Partners signal new alliance for biodiversity knowledge

More than 100 delegates at 2nd Global Biodiversity Informatics Conference agree need for light-touch coordination of overlapping initiatives, supporting connected solutions to answer key questions about life on Earth

13 Eun-Shik KIM Photo 26-July-2018 GBIC2 20180726 091228
GBIC2 attendees explored models for a coordination mechanism that could align and accelerate efforts to understand the world’s biodiversity. Photo by Eun-Shik Kim.

A global alliance to transform our understanding of biodiversity by connecting all efforts to observe, measure and model the living planet: that’s the vision shared by experts from all global regions who met in Copenhagen, Denmark from 24-27 July to discuss next steps for delivering biodiversity knowledge in the information age.

The 2nd Global Biodiversity Informatics Conference (GBIC2) gathered representatives from key global, regional, national and subnational networks, agencies, organizations and institutions. Relying on the Global Biodiversity Informatics Outlook framework developed at the first GBIC event in 2012, attendees explored the possibilities of better aligning the efforts and interests of all biodiversity research communities and infrastructures.

The conference surveyed possible models for such an alliance in other research areas, such as ELIXIR, an intergovernmental organization to connect European life science resources, and The Apache Software Foundation, a broad community of open-source software developers and users. They actively explored the possibility of a coordination mechanism that could align and accelerate efforts to understand the world’s biodiversity. The result was consensus for establishing a lightweight international alliance, open to all institutions and individuals with an interest in improving the availability and quality of biodiversity knowledge.

Attendees assigned GBIF the task of facilitating the next stages in this process and identified several next steps:

  1. Publicize and promote the vision for this alliance in major languages to as many stakeholder communities as possible, supported by relevant forums for the community to advance further discussions and planning
  2. Begin a process to collect a set of defining questions and use cases we hope to be able to address through the alliance—and the combined capabilities we need to deliver them over the next five to ten years
  3. Plan and develop a high-level landscape view of the major initiatives within biodiversity informatics and the relationships between their current missions and work programmes
  4. Conduct a detailed exploration of how to apply models drawn from the Apache Software Foundation and similar open-source software and open science initiatives to support open and equitable multi-stakeholder planning and delivery
  5. Identify a set of initial collaboration areas to act as proofs of concept for how an international-scale community-driven incubator model can address shared challenges to develop or maintain interoperable components of biodiversity knowledge infrastructures

"It is an enormous privilege and deeply exciting to work with such a diverse set of stakeholders and together to build a shared vision for solving so many of our challenges,” said Donald Hobern, GBIF Executive Secretary. “GBIC2’s attendees represented just a small subset of the wider community that shares our common ambition to deliver truly interconnected biodiversity knowledge to meet the needs of researchers, governments, industry, society and communities everywhere. We hope that we can together build an encompassing alliance that broadens our perspective even further.

GBIC2 reached clear consensus on a number of important points:

  • Despite the diversity of backgrounds and experience, attendees share the same rich and detailed vision for what we wish to achieve by combining human networks and informatics solutions
  • The complexity of our organizational landscape gives rise to a multidimensional mosaic of overlapping missions and project goals
  • Much of the funding for our activities is naturally tied to delivery of solutions at regional, national or institutional scales and is not easily spent outside that focus area
  • Nevertheless, the cumulative value of all investments in biodiversity informatics globally has allowed the community to make significant progress in many areas
  • We do not have any single international body that can steer activities in all our areas of interest, and it is unreasonable to consider adding yet another international body to solve this problem
  • Nevertheless, there are many significant opportunities for us to develop better partnerships and collaborative projects aimed at aligning interested sets of stakeholders to solve key problems together and generate multiplier effects from their activities
  • Based on models used by other successful international research communities and infrastructures and drawing on approaches from within the open-source software community, the attendees propose an open public alliance to continue mapping the shared vision and the existing components of a solution, and that can serve as an incubator for open collaborative projects
  • Such a model may facilitate joint activity across diverse sets of stakeholders to agree standards and best practices, to support development and maintenance of open source tools and components, to enable development of architectural plans for increasing alignment between systems, to allow collaborative development of funding proposals for missing components, and to develop and maintain important reference datasets

GBIF will provide more details next steps, including consultation documents available in at least the six UN languages, in the coming weeks.