11. Partnerships to collaborate more effectively

Moderators: Mike Webster, Deb Paul, and Joe Miller


A number of recent initiatives, often working at a country or continental level, are making huge strides in regional digitisation, aggregation and visualisation of collections data. Often the intellectual case, methodologies, organisational processes and impact of these programmes are very similar, differing only where regional needs demand a difference in priorities. This suggests that the geo-/bio-diversity informatics community is driving toward a common vision for community activities, and provides the means for less-resourced regions to highlight needs for local investment. But without international coordination, we risk duplicating effort, and subsequently struggle to build upon each other’s work.

Orchestrating cross-project and cross-border teamwork is difficult to coordinate with current funding models, making it difficult for us to agree on what to accomplish, by whom and how to sustain this work. This also requires an inclusive model of participation supporting small group innovation alongside the larger and more enduring organisations. We explore this challenge from the perspective of several major initiatives and the needs of participating communities. We aim to identify concrete steps toward building a loose coalition of organisations and initiatives that work together to identify an agreed work plan for the bio/geo-informatics community, and encourage participation in the coalition by individuals or groups from diverse sectors with innovative ideas. We ask contributors to outline priorities for practical areas of shared interest on topics such as:

  • Shared data visualization and metrics of use / impact
  • Producers and consumer needs for geo-/bio-diversity data
  • Techniques for cross-institutional software development
  • Shared authority file resources to improve data quality and speed of data mobilization
  • Models for retaining opportunity for outside innovation, and new participation.

By highlighting best practice across domains, identifying community priorities and possible methods of working, we hope to advance the cooperation and coordination of the geo-/bio-diversity data communities.

Above text from Symposium at Biodiversity Next 2019 Conference:

Smith V, Paul D, Seltmann K. Increasing Opportunities to Align Data Initiatives for Bio/Geo Collections. Biodiversity Next 2019. SP39 - Increasing Opportunities to Align Data Initiatives for Bio/Geo Collections [accessed 17 May 2021]

Questions to promote discussion

On our shared experiences

  1. How does your institutional affiliation affect your ability to collaborate? Is collaboration supported outside your niche space?
  2. How do you learn about potential augmented data for things in your collection?
  3. What is your network and model and do they cross discipline, geographic, and language boundaries? If so, what makes it work?

Alignment and partnership strategies

  1. Please share your experiences (positive or negative) in structured events when joining new communities?
  2. Do formal meetings/consultations help or do we need additional mechanisms? Please elaborate.
  3. Also, how do we ensure all can contribute? (individuals to large organizations)? Think of Bionomia and GloBI

On building shared funding resources to reduce unnecessary duplication

  1. How can we benefit from better funded initiatives elsewhere?
  2. How can sustained funding be acquired more effectively? What needs to be done in terms of lobbying funding agencies, influencing work programmes and encouraging international funding agendas.
  3. Can we better partition / converge community tasks?

On lessons from other fields

  1. What can we learn from communities like astronomy, particle physics, climate science, genomics that have enjoyed substantial success in acquiring substantial funding over many years?
  2. What are the strategic technology developments to invest in and who with?

Information resources


Welcome to Topic 11: Partnerships to collaborate more effectively. To start out we would like to understand your experiences and how that shapes your ability to collaborate. As a manager I am required to collaborate across all parts of my work but that wasn’t always the case. Earlier in my career I felt more compelled to stick to the job. I was lucky that I always had support of someone that helped me switch jobs to more collaborative and satisfying work. I found those mentors in the quieter parts of my institutions, others find their place in professional societies, and perhaps social media plays a larger role for early career professionals today. My experience is atypical in that I have changed jobs and institutions every 4-7 years and had a support system to make it work.

There is no need to bare your soul here but what works for you? How do you learn about things that you want to do in 5 years? There are people out that there that have great ideas but don’t know about the roadmap for digital extended specimens. How do we reach them and offer them a place?

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Hi Joe. I have some questions and ideas, but at this time I prefer to discuss it first by email, or even a ZOOM call. If possible, I would like to have Deb Paul also in this discussion, based on what I saw at the Digital Extended Specimens (Phase 2) presentation, last Tuesday.

Please, drop me a note at edalcin “at” jbrj “dot” org

Thanks in advance.


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Hi Eduardo!

Welcome to the discourse forum. Glad to see you here. Happy to meet with you. Let’s see when we can find a time that suits all of us to have this discussion. Looking forward to your ideas regarding digital extended specimens.

In talking about Alignment and Partnership Strategies, I have found that collaboration or effective collaboration is really about finding time for small and regular meetings targeted to do something. These can be formal meetings but it is often two or three people in a room (virtual or otherwise) trying to solve a specific problem or obstacle. For the Terrestrial Parasite Tracker project (NSF ADBC TCN) Jorrit Poelen (GloBI) and I meet about every week with data providers to discuss data, methods, challenges, and most importantly, ideas coming from the providers. It is a bottom-up approach that seems effective but also time-consuming. For how this translates into Digital/Extended Specimen I would think it includes people whose job involves connecting community.


