What can iNaturalist do to better support people of color?

This is a topic that stems from iNaturalist’s statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

This specific discussion topic is a place for anyone to share constructive thoughts or suggestions for improving diversity, inclusion, and equity on iNaturalist and in the nature exploration/biology/ecology space. How can the iNaturalist community better serve BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)? iNaturalist’s mission is to help people engage with nature, we’re committed to making the acts of enjoying and learning about nature inclusive to all.

If you would like to provide private feedback to the iNaturalist staff, you can email help+race@inaturalist.org.

Because this is a topic which can involve strong emotions, we ask that:

  • contributions be constructive and on-topic. Any dismissive replies will be removed.

  • you familiarize yourself with our forum’s guidelines, as well as iNaturalist’s Community Guidelines, which also apply here. If you see a reply here which violates those guidelines, please flag it. Keep in mind that violations on the forum can affect your standing on iNaturalist proper.

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Thanks so much for making this critically important statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We have always loved iNaturalist since we discovered you, and now we love you all the more for taking such a strong stand. All matters of human rights, animal welfare, nature conservation, peace building, climate change, #metoo and all the rest are inherently interlinked, and we must all find a way to move forward together if we are going to protect this precious Earth and all her amazing wildlife, and ultimately save humankind and our legacy in the process. Keep up the great work!!

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Is it feasible for iNat to be promoted in indigenous communities outside of major urban areas? Edit: I’m thinking that a major challenge to deal with is the lack of internet connectivity around many communities. Yet these places are not as often frequented by non-residents. In many cases, communities are actively managing the biodiversity of the surrounding area and are engaged in traditional hunting and foraging, all opportunities to log observations. Having been granted access to one such area - I can attest to the massive gaps they currently represent in iNat’s spatial coverage and species richness.

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In Israel, many coloured minorities would prefer to use the site in Arabic. While we at iNat Israel speak Hebrew and are working on a Hebrew translation, we would like to eventually provide an Arabic version as well. It would help lower barriers to inclusion and allow for a more diverse user base. We do have some Arab, Bedouin, and Amharic-speaking users, but we would like to do more to support these marginalized groups.

I am sure that there are many other countries who have coloured minorities, whether native or immigrant, who would prefer to use the site in their mother tongue. I think providing more support for translations may help. Fortunately for North American users there is already a full Spanish translation.

(On that note, any Arabic-fluent users who can help, please reach out to me in a private message)

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Just posted this to my public facebook:

I spend a lot of time on iNaturalist.org, it’s my way of zoning out and just enjoying Arkansas nature through the legs, feet and eyes of others.

It’s important that they go on record as fully supporting Black Lives Matter but I was very disappointed they did not commit to concrete, measurable goals to increase Black representation behind the scenes at iNaturalist (and by extension, the California Academy of Sciences).

Without that committment to real, measurable ways to lift up Black scientists within their own ranks, this statement is just like all the other lip service statements from organizations. Y’all need to do better than this iNaturalist.

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(please move my post to a new topics if this is off-topic)
It’s more to do with minorities than colors but there is a feature I’m wishing for:

We have the great option to choose in which language species names are displayed but it would be extra great if we could choose and display two languages for species name at the same time.
This is for example useful when you interact with:

  • indigenous people when you only speak your country official language
  • local people when you a foreign visiting scientist
  • people from different nationalities when you are observing with a group

In my case I interact in foreign countries with people who have a very precious knowledge of their local ecosystems but they don’t know English nor scientific names. When we discuss observations, they would give me the correct species name in their local language and I would react with a sorry face because I don’t know or undertand that name. Only much later I would find the species on internet or Inat, show them a picture and say "oh right, you meant the ‘insert English or Latin name!’ and it feels like their words were useless until they are translated in the dominant language.

Having this choice of two languages would not only accelerate common understanding; it would also say “this species name can be found on this American app in your language because the way you name things is useful and legitimate”.

