Scientific observatories Environments/Societies, new challenges


Over the past few decades, scientific observatories have been set up to respond to the lacunae in knowledge on complex phenomena with spatial and temporal dimensions. Initially dedicated to the rigorous examination of a fact or of a process in order to gain knowledge on it, understand it and monitor it –without, however, the intention of acting on it–, observatories are first and foremost long-term scientific investigation mechanisms created by and for the research community primarily meant to observe biophysical phenomena. Over time, these scientific observatories have gradually started addressing environmental issues arising from interactions between human populations and their ecological, social and economic environments. They are also opening up to the world of territorial management and to citizens, especially in the face of global changes and the need for urgent decision-making and action at different scales, from the most global to the most local and vice versa. In doing so, observatories are diversifying their missions, their scientific and technical implementations, their modes of governance, their forms and representations.

In this context, it is clear today that the concept of the observatory has become polysemic. In some territories, observatories coexist or even compete, while other territories are deprived. Deep territorial inequalities exist regarding the existing information, its quality and its accessibility and its use. Some observatories provide information and knowledge for the use of citizens, others are mainly dedicated to academic circles. While the need for observatories persists, the question arises of the role, the structure and the functioning of such observation, analysis and monitoring devices in helping understand spatio-temporal phenomena useful to decision-making across territories, in helping ability to investigate these phenomena cross over the medium and to long term and in helping to incorporate potential changes in knowledge or needs of decision-makers and users and those in data regulations.

Once this question has been asked, the reconsideration and/or emergence of the concept of what we call ‘Scientific observatories Environments/Societies’ becomes necessary. How can it bridge gaps in the interfaces between data and knowledge; societies and environments; systems and footprints; citizens, scientists and policymakers, the local and the global, materialities and digital and/or symbolic representations?

The aim of this issue is to put into perspective multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary contributions from different sciences (information sciences, geographical in particular; infrastructure and interface sciences; environmental sciences; social sciences) that will allow and facilitate discussions of the theoretical and technical aspects of Environments/Societies scientific observatories and of their evolutions.

The editors are especially interested in contributions on:

  • models of Scientific observatories Environments/Societies;

  • their life cycles and positioning vis-à-vis data infrastructures and research infrastructures, particularly in terms of geographical data, services rendered or mission entrusted;

  • explicit and implicit observations techniques that allow functions, uses and dynamics to be analysed over the long term;

  • the political, legal and ethical frameworks of these observatories’ implementation.

The quality of the analysis of what already exists and the innovative character of recent or in preparation proposals will be considered. The diversity of disciplinary skills and points of view, the reflexivity of contrasting experiences of observatories and the reflection on concepts will be encouraged, especially in order to build shared visions and to carry the reflection to more conceptual and abstract levels.