dataliberation


I would like to propose we open a second work track for BONSAI: data liberation. The goal is to allow for more work to be done on interesting research questions and practical challenges in a distributed and democratic fashion.
The problem
We currently have ambitions about all-encompassing database using an ontology and tool chain, both currently under development. This plan has a lot of ideas that are, in my opinion, fundamentally correct, including the use of different kinds of data to develop inventories, storing information in its original form and transparently documenting any transformations, and including actors as fundamental bits of data along with flows and activities. However, the relatively slow progress, specific tool chain, and lack of widespread expertise at the intersection of tools and concepts make it difficult and frustrating for most BONSAI participants to make real contributions - and essentially impossible for outsiders! You can see this clearly in the commit stream to the BONSAI repositories.
At the same time, there are stupid barriers in doing industrial ecology and LCA work where BONSAI could make a substantial contribution in the very short term, like common standards for nomenclature, improving data formats, conversion tools, small parametric models for activities, science-based algorithms for merging and reconciling data, and tools for extracting data from published LCA studies.
Finally, BONSAI seems to exist as a separate pillar or project, working to some degree with others (e.g. the presentations seen or to come from US EPA, HESTIA, TRASE), but still it's own "team." Probably this is inevitable, to some degree, but such separation means some duplication of effort, as well as effort on many sides to translate across data formats or ontologies. There is enough tribalism in the world already, and, again in my opinion, we are too willing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.
A different vision
  • BONSAI is the entire LCA/industrial ecology community (or maybe vice-versa). BONSAI reflects a number of different subject domains and methodological approaches, and doesn't try to fit everything into it's own shoebox.
  • Use open stuff already being worked on by others! No more wheels needed. BONSAI is not an individual tree, but an aspen community (but without the cloning part :).
  • Prioritize efforts during and outside of hackathons based on broad input from the community. Incrementalism instead of revolution.
  • Widely used, understood, and damn simple tech choices. See work of Stefan Pauliuk [0] for inspiration.
  • No religious debates on tiny details. Need proof of importance before starting widespread discussion, and big choices can only be made through the BEP process [1], not by a few people in a room somewhere.
Next steps
Let's talk about it - this is only my perspective, and this proposal (and indeed, BONSAI as a whole) doesn't work without many people participating. Discussion as usual on the mailing list (to keep an open record) under the hashtag #dataliberation.
Personally, given my limited time and energy, I will no longer be developing the BONSAI semantic web database work track.

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