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As someone only fluent in English, and only slightly familiar with Latin and German, I find language a real barrier. I wouldn’t know where to begin with Hebrew or Arabic, or Cantonese or Mandarin for that matter.
Yet with its emphasis on photos iNat has encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and virtually explore other countries to see what I can identify. iNat needs a map of the world showing environments; tundra, grasslands, etc. That way those who live in a similar environment in on part of the world can be encouraged to see what they might recognize in their sister environment elsewhere. As we know plants and animals have native ranges not political affiliations. “Bugs without Borders.”

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trh_blue - you almost certainly know this already, so this is just for context in the thread. The site itself does not do any translations. It is entirely user and volunteer driven.

Details on how it is done, how you can help etc are here : https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/translate

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I really do wonder how many iNatters flag iNats journal post concerning this topic (inappropriate, spam, etc). I really hoped that nature lovers would be more open minded.

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It occurs to me from my previous work in the vocational rehab world (VR agencies are responsible for fulfilling federal mandates that support a return or entry to work in the disability community) that one connection to the larger network of many indigenous communities in the U.S. may be found in the Federally mandated stakeholder rehab councils that are in each state ( body comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders). In NY our VR program is linked to the education dept. but it varies in states. One commonality is the mandated inclusion of Indigenous agencies. Since most of our state is rural this is one of the few times annually that folks in remote communities had their voices brought to the table around issues of employment, and disability. I wonder if iNat can find state partners (volunteers, state agencies? tap into existing relationships and ask if there’s a rapport?) that can directly elicit feedback and suggestions from those communities about how technology and this platform might be more (or at all) accessible, whether or how they might feel welcomed in a non POC-dominated arena and what actions can be taken to support an ongoing relationship and a welcoming of such communities?

I don’t have the answers as I’m not a POC or member of indigenous group and I don’t want to speculate. The other potential for iNat making such relationship is that it would provide a diverse pool of potential future employees for the time when new hiring is possible either at iNat (or potentially with larger impact, the parent orgs.). It might also open up iNat and it’s community to the world of VR supported internships, training etc. especially since STEM-based employment is horribly underrepresented in the employment of people with disabilities and POC. I really don’t know if there’s anything there but someone else might have something to add on.

EDIT: FYI VR and a variety of state agencies form all manner of relationships with private businesses, non-profits, trade orgs, institutions and individual contractors both on the local/regional and state levels. Sometimes with MOUs but often as informal as loose personal collaborations between creative teams.

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I certainly support hiring more black staff, if that’s what you’re referring to. We did not mention that in our statement because

  1. iNat did not have the money to hire new staff before COVID
  2. The Academy’s revenue has been drastically affected by the shutdown and has had to lay off 20% of staff and almost all staff received reductions in pay (including all of us at iNat)

Thus, iNat will definitely not be hiring anyone any time soon, so it didn’t seem reasonable to include any commitments to that end in our statement. Even so, how to increase representation among new hires has been a topic of intense discussion at CAS, albeit outside of the iNat team.

If you have other suggestions for more concrete goals than the ones we mentioned in our statement, please let us know.

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  1. one of the first things i did when i started becoming more active on iNaturalist was to create places representing a few neighborhoods in the area. i made sure to include a few places that had few observations but were locally significant, such as the Third Ward, home to folks like George Floyd and even Beyoncé. once a place exists, you can create projects, subscribe for updates, and otherwise keep a better track of what’s going on there.
  2. in the observation of the day and similar posts, there could be a more deliberate effort to highlight what’s going on in BIPOC-dominated places, even if might not always be practical to identify BIPOC users.
  3. i don’t know if this is the case elsewhere, but locally, if you look at the demographics of school kids vs the demographics of people in, say, the central business district, you definitely see a large racial difference. i mention this because sometimes i notice in the forum that folks are annoyed by school projects. i don’t know what kind of support is provided to schools, but maybe extra support can be provided to schools that can be determined to serve BIPOC. (maybe there’s even grant money to be collected for such extra efforts?) those kids and teachers could go on to be better future ambassadors for iNat.

