Thursday, April 7, 2016

The future of biodiversity collections

The time for business as usual has passed. Threats to biodiversity are increasing. There is a real concern that the scientific community does not have the resources necessary to answer important questions.

This concern has been reinforced recently as e.g. in the US state and federal agencies have reduced or withdrawn support for biodiversity collections. The biodiversity community has responded to these developments in the usual ways, reactive, but not proactive.

Biological diversity collections leaders, scientists, communications professionals, and scientific organization leaders met last Fall at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for a workshop organized by the Biodiversity Collections Network. They identified poor communication within the biodiversity collections community and between the community and decision-makers as a contributing factor. 

Seven recommendations emerged from this workshop and are outlined in a report. The general recommendations are:

1) The community must articulate a compelling and inclusive long-term vision for natural history collections.

2) The community should work with an existing community-serving organization with links to administrators, policymakers, and communicators to foster greater coordination of targeted messages.

3) The community must engage new stakeholders to increase the sustainability (i.e., new funding, proper institutional support, adequate workforce) of digitization efforts.

4) The community must do a better job of communicating outcomes and benefits of digitization efforts to policymakers, administrators, other scientists, and the public.

5) The community must develop metrics for assessing the impact of current and new communication tools and practices.

6) The community must develop and embrace innovative communication methods and tool kits.

7) The community must support and engage in communications training programs that help all biodiversity collections stakeholders, particularly scientists, become more effective spokespeople for natural history collections.

These developments show how important it is that we do a better job of communicating about both the increased demand for spatial and temporal data on biodiversity and the vitally important research that biodiversity collections enable. The report includes a number of significant recommendations for the Natural Science Collections Alliance and we are eager to begin addressing these in collaboration with our membership and partners.

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