I have written here in section 3.4 about different kinds of partnering. These fall mainly into 3 categories:

  1. Customer/supplier relationships: Are generally tactical/operational, in which one party supplies the other in exchange for a ‘consideration’ (which doesn’t have to be financial).

  2. Joint venture: In which the parties commit resources to pursue common goals. Normally, they are strategic, being essential to enhancing the value of each individual party and because the parties separately cannot achieve the desired goals on their own.

  3. Stakeholder investment: Whereby one (or more) party(ies) makes an investment in a second party with a view to, for example ensuring the sustainability and longevity of the second party, being crucial to the investing party’s operations, or influencing the behaviour of the second party in a direction more favourable to the investing party.

In the context of (topic 7. Persistent identifier (PID) schemes) we’ll need to consider whether a joint venture or stakeholder investment alliance is most appropriate to supporting the business model. Operationally, multiple customer/supplier relationships will also be needed.

There is a fourth kind of arrangement, namely true partnering in which participation, pairing and merger of individual interests takes place with consolidation of control. Although they are concerned with collaboration, separate control is not retained. Friendly or hostile merger might be other terms for this kind of alliance.


Adding to Alex’ classification of partnership types and functions, there is another classification dimension, this one considering partnership direction. There are (at least) three perspectives to partnership structure and direction.

[Term definition: “Alliance”:= the Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge; “alliance”:= an alliance as defined eg. by Alex and co-authors in the above article, section 3.4.1]

  • One perspective is looking towards the inside. It is considering the initiation, formation, development and strengthening of partnerships, of one type or another, within the Alliance. This internal process builds the Alliance and shapes its building blocks, extent, characteristics, functioning, and capabilities.
  • A second perspective is looking towards the outside, with the Alliance being a partner in larger-scale, eg., global contexts. Here, the Alliance as a whole is one partner in an overarching community, or in one or more alliances at a higher level. These interactions are shaped by the connections, overlaps, interfaces, synergies, behaviors, roles, etc. that the Alliance has and expresses in the world and with others, from standalone partners to other alliances.
  • Finally, in some cases, a partner can be both, an internal and external partner at the same time. For example, GBIF is a partner within the Alliance, and at the same time they are a global stakeholder and interaction-partner in their own right. Even more, a loop might be formed, since in the future mirror-wise the Alliance might also contribute to GBIF (be an internal partner) and become an external, independent partner to GBIF in eg. UN-processes associated with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and its monitoring framework.

A merger with consolidation of control into one entity/hierarchy is not intuitively what I consider to be a true partnership. From my point of view true partnerships are characterized by being build on and expressing interdependence, cp. Interdependence theory - Wikipedia.

The third listed option in my reply to Alex seems to correspond to some characteristics of interdependence.

The above Wikipedia-page focuses on group-dynamics. The concept of interdependence also has been applied to individual development, see eg. the books by SR Covey, eg. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Wikipedia → providing a link to 9. Workforce capacity development and inclusivity.

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@edalcin in our offline conversation, you brought up the subject of needing to do risk assessments in real-time.

Partnership-related questions follow:

  1. Do you have the infrastructure partnerships needed to accomplish these? Are they set up already? Or are there groups / organizations / computer datastores that you need regular access to? APIs that need connecting / integrating or creating?
  2. Do you have the expertise needed to accomplish your risk assessment goals and services? If not, who / what skills are missing?

The reason I ask these questions is to look for concrete next steps for which groups to reach out to for partnering.

In anticipation, from all. Thanks!

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Thank you Debbie.

It was a good chat and, indeed, must be moved to here to wider participation. The risk assessment is a real and practical example, in my opinion, where {digital, extended} specimens may have a huge impact. I’m not sure what you mean with “real-time”.

The other point of our conversation was the lack of a {guide, checklist, manual} where institutions that have already {virtual herbarium, digital collections} can implement {digital, extended} specimens.

There are a plenty of articles and discussions available (too much to read and catch up!), but no practical guide to implement and achieve {digital, extended} specimens in your institution. Are we in that grey area between an academic concept and something real and useful (for risk assessments, for instance)?

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I suppose one can distinguish also between individual/personal partnering and organisational-level partnering, which is what my earlier post was about.

I completely agree that in day-to-day working among persons, small and frequent focussed meetings where the participants goals are well-aligned can be very productive. We are seeing this now in the fortnightly meetings between staff from multiple institutions working on the design and implementation of the Specimen Data Refinery (SDR) in the SYNTHESYS+ project within the DiSSCo Programme.

This work is one of the drivers (along with DiSSCo’s ELViS service and TDWG TG MIDS) for the specification of openDS, the emerging new standard for open Digital extended Specimens, each of which itself involves partnerships between work package or task group participants.

