The first panel discussion was formed of Anna-Maria Johansson, Rebecca Koskela, Keping Ma, Vanderlei Canhos and Selwyn Willoughby and was chaired by Donald Hobern.
The aim of the discussion was to give the audience a better understanding about what is happening around the world and to open up future joint collaboration and proposal opportunities. A strong emphasis of the discussion was about steps towards a sustainable infrastructure for biodiversity informatics at the global level.
The most important things to do consistently at international level and to standardise
There was universal acceptance of the importance of promoting the value proposition about biodiversity informatics to governments and funding agencies. Helping these stakeholders to understand the role that informatics will play in the future, both in terms of supporting scientific discovery and in translating that new knowledge so that it can be used by policy and decision-makers is crucial to vitality and sustainability of the field. To this end, strategic studies of the future directions of biodiversity informatics, like those described in the BMC Ecology paper and in the Global Biodiversity Informatics Outlook are essential to continue. To make this a success requires enhance communication among teams and colleagues in the field.
The importance of making use of existing internationally agreed standards was also recognised. There are many general ICT standards relevant for our domain, as well as more specific ones from organisations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and TDWG. Standardised technology can cover almost everything that is needed in biodiversity science. However, such standards are not as widely adopted and used as they need to be. There is a role here for organisations like GBIF, the future LifeWatch and the Genomics Standards Consortium (GSC) to promote the uptake of relevant standards across the sector. In particular, greater use of a small number of standards of harvesting information from different kinds of repositories would contribute a great deal towards better data sharing and re-use. Allied to these remarks is the need for stability in technology. The sector has a tendency to invent new stuff rather than working towards widespread deployment and adoption of stable solutions. There is a role here for commercial companies to become more involved in the sector, as players in projects. Also, the sector can look towards the commercial companies for cost-effective solutions.
“Space products” i.e., remote sending data is a significantly underutilised resource in the sector. More use could be made of it.
How to secure the funding to support internationally coordinated activity?
Achieving cooperation above national level requires lots of resources, time, and commitment beyond that that organisations might normally undertake. Secure long-term funding doesn’t exist. Mostly everything is project-based. However, at the European level there are financial / legal instruments aimed to secure longer-term funding. These are the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) instrument, which is promoted as the mechanism by which research infrastructures such as LifeWatch can attain financial, political, legal and long-term stability. ERIC’s cannot be funded unless Member States ‘sign on the dotted line’. There is also Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI), in which Member States act in common to cooperate and put their national (research) resources together to tackle grand challenges. JPIs are strategic. They are both structured and a structuring process acting over the long-term. Currently there are JPIs in 5 areas, including climate, agriculture and food security, seas and oceans, urban Europe and water challenges. ERIC and JPI instruments are the best way to sustain funding in Europe. International cooperation with non-EU countrues can be accommodated in both instruments.
There are also EC co-operation calls with other countries / regions. Recently, these have included Brazil and the USA. In Horizon 2020 it is expected that Brazil will again be included as well as others. It was noted that the cost of human labour is much cheaper in the BRICS countries and this can be a way of reducing the cost of doing the work.
Suggestions for how to improve probabilities for secure funding include: organising and becoming involved with larger groupings of partners; mobilising policy relevant data; showing job creation opportunities; involving partners with long-term institutional mandates; partnering rather than competing; and delivering something the general public can use in their everyday lives.
Sustainability must also be addressed in terms of scientific interest and not just finance. Data are not just born. They are the news. Data should be further analysed to provide further information.
The most significant contribution from countries to biodiversity informatics globally
All countries, both in in Europe and beyond are making various significant contributions to biodiversity informatics globally. Many examples were given from China (Chinese versions and variants of Catalogue of Life, Encyclopedia of Life, Biodiversity Heritage Library), USA (DataONE tools such as dataUP plugin for Excel), Brazil (experience from developing cross-institutional SpeciesLink network), South Africa (national biodiversity spatial assessment). These are all examples of win-win situations where working internationally has brought delivered some value internally to the country concerned and has brought value outside the country in its relations with the wider community. These initiatives are contributing to and benefitting from the CReATIVE-B project on “Coordination of Research e-Infrastructures Activities Toward an International Virtual Environment for Biodiversity”.
Continuing to cooperate and coordinate at the global level
Each of us needs to think about where we fit in this landscape of biodiversity informatics and to understand where our activities and projects fit in. Horizons work like the BCM Ecology whitepaper, GBIO and the CReATIVE-B project all help to clarify thinking about where we are working. It could be helpful to start mapping activities against those pieces of work perhaps, thus also helping to identify gaps where additional work is needed.
Events like BIH2013 help the community to communicate and coordinate and there is consensus that perhaps there should be a regular annual event to assist this process. However, we can still do better in our overall communications. Disconnects exist between this community and, for example the mainstream ecology community as represented at INTECOL 2013 and by the newly formed young ecologists network INNGE.net.
Astrophysics has a programme that makes sense for everyone and that community is very good at speaking with one voice. They have a vision. they know what they want and they get want they want. It’s recognisable and so they get a long way. This biodiversity informatics community is not yet so mature so we must work hard over the coming years to change that.