More thoughts:

  1. it’s sort of been covered elsewhere, but it may be relevant to think about how some folks might use iNat differently that others and how the platform could be developed address those differences. for example, suburbanites with deep pockets might have computers and fancy mobile devices and unlimited data plans with great coverage, but others might not have those kinds of resources…
  2. maybe combining #4 and #3 above, it might be interesting to do a deep dive to figure out the exact steps it would take to start an iNaturalist club at 1-3 middle or high schools in DC Public Schools (whose kids are majority black). the end product could be a guide + video that could be used by others to start their own school clubs. i bet going through a process like that would reveal a lot of things to consider. (where do you get the tech? where do you find the nature? can you find kids who are interested enough in nature to join a club like this? what kinds of competing concerns and interests do such kids have? do you need to bring in outside partners from, say, a local natural science museum to help connect some dots?) i also bet with the proper guidance, there are all sorts of interesting skills that could be learned by joining such a club (ex. photography, sound recording, survey methods, visualizing data in charts and maps, open source coding, etc.) one possible approach might be:
    1. find teachers and kids from 3 schools who might be interested in starting iNaturalist clubs at their schools.
    2. find local experts – scientists, artists, etc. who are using iNaturalist – and ask them commit time to speak to kids to talk about what they do and they incorporate iNaturalist into what they do.
    3. find community members or other partners who might be able to provide other resources (like old gear or tech).
    4. maybe organize the club so that kids meet once a week for an hour. maybe the core activity in each session can be rotated between 3 things. one week could be primarily an exploration week, where kids just go around to see what they can observe and identify and learn to use the system. the next week could be a connecting-the-dots week, where a local expert visits and talks about what they do and how how the kids’ iNaturalist efforts could be incorporated into such work. (each expert could rotate through the schools, if there are multiple schools.) the third week could be kids working on specific longer-term projects (see next point).
    5. maybe ask the kids to accomplish 2 projects during the school year. one could be organizing a bioblitz. another could be something more focused on using the observations from iNaturalist – ex. making a mural of the interesting insects that they’ve discovered; making a song/rap or some samples that incorporate the nature sounds they’ve recorded; monitoring / identifying the good and bad insects at the school garden; maybe creating a blog or video series documenting the life or signs of life of interesting local organisms like a significant tree throughout the seasons and all the other creatures on that tree or maybe signs of a family of local raccoons or a nest of birds, etc…
  3. team lunches at a BIPOC-owned restaurants or team retreats utilizing BIPOC-owned facilities… BIPOC vendors in general
  4. is there or could an initiative be created to collect people’s old tablets and smartphones to be given to schools and libraries in neighborhoods with low access to tech? i know a lot of libraries offer desktops, but maybe smartphones for checkout preloaded with certain apps like iNaturalist might help bridge a tech gap in certain places, if such a gap exists? old cameras, sound recorders, binoculars, microscopes, etc. fit in this category, too.
  5. maybe a collaboration with, say, Lyft or Uber to offer free rides to and from natural areas from local libraries or something like that on CNC days?
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iNat staff certainly can choose to set goals to improve diversity among their own team. However, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect iNat to dictate policy for the California Academy of Sciences.

Cal Academy is a much bigger organization that serves as iNat’s fiscal sponsor and partial funder. It makes its own policy. They released this statement on June 4: https://www.calacademy.org/press/releases/a-statement-from-the-academys-executive-director-dr-scott-sampson. It does state worthy objectives such as these:

Currently, our staff, including leadership, does not include enough people of color. Not only should all visitors see themselves reflected in the Academy’s people, we should also seek opportunities in our materials, programs, exhibits, online content, and events to proactively celebrate cultural differences and amplify historically suppressed voices.

I do not see any measurable criteria to ensure these objectives are achieved. There’s an argument that such criteria should be set primarily by the Black scientists and visitors that they’re intended to benefit, not by white, male Dr. Scott the Paleontologist. It’s OK to say that white people need to solve this problem, but they need to make sure the solutions they work towards are the ones Black people want. Perhaps a commitment by Dr. Scott to adopt measurable criteria, an outline of how he’ll ensure those criteria reflect Black people’s needs, and a firm timeline to do that would be a way to address this.