To do it effectively is, indeed time consuming and reliant on good ‘connecting people’ but it also about aligning goals, direction and understanding before it can become effective.

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@edalcin, @Debbie Just to be clear, what kind of risk assessments are we talking about here? Is this something to do with topic 8. Meeting legal/regulatory, ethical and sensitive data obligations? Or something else?

The practical guide(s) to implementing Digital extended Specimens are essential, of course as is the software to support the ideas. There is still much to be worked out first but it will all come. It many ways it is about bring the right partners together to jointly work on the technical implementation in a concerted and consistent over several years. That’s part of the wider aim of this consultation, to form enduring partnerships in pursuit of the vision.

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Just to be clear, what kind of risk assessments are we talking about here? Is this something to do with topic 8. Meeting legal/regulatory, ethical and sensitive data obligations? Or something else?

This kind:


Greetings Eduardo, by “real-time” I mean at the click of a button. Plan what data need to be connected to address / visualize an issue and be able to track progress (or lack of) at any given moment.

Hi Alex, at least for me, I was thinking about risk assessments that have to do with land-use, development, conservation, restoration work. Countries need to know what their physical (and digital) assets are and how to protect them, or plan for restoration. If physical infrastructure is in development (I mean buildings, roads, homes, etc), how does a country use these biodiversity data to help assess risk and impact. What data to they need? How do they get it? How can we contribute to it? See the work done by WRI https://www.wri.org/ for example of what I’m thinking of for the kind of partnerships we might be part of.

@Debbie, @hardistyar (et all), please, have a look on this:


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Greetings Everyone! Here’s a question to ponder, looking forward to your insights.

In order to build and sustain a Digital Extended Specimen network with common goals and shared (or complementary) directions, a coordinating entity may be required. Who or which groups make up this coordinating entity? How does this coordinating network function (short and long term)?

A few weeks ago, @Debbie quite rightly suggested that I should make a contribution to this Partnerships and Collaboration element of the consultation with regard to the partnerships that exist and could be built upon with humanities researchers: specifically, how such researchers can contribute to the planning, data modeling and data content of the Digital Extended Specimen. I at first replied within the conversation thread on the inclusivity pages (here 9. Workforce capacity development and inclusivity - #15 by MAFleming) but thought I should follow up on this thread too – though I will do this by adding on to some of the potential partner listings and cases for working with humanities scholars that I have already made on other threads, because you can find these through my GBIF/Discourse profile.

I wanted to let you know that there is interdisciplinary convergence emerging in research questions and practices between environmental historians, global and colonial historians, and natural historians in various working groups in the UK at least. For example, there is a UKRI funded programme at the moment called ‘Hidden Histories’ which is co-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (NERC - Hidden histories programme). This may not look like a lot of money, and it may seem ‘niche’, but it is attracting nathist museum colleagues and enabling interdisciplinary work that should interest GBIF given the range of currently open questions in your current consultation, from diversity and inclusion, to getting crucial analogue data into DES, to the ethics behind ABS.

NERC also built an online ‘collaboration finder’ to help researchers find each other and cross-pollinate (could GBIF do this for potential interdisciplinary/humanities partners?), then published an early findings document: https://nerc.ukri.org/research/funded/programmes/hidden-histories-programme/hidden-histories-of-environmental-science-consultation-event-report/

The University of Cambridge has co-funded a related network: “Empire & Environment, in the museum”, a new professional development network, exploring the legacies of empire and enslavement in natural history museums, and the ways those legacies are still influencing environmental science today." Environment and Empire | Research & Collections Programme A significant number of UK nathist museum colleagues are joining this group, and it has an online workshop scheduled for 1 September 2021. Workshop | Research & Collections Programme

Of course, many of us in the humanities and socsci fields also have similar challenges to those so well described in the Background outline to this section 11 of the consultation. And we have some solutions that might be helpful, too. It would be great to have a platform in which we could share.


Yesterday I forgot to mention this State-side group, which should interest @Debbie and @sharif.islam as well: Applied Historical Methods for the Environment is a research group of the Consortium for History of Science technology and Medicine. ‘Primary source analysis will focus on the historical manuscripts, rare books, data, and surveys used in peer-reviewed environmental publications and highlight the integration of archival and historical methods with digital humanities curation, data mining with R, and ArcGIS for spatial analysis… Our consortium will meet monthly to critique, explore, and develop methods for applying archival and collections research as well as historiographical analysis to projects in environmental policy, law, and economics. How can historians contribute a more robust and critical analysis of historical sources in order to forward major environmental debates? We will explore the methods that historians can contribute to environmental problem solving and critique the limits of projects that rely on historical sources for data analysis.’


Greetings Martha,

Such wonderful additions here that you’ve added. It will be pleasure to follow-up on these conversations here to figure out what next steps we might take out of all the possibilities you’ve provided. Thank you for taking the time to raise our awareness and for your enthusiasm for the prospect of working together to move our worlds forward. … stay tuned!