What can iNaturalist do to better support people of color?

I want to follow the golden rule in this regard, so I appreciate your comment.
In college my black friends were mostly from other countries Kenya, Cameroon, Belize, Virgin Islands, Bahamas. I did have a few local friends from Florida. We were more alike, than different in the end.
In some ways iNat feels like my college experience—I’m still learning with others who share my interests—I’m still meeting people from all over the world.

3 Likes

Hey, folks, please stay on topic here, which is a discussion of what iNat can do to better support people of color.

I will say our team worked on the statement for most of the past week, and everyone contributed feedback to it. We also had some people of color outside of our team take a look at it. But like any document, it is not perfect. For what it’s worth, the most important sections of it, in my opinion, are:

We acknowledge that we have much to learn and we want to share where we are in the process.

We will meet as a team at least once a month to take stock of these actions and to consider how we can continuously improve diversity and inclusion within the iNaturalist community. This is not a one-time action on our part, and we plan to keep this conversation going and continually address what we can do to make our community better moving forward.

I think this shows that a) this is a beginning and a statement of where we are at the moment and b) we have committed to learn more about and improve diversity on iNat. Discussions on the forum, as well as starting conversations with naturalists of color and groups like Outdoor Afro, are part of this process and I think important next steps.

Thank you for the suggestions so far, and please keep them coming.

9 Likes

I would love to see that happen, though I am completely unfamiliar with the US situation as I am not in the US, but in Australia, and the community I have been making observations in is an Australian Indigneous one. The disparity in health, education and income outcomes between Indigenous populations here and the population as a whole is greater than that in the US. There is no phone reception in this one. Although most residents do own phones that they use when they enter areas of mobile coverage, they typically opt for extremely low data plans because of infrequent use.

Just prior to covid-19 outbreak and lockdown of all Aboriginal communities, I was supposed to be meeting up with the Elders to discuss iNat and my observations with them, I am definitely interested in pursuing this further once restrictions are lifted and have remained in contact with them (sporadically) on the phone.

I appear to be the only iNat user resident in the area so I guess it would be up to me to contact local volunteers or agencies to bring up iNat with - a bit daunting as I am a (non-indigenous, non-Black) POC myself that people tend to be not outright racist but dismissive. This is why I am as prolific as possible on iNat - to build up something of a portfolio first. Do you have something like an downloadable or printable ‘toolkit’ that an iNat user can use to introduce it to a school or agency? I would hate to misrepresent it.

Edit: Not wanting to gripe about it…but I’ve spoken to local representatives of the state dept responsible for environmental protection and parks, which keeps giving me a cookie cutter response to use their state level app to log nature sightings as this is all they will use to make management decisions eyeroll. It appears to have extremely few users, is barely updated and connects to no outside databases like GBIF or Atlas of Living Australia.

On a separate note, here the BLM protest has been adopted as an indigenous rights protest - Australians are marching in solidarity with George Floyd and against police brutality in general, but also against the many Indigenous deaths in custody - a negligence and abuse with many of the same drivers.

18 Likes

This speaks to global nature of the marginalization, unfortunately. I apologize if that all came off rather U.S. or NY centric. I appreciate the broader question you raised and I imagine there are similar areas across the globe that iNaturalist might serve a role in bringing attention or access to in a role supportive to black and other communities’ safe access to nature. I don’t have a specific suggestion for how exactly.

9 Likes

The suggestion I made in the previous post was for some sort of toolkit that can be implemented offline that could be used by a school, community organisation, volunteer or Elder to coordinate something like a Bioblitz using cameras and then have the observations uploaded at once later; either at a suite of desktop computers in a library / school or perhaps by a designated individual.

Printable handouts / posters, a downloadable powerpoint presentation, a teachers’ guide etc showing how iNat works, with less emphasis on the mobile app and computer vision and more on the browser version and the overall function of the site and its connectivity to other users and institutions. If geared towards Indigenous participants, iNat could be promoted as a conservation tool to create biodiversity records in the face of land development and climate change, a teaching tool for rangers, or to promote ecotourism initiatives on their part.

Edit: I’d like to add… and I’m probably stepping way out of my comfort zone here as I am less familiar with Black communities in a US context so correct me if I’m wrong, but the Black percentage of the population tends to be higher in densely urban areas, and lower in the older ‘leafier’ neighbourhoods or peri-urban fringe. While many observations can be made in one’s backyard, a portable ‘toolkit’ as described above could be used on a school excursion or community day.

Psst - can we also get iNaturalist shirts in other colours like bright blue or safety orange? It is a good way to explain to people what you are doing, but white is hard for a naturalist to keep stain-free and black well…sadly 1) its not good contrast on a dark skinned person at night near traffic, 2) there is a section of the population that acts irrationally when dark-skinned, dark-clothed people with a camera take an unnatural interest in a pavement weed or bug on their fence at night.

