Virtual workshop: Advancing the Catalogue of the World's Natural History Collections

GBIF to host an international low-carbon consultation for EU-funded SYNTHESYS+ project

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Specimen detail, Trinidad National Herbarium. Photo 2019 by Maheva Bagard Laursen | GBIF, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

On behalf of numerous partners and stakeholders, GBIF will convene a virtual workshop and international consultation in March and April 2020 with the aim of fleshing out a shared vision, road map and set of priorities for developing the scope, content and services included in a catalogue of the world's natural history collections.

Workshop format

The workshop will consist of two parts:

  • Two two-hour preparatory webinars (scheduled nine time zones apart to support wider global participation) in which participants will discuss this ideas paper
  • An open, facilitated online consultation running between 17-29 April 2020

"Advancing the Catalogue of the World's Natural History Collections" is the first of three that GBIF will lead as part of the European Commission-funded SYNTHESYS+ project.

Those interested in contributing to the consultation can also request early access to the consultation forum at any time.

Key dates

24 February Ideas paper released
12-13 March Preparatory webinars: agenda, session #1 & session #2
6 April Consultation forum opened for early access to contributed materials
17–29 April Facilitated online consultation
May-July Writing, editing and review of road map

The consultation process

  1. Anyone with an interest in Natural History Collections (or in reviewing the low-carbon consultation itself) can request to join the consultation as a contributor at any time and ensure that they receive regular updates on the process.
  2. Preparatory webinars will be repeated in two time slots to maximise accessibility for participants in the eastern and western hemispheres – these webinars are to:
    • Address questions on the goals and execution of the consultation
    • Refine the content of the ideas paper
    • Seek proposals from key stakeholders on materials they can contribute to open the discussions
  3. Contributed materials are documents or short videos prepared by key stakeholders as responses to the ideas paper and as initial inputs to the discussions, explaining aspects of existing systems and solutions or exploring problems, possible solutions and use cases for consideration.
  4. All materials (the ideas paper, video captured from the preparatory webinars and other contributed materials) will be uploaded to the consultation forum with an associated discussion thread.
  5. The consultation forum will also include discussion threads for each question or topic identified for the consultation (new threads may be added during the consultation as new ideas are introduced).
  6. Contributors are encouraged to review uploaded materials and contribute to discussion threads at any time during the consultation, and they can track responses from forum notifications to keep track of. Contributors are not obliged to log-in at fixed times. They can spend as much or as little time as they can or care to reviewing and adding to discussions each day. Daily summaries will serve keep them on track and up to date.
  7. The coordinators will monitor the discussion threads and will curate daily summaries of progress and remaining issues that will be emailed to contributors.
  8. The coordinators may also invite selected contributors to provide additional materials to add to the consultation agenda and discussion.
  9. The consultation is expected to run for two weeks but may be terminated early or continued according to need and interest.
  10. At the end of the consultation, the coordinators will work with contributors to prepare a co-authored white paper summarizing the discussion, any recommendations and remaining issues. This white paper will be published as a roadmap for future efforts around building a catalogue of the world's natural history collections.


GBIF will organize three workshops to help "major international stakeholders to develop the global collections research agenda" within the SYNTHESYS+ NA5 Internationalization work package. These workshops are a contribution to the efforts of the biodiversity informatics community to develop sustainable, cost-effective, scientifically relevant and internationally applicable networks and systems for managing and using biodiversity information.

The participatory consultation will test a virtual alternative to a face-to-face workshop. We hope that it will both enable wider participation by interested stakeholders around the world and reduce the carbon footprint of biodiversity informatics. See 'Why a virtual workshop?' for a more extensive discussion of the approach and its rationale.

"Advancing the Catalogue of the World's Natural History Collections" will provide inputs into several intersecting initiatives, including but not limited to:

The consultation aims to offer value to all of these efforts, but more particularly to provide a common vision, road map and set of priorities for efficient and seamless interoperability between their platforms and for tools and services based on accurate and current collection information.


The main output from the consultation will be a short paper that offers a vision for what such a catalogue should be, how and by whom it should be maintained, what services it should offer, why this is exciting and how it can be resourced, along with steps for achieving it (e.g. mature standards, practices or tools to adopt, components that need more support and investment, additional components that merit further design and funding).

The workshop will bring together community members who could provide and use informations, tools and services from collections to discuss topics such as:

Information model

What does the catalogue need to contain?

  • Identification of collections
  • Description of collections
  • Linked open data connections to other information and infrastructures
  • Services relate to collections

Technology model

How can we build this catalogue?

Governance model

Who needs to be involved in building, owning and maintaining the catalogue? What do stakeholders need to allow them to play these roles?

The workshop coordinators

A small core team of experts will oversee, run and moderate the consultation:

The ideas paper

The core team has prepared an ideas paper setting the scope for discussions. This draft includes:

  • An overview of current systems and solutions
  • Known uses for the product
  • Any existing relevant initiatives
  • An outline set of key questions for the conference, based on the topics identified above

Webinar agenda

  • Welcome
  • Presentation
    Goals for consultation
    Topics from Ideas Paper
  • Issues and gaps
    Should we add any extra topics?
    Are there suggestions for ways to improve the process?
  • Contributing to the consultation process
    Submit documents (or slide sets, videos, etc.)
    Assist with translation of selected materials.
    Publicise the consultation through relevant networks
  • Summary of action points

AGENDA: Advancing the Catalogue of the World's Natural History Collections virtual workshop

Catch up: watch the preparatory sessions now!

Session #1

Session #2

Playlist of both sessions