Mackenzie DataStream: How an open access platform for sharing water data was built and how it is evolving to meet community needs

Authors: Caroyn DuBois

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The Mackenzie Basin is a vast waterway that drains much of Canada’s western reaches towards the Arctic Ocean. Though largely ecologically intact, the Basin is home to the world’s most intensive natural resource extraction effort, the oil sands, as well as other resource development activities (e.g., mining, hydroelectricity, etc.) and has considerable natural resource potential in other regions. The enormous development potential paired with climate change impacts are perennial issues for local peoples and are often tied to concerns about water health. This has led Indigenous communities—some of them self-governing--to engage in community-based monitoring efforts.

Many of the Basin’s communities have stewarded their lands and waters for millennia. Traditional Knowledge (TK) forms the basis for understanding changes and making decisions. In recent years, community-based monitoring approaches that incorporate western science have provided additional information about the health of the Basin’s aquatic ecosystems. This community driven approach is a powerful avenue for meaningfully engaging communities in water management decisions and filling data gaps.

This presentation focuses on an effort to manage and make the western scientific results of these programs widely available. It tells the story of how Mackenzie DataStream, an open access platform, was developed and how it is evolving to meet community needs. The following have contributed to the success of Mackenzie DataStream:

  • Collaborative approach: Many actors from multiple sectors collaborated to develop an independent, shared platform. This included engagement of civil society (The Gordon Foundation), government (in the Northwest Territories), and the active engagement of people living in the Basin. Each participant brought valuable, but different skills, knowledge and connections to the project.

  • Decentralized, ethically open approach: It is up to contributors to determine what they are comfortable sharing openly and they can assign their own disclaimers to datasets if need be. This streamlined approach to chain of custody empowers the contributor to control how their datasets are presented while limiting the complexity and resources required to manage the site.

  • Using DOIs to assign credit and track dataset use: Mackenzie DataStream partners are exploring the possibility of assigning Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to credit data contributors for their work and allow them to track how and where their data are being used in publications. This feature is expected to encourage data submissions from new contributors.

  • Fostering open access culture: There seems to be increasing understanding that large amounts of water data generated through a patchwork of community, government, industry and not-for profit efforts can and should be open access. This shift is of course influenced by many factors but it is clear that DataStream is encouraging this thinking in certain circles.

As of June 2016, Mackenzie DataStream has been live for under 6 months. Since the launch, there has been overwhelming interest from a range of data contributors. To date there are 21 communities in the Northwest Territories providing open access to their data using Mackenzie DataStream. And, the project is on course to achieve its long-term vision of incorporating data from all six jurisdictions in the Basin. Most recently Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia has come onboard and conversations are underway with data contributors from other jurisdictions. Moving forward, all partners share a willingness to ensure Mackenzie DataStream is long-lived, far reaching and impactful—ultimately fostering a collaborative drive towards evidence-based decision-making.


Substantial contributions to Mackenzie DataStream have been made by: Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Government of the Northwest Territories; Aboriginal Steering Committee for the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship Strategy; Dr. Peter Pulsifer, advisor to Mackenzie DataStream.