13 Likes

unfortunately, i don’t think the irrationality occurs only at night. if it were only a night issue, it might be possible to, say, conspicuously go blacklighting in a group that includes folks of all races, intentionally including black people, to expose folks to the idea that being out and about at night doesn’t automatically mean trouble.

3 Likes

I’m white. My sympathy, it is unfair that people take me for a realtor when I’m iNatting and think the worse of you. I vote for bright blue t-shirts as well. Or light green t-shirts. Black t-shirts aren’t ideal for summer observations in full sun either.

5 Likes

If that’s how you feel then it should be in the statement. A cynical reading of your reasons not to include hiring more black staff might be:

  1. Let’s blame the money or COVID.
  2. We’re going to try taking care of the current staff before hiring black people. We’re committed to “the cause” but only once we’re comfortable again.

This sounds really harsh. And it is. But we’re not going to change the system (tear down the system) without some bold actions. Everyone is worried about keeping their jobs right now. I’ve been through downsizing, super scary, and you want to keep the good people you have, bring the ones you lost back when conditions improve… but that’s the old system. Time for a new one.

iNaturalist code seems to be more or less open source. back in the day, i had thought about ways to adapt the system for other purposes. i thought it would be nice to have a system that allowed you to capture random acts of kindness or other good events that you observed throughout the day. with enough data, you could see where good things were happening. but i suppose you could make a system that (also) captures observed injustices and cruelties. if you could systematically classify, catalog, and map such injustices, that might be a powerful tool to inform public discourse and policy. black kids getting harassed at a street corner by cops might never make it to the news, but maybe a cluster of 5 or 50 such observations recorded for all to see might help to advance the conversation?

that was sort of a tangent, but my main point is that given open source code and given that many of the jobs at iNaturalist are likely to involve coding, i bet if someone can demonstrate some familiarity with the code – either through helping with bug fixes or adapting the system for an entirely different purpose – that would give such a person a leg up when it came time to hire new staff.

i suppose you could ask iNaturalist staff to do a coding camp at a majority black school or something like that to help increase the probability that the person independently working on bug fixes is a black person, but i find that these kinds of asks are best received when some of the leg work has already been done (ex. “This school has a promising coding program, and this guy might be willing to donate a little money to support the effort. I wonder if you guys could go in and do a little coding camp for a few days?”).

another thought along the same lines: i thought back in the day that it might be fun to have a hackathon for iNaturalist. if you could intentionally invite enough BIPOC coders or SMEs to such an event, you might make some interesting connections and produce some interesting / useful results.

4 Likes

I also would definitely want to display more than one language at a time. In Japan there are many people interested in nature through haiku poetry, which I also write, but my iNat stuff is all in Latin. I have tried to show people multiple times what animals and plants I am taking photos of but because only the latin is displayed the conversation never really starts. Definitely would like a not one or the other but two at the same time approach to names.

5 Likes

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

3 Likes

12 posts were split to a new topic: Why was this reply by questagame flagged?

I will add another idea, one that’s gaining steam in all areas of our economy.

The best way white people in power at the Board level, C-suite level and senior management level can effect change is to resign their position and then work tirelessly to make sure a Black person is hired to replace them. Alexis Ohanian did it at Reddit and we need to see more people taking that step in all companies, from nonprofits to our largest companies.

I would love to see iNat and Cal Academy expand outreach efforts in their own backyard. I grew up in the Oakland public school system and I feel confident in saying there is room for improvement in bridging the gap between the Black and science communities worldwide, nationwide, statewide, but also within a stone’s throw from headquarters.

I love iNat. I LOVE it. I love CalAcademy. Always have. Is it incumbent on schools and teachers to decide to organize field trips to the Academy and such? Probably. I used to work for the Oakland Zoo and one of my favorite programs they offer is the ZooMobile, where they’ll send a van out with some animals and an education specialist gives a little session for the kids. Apologies if I’m wrong, but after a quick perusal of their site, I don’t see a similar thing on offer from CalAcademy.

As iNat grows, its responsibility to its physical local community probably should, too. I know iNat already partners with teachers around the globe to introduce students to nature, and I think that’s fantastic (regardless of how much of a pain it might be to ID the results ;) ). I graduated from Oakland Tech, and at the time several different specialized programs were offered by the school termed “academies.” I don’t know what the specific lineup looks like now, but back then we had academies for Health, Engineering, Green, and BioTech. How great would it be if CalAcademy more directly lent their expertise in developing and supporting similar programs at Tech and other Bay Area schools?

The outdoors should be a great way to take a break from human society every once in a while, and a lot of kids in Oakland don’t necessarily get that chance. If that exposure isn’t coming from their family or friends or school, how are they going to get it? A lot of those kids would benefit immensely, whether using it as an escape, a leg up in the industry, or any of the other myriad benefits that come from learning and interacting with nature. I know partnerships with public schools might not be as lucrative as ones with private schools, but we as public school students have never been less deserving of the opportunity than the ones whose parents could afford to send them to private school.