Going back to iNat, there is an opportunity to set measurable diversity goals for iNat contributors and for iNat staff (although as a nonprofit with a total staff of eight, even an ambitious goal may take a while to bear fruit). And I imagine that iNat staff can try to steer Cal Academy’s policies towards less lip service and more measurable results. That’s something all of us can advocate for within our workplaces.

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Looking at Crowdin, about 85% of the website has been translated into Arabic, and we’re close to putting a beta release for Seek out in Arabic as well. But the iNaturalist mobile apps need quite a bit more translation work. This doesn’t include common names, though, which are obviously very important as well.

You can check out the site in Arabic by using the language picker in the footer:

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I wonder if a fundraiser supporting an iNat-identified need is an option? Say, hold a raffle or give badges for donations? An online silent auction could, conceivably, work.

The funds raised could go to any number of supportive causes; perhaps, providing pre-paid smart phones for older school kids in underserved areas (with iNat/Seek installed, of course), maybe vouchers for internet access, funding for youth science enrichment in schools or summer camps, or other science enrichment outreach, science tutors, etc.

Or, coordinating iNat users to provide Sponsorships for school children in targeted schools that reach iNat achievements challenges?

I realize these may not be feasible with iNat’s current structure, but at least it’s something to consider.

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I think it would be a good idea to reach out to organizations who are already very involved in connecting people to nature, to get their opinions on this topic. I came across this article recently https://baynature.org/2020/05/06/qa-rue-mapp-on-outdoor-afro-at-11/ . Maybe iNaturalist could invite people like the ones in that organization who may not already be on iNaturalist to join this conversation.

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I don’t have anything constructive to add, but I just want to voice my support for any initiatives to include more people of colour and any other under-represented groups. Good on you for bringing the conversation to iNaturalist! Nature is for everyone.

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For me I have iNat in a mixture of chinese and english, ie some taxa will have the common name in chinese and other times its english.

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Thank you Rupert - I came here to say the very same thing.

I will reiterate this point: statements of support for Black Lives Matter without accompanying measurable goals are empty PR and hollow promises meant to only make white people feel good. They reflect poorly on any organization issuing them.

My next question was what Black people in the scientific community did iNaturalist consult before releasing their statement.

Also, the iNat team can correct me, but it’s my understanding is that iNaturalist is not a separate legal entity under CAS but they are literally employees of the California Academy of Science, not employees of iNaturalist. As such, their actions are interlinked.

I have a few minor ideas on concrete steps iNaturalist could take to amplify Black voices on a regular basis (and not just February), but beyond that, it really is up to management at iNat to reach out, engage Black scientists and use those conversations as a starting point for change.

PS. Everyone - please stop using “people of color” - it erases Black people’s identities and is a crutch for white people who are unable to say the words “Black people”.

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I think that these forum threads are part of iNat’s attempt to hear from coloured communities. I
too want to see more concrete goals, and will certainly be paying attention over the coming year to see whether iNat follows through on its sentiments. And, as an iNat Israel staff member, I will be sure to hold myself and my Israeli peers accountable as well. Though, please keep in mind, iNat, (and iNat Israel even more so) has limited resources. Some actions, such as hiring (more) minority staff may not be feasible, as ken-ichi mentioned.

And I acknowledge the suffering of and discrimination against Black people specifically, but I use the term POC because I want to include other groups who also face racism, such as Arab Israelis, or Latinx in the USA.

Please share your ideas! While we must prioritize the voices of coloured people, it’s okay to chip in even if you’re not (like I’m not), so long as you’re respectful and make sure to actively listen to marginalized groups’ requests.

Also, thanks for pointing out the existing Arabic translation, Tony. Though I see that the mobile version (most pertinent to new users) is below 20% translated right now.

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