“Is it safe to drink the water?”   no comments

Posted at 4:00 pm in Economics


How many people carry matches these days?/Susan Sermoneta ©2012/CC BY 2.0

How can corporations be encouraged to open their data (so that we know it’s safe to drink the water)?

The benefits to corporations of opening their data is well documented, but they are not necessarily appreciated in all sectors of industry.

Prospecting for oil and gas with the aim of engaging in hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) operations causes some popular concern which could be alleviated by the more open availability of real-time monitoring data.

In the UK, all industrial activities are subject to health and safety audits and some involve continuous, around the clock monitoring. For example Cuadrilla Resources employ Ground Gas Solutions to provide 24 hour monitoring of their explorations in the UK. Ground Gas Solutions monitoring aim to:

provide confidence to regulators, local communities and interested third parties that no environmental damage has occurred. (GGS, 2013)

Currently the data collected through this monitoring is made public via reports to regulation authorities, which can be subject to significant delay, are often written in technical language, and are not easily accessed by the general public.

My argument is that real time (or close to real time) monitoring data could be made open without any damage to the commercial advantage of the companies involved, and, if clearly and unambiguously presented (e.g. via a mobile app), could go some way to alleviating public concerns, particularly regarding the possible contamination of drinking water. Exploring what motivates some corporations to make their data open and the challenges they have overcome to do this, may suggest successful strategies for encouraging proactive, open behaviour within industry.

Anthropology – Considers key aspects of social life – identity, culture, rationality, ethnicity and belief systems.

Anthropologists aim to achieve a richness in the description of encounters they have with people and places, and have a strong tradition of creating narratives and developing theories that describe and  attempt to explain human behaviour. In the context of the exploration industry, how might an anthropologist explore the underlying cultural values and prevalent beliefs of people working within corporations?

I believe that exploring this issue through the lens of anthropology would provide some insight into the workings of the energy exploration business and uncover useful data that may indicate strategies for encouraging corporations to share real time monitoring data.

Economics – Analyses the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

The widespread use of empirical data related to economic exchange together with emerging theories of human behaviour appear to underpin this discipline, which I believe have significant value to the study of my question. Exploring the commercial incentives for opening real time monitoring data from the perspective of differing economic theories combined with the data collection methodologies prevalent within this discipline can provide useful understandings of the question, which may point to practical solutions.

Anthropological Economics: an interdisciplinary approach
The question: “How can corporations be encouraged to open their data?” appears to call for solutions that tackle not simply the “bottom line” of economic necessity, but also the culture that requires individuals within corporations to maintain secrecy in order to maintain or improve their employers market position. From my current naive standpoint, a combination of the anthropologists qualitative, narrative-driven approach to studying human behaviour with the economists quantitative, theory-dominated view of commercial interaction looks like a worthwhile approach to gaining a better understanding of the key issues.

Proposed reading list
Eriksen, T. H., 2004. What is Anthropology? London: Pluto Press.
Eriksen, T. H., 2001. Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: Pluto Press.
Fife, W., 2005. Doing Fieldwork. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Miller, D. ed., 1995. Acknowledging Consumption. London: Routledge.

Fogel, R. W., Fogel, E. M., Guglielmo, M. and Grotte, N., 2013. Political Arithmetic : Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Giudici, P. and Figini, S., 2009. Applied Data Mining for Business and Industry. London: Wiley.
Isaac, R. M. and Norton, D. A., 2011. Research in Experimental Economics: Experiments on Energy, The Environment, and Sustainability Governance in the Business Environment. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Quiggin, J., 2011. Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us. Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

Written by Tim O'Riordan on October 13th, 2013

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