And to link back to the hiring theme, opening lines of communication with established community organizations like The Greenlining Institute, among others. I am aware of the Academy’s partnerships with The Arc, Access SFUSD, Sunset and Larkin youth services, and Museums4Inclusion and I think those are all great. However, this discussion is explicitly about supporting Black and other underrepresented communities, and I think expanding the Academy and iNat’s reach to the Blacker parts of the Bay would be a good step. I know times were very different for iNaturalist back then, but I would have loved to have been introduced to it when I was in high school and I can imagine other “me’s” are probably wandering around Oakland today wondering what bird they just saw.

I fully believe that any benefits provided to the community from increased local outreach will work both ways. I know that the people I’m talking about aren’t the ones with the deepest pockets, but they’re the ones who have been born and raised here and will still be around when the collapses of the tech and housing bubbles see an exodus of wealthy professionals from the Bay Area. They matter now, and they’ll certainly matter then, too. I’m doing my darnedest to finish up my ecological engineering master’s so I can come back to Oakland and start trying to work on bridging the Black-green gap myself. It’s wider than it should be right now, and I think CAS and iNat are uniquely and powerfully positioned to start enacting some real and positive change.

16 Likes

@simono I’m from the ALA and would be happy to chat with you about this. I’ll send you a message.

5 Likes

Thanks to those who are speaking up for our right to express our views. I have a screenshot of the message that was removed. It included a very concrete tech/engineering suggestion that would help promote greater diversity. I’m happy to share the entire message if people are interested.

Look, we’re based in Australia. One of the biggest issues here is that First Nations science is not given the recognition it deserves.

Someone said above that iNat should engage more indigenous people. But First Nations science already exists in Australia and in many other countries. There are wonderful indigenous rangers programs here in Queensland; wonderful tech initiatives happening all across the country.

We work directly with these groups every day. The problem is NOT that these groups don’t have access to iNat. The problem is that CAS/NatGeo/iNat and many others struggle to design systems that treat indigenous science as science. (Again, you’re welcome to read my articles about these sorts of issues here https://medium.com/questanotes . I’ve been studying and writing about digital colonialism for decades; my wife is a PhD in Citizen Science and Computer Systems, and work as one).

Any effort to create new systems that are more inclusive - exactly what we’ve been trying to do Whaichi - is met with resistance from the iNat community because it doesn’t conform to some group-agreed idea of how things are supposed to be done (these ideas usually spring from Silicon Valley). Any behaviour that’s outside the norm is shouted down.

Let me ask you - when iNaturalist began expanding into Australia, was there any discussion about the impact it might have on indigenous science - or on existing local citizen science programs working in biodiversity monitoring. Can you show me one thread about it? Just one?

If iNaturalist is serious in its question - “How can iNaturalist do better to support people of colour” - it must FIRST allow for alternative thinking.

Unfortunately, our experience in trying to raise alternative views to iNaturalist has been met - as demonstrated here - with resistance and animosity (and even, as you can see, vilification). The idea that it’s okay to comment on our comment, without allowing people to read the comment is exactly the sort of closed-mindedness that silences new voices.

Please have the courage to listen to hard truths.

3 Likes

Why do you need to dwell on past conversations, instead of just giving some direct answers to the question in the title?

3 Likes

Hi Paloma - yes, I did, but it was deleted. There are lots of things iNat could be doing from a tech perspective.

The one I suggested was to allow organisations to exchange observations between systems. This is called “group accounts.” Rather than forcing people to join iNaturalist to exchange data, the network allows groups, with their own communities, to join.

Yes, I understand this goes against iNat’s existing culture of wanting 1-to-1 communication between individuals.

Which is why I also suggest giving users the option - “View observations from group accounts - y/n.” This way those iNat users who don’t want group accounts in their feed don’t have to see them.

But those who want to participate in expertise exchange can do so while remaining in a community/culture that’s most comfortable and appropriate to their needs. (Note how this got twisted into “bots” - and the community reacted against it - when it’s just a group account solution).

So that’s one concrete suggestion to increase diversity. We have many.

1 Like

What do you see as the benefit to combining the systems, as far as supporting indigenous people? In other words, what would it add for the people already in the non-iNaturalist system?

3 Likes

A I mentioned above, an example would be the indigenous rangers groups. They’re already taking observations. They’re submitting them to a local database. And visa-versa - there are people in Australia who are submitting observations to iNaturalist. These experts could be sharing knowledge. But at the moment the iNaturalist system is designed so they must each individually join iNaturalist. Why? How does that help?

But what I’m also getting at here is a cultural shift - a way of expanding knowledge exchange so it’s more decentralised. (Happy to discuss more, but will let others speak)

2 Likes