More and more disciplines across boundaries are grouping themselves together to benefit from the research conducted by others, and to collaborate, strengthening each other, and addressing global challenges. Collaboration is key, and unless researchers and research institutions are going to collaborate more, all will remain to be in competition, and consequently compete for funding. Through diversity and pooling knowledge together, researchers can accelerate discoveries. Through having a global view and addressing challenges in tandem, a careful balance can be maintained.
To collaborate effectively, infrastructure and governance need to be in place. The GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) – along with the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) and H3ABioNet (Pan African Bioinformatics network) communities – are examples of data intensive projects/initiatives where collaboration already takes place on especially a regional level, but also on a global scale. As far as biodiversity concerns, Africa has many biodiversity rich areas, but unfortunately – because of countries with limited access and capacities/resources – data are often unavailable.
The main objective of the past GBIF meeting (GBIC2: the 2nd Global Biodiversity Information Conference, 24-27 July 2018, Kopenhagen, Denmark) was to discuss future governance of the international biodiversity key stakeholders towards developing a network for all biodiversity information and data: what data does the GBIF community have/should GBIF get, how could data be combined, standards to apply, repositories, taxonomies, intellectual property, etc. The meeting was in agreement that – in order to advance biodiversity science – occurrences observed should be made immediately accessible in an interconnected way, working towards a vast resource base of digitally accessible data that can be searched and harvested. Organized views should be produced so that open data can be used meaningfully and immediately, without any delay.
Maria Uhle from the Belmont Forum provided a funders’ perspective. She provided some guidelines with the biodiversity community towards applying for funding:
- Be realistic when applying for funding, and don’t promise the moon. Convince the funder that what you will do is critical.
- Leverage and do not duplicate research. Establish innovative partnerships. Biodiversity for example connects with climate change.
- Get the right people together to solve a problem, from all over the ecosystem. Scale & innovate to solve problems.
- Identify gaps and opportunities.
- Be aware that there are different cultural approaches towards solving research problems.
- Lean into each other’s’ strengths – don’t duplicate for example what the RDA is doing.
- Communication is key, and coordination is paramount.
- If funders can agree on a basic Research Data Management plan, it will become less of an obstacle.
The meeting also brought other funders to the table, among others Dr Don Doering (JRS Biodiversity Foundation) and Dr Roalnd Roberts (Division of Biological Infrastructure, National Science Foundation, US).
According to Donald Hobern (GBIF Executive Secretary), up to now, the GBIF network made use of relatively cheap infrastructures built on a small scale. The purpose of this meeting was to get all stakeholders together, to find ways the community can work together better and more. The ideal would be to make biodiversity occurrences observed and found immediately accessible in an interconnected way, and have a vast resource base of digitally accessible data that can be searched and harvested. Organized views of observations should be produced so that data can be used meaningfully and immediately. Tools that allow people to get meaningful views are required to answer critical questions. Biodiversity data from all parts of the world are important, and also from African countries, which have many biodiversity rich areas. Currently there are 2 GBIF nodes based in Africa, with 22 African participants part of the network. Read more at https://www.gbif.org/the-gbif-network/africa
Towards an AOSP (African Open Science Platform) ICT Infrastructure Framework
The work done by the GBIF network and others will help to inform the generic AOSP ICT Infrastructure Framework, in terms of ICT and data sharing needs experienced by researchers on a discipline specific level. The AOSP approach is however more generic, providing guidance to governments on what is required when preparing for effective data sharing.
A working group under Prof Benjamin Aribisala, assisted by Dr Ousmane Moussa Tessa who also attended the AOSP ICT Infrastructure meeting on 14 May 2018, has been established to explore existing work done this far, and to propose a roadmap towards implementation by governments. Prof Aribisala is also a member of the AOSP Technical Advisory Board.
This group comprises of the following, bringing the perspective from the NREN/ICT Infrastructure side, as well as the researcher side (incl. biodiversity):
Prof Benjamin Aribisala (Lagos State University & participant in Sci-GaIA project)
Dr Ousmane Moussa Tessa (NigeREN)
Dr Anwar Vahed (DIRISA)
Dr Sumir Panji (H3ABioNet)
Dr Bruce Becker (EGI Foundation & previously Sci-GaIA project)
Dr Renier van Heerden (SANREN)
Prof Jean Ganglo Cossi (GBIF)
Various opportunities have been identified for the proposed framework to be reviewed and to be tested during Year 3 (November 2018 – October 2019) of the AOSP project. The first opportunity will be during the upcoming Technical Advisory Board meeting on 3-4 November 2018, prior to the International Data Week 2018 conference – both to take place in Gaborone, Botswana. We want to thank all involved in taking this very important project forward.