4.4. Governance arrangements (GOVERNANCE)

This is topic 4.4. in the Governance section of the Advancing the Catalogue of the World’s Natural History Collections consultation. Use this topic to discuss the questions listed below.

A complex, commons-based solution will depend for its long-term success on a governance model that provides confidence to all parties that their interests are served and protected. The model should find the right balance between ensuring the health of the collaboration and minimising associated overheads in terms of meetings, reporting, etc.

Other materials

The following contributed materials are particularly relevant to this topic:


  • Are there appropriate models that can be adopted or expanded to support the governance of this catalogue?
  • Can it be managed in the context of an existing organisation or institution?
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The ideas paper and discussion questions seem to be presenting conflicting information about whether GBIF sees itself as a competitor or collaborator with existing biodiversity portals and collections catalogs. On the one hand, the website sketch suggests the goal of GBIF as a one-stop shop for all information in the biodiversity knowledge graph, to the exclusion of any value for data portals at small to medium levels of aggregation. On the other hand, the consultation materials suggest that GBIF is not seeking to take over all the services and duties of existing collections catalogues and biodiversity data portals. In the first webinar, for example, Dr. Hobern described the project goal as “a single, unified global catalog of the world’s natural history collections, while at the same time supporting the different activities, the different networks, the different communities that are already effectively managing such catalogs for their own space…”

In this regard, I want to highlight that the benefits of information sharing do not require nor are always best served by a centralized repository. The word “unified” here is ambiguous in this respect in potentially problematic ways. Contreras and Reichman (2015) present a useful set of alternative designs for data commons that are equally applicable to a catalogue of collections. Their analysis is motivated by a reflection on a failed initiative by the Belmont Forum that foundered on the high costs of a fully centralized repository. They describe two other alternative models, “intermediate” and “fully” distributed data sharing, and suggest these may have provided a better fit to their original needs. Achieving the benefits of a pooled collections catalogue resource is not equivalent to unification in the sense of centralization.

Contreras, Jorge L, and Jerome H Reichman. 2015. “Sharing by Design: Data and Decentralized Commons.” Science 350 (6266). American Association for the Advancement of Science: 1312–14. doi:10.1126/science.aaa7485.

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The Indigenous Data Sovereignty working group in the Research Data Alliance has done some spectacular work articulating principles for data sharing that complement the FAIR standards. Their alternative is called the CARE principles, for Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics. These desirable features for indigenous or locally-owned collections data are not guaranteed by the FAIR principles and actually can be undercut in some cases, e.g. by requirements on rapid sharing of all data. I think it’s valuable to incorporate the CARE principles for governance of the collections catalogue in general and not only in cases where issues of indigenous data sovereignty are most directly involved.

Carroll, Stephanie Russo, Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, and Andrew Martinez. 2019. “Indigenous Data Governance: Strategies From United States Native Nations.” Data Science Journal 18 (1). Ubiquity Press: 31. doi:10.5334/dsj-2019-031.

Group, Research Data Alliance International Data Sovereignty Interest. 2018. “CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.” GIDA-Globa.org. September. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d3799de845604000199cd24/t/5da9f4479ecab221ce848fb2/1571419335217/CARE+Principles_One+Pagers+FINAL_Oct_17_2019.pdf.

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@bsterner - I’ve added a reply to some of your comments under Topic 4.2 Communities of Practice.

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Thank you for this, and your other extensive inputs @bsterner. I expect “integrated” may have been a better term, but I think the intention was to offer a “consistent” experience to a consumer and promote more collaboration rather than multiple similar efforts (especially in data management).

The intention is very much to collaborate.

The sketch evolved as we brought together many strands of conversation. It originated from discussion exploring 1) what GBIF could do to enhance GRSciColl by connecting with other information feeds available to GBIF and 2) looking to improve the way GBIF.org represents data (e.g. a specimen is cited and sequenced but this is not linked and appears as duplicate data in many research uses). When I’ve presented it I’ve emphasized that It carries no GBIF branding so could be deployed in different skins (e.g. national views) and all content would be available through an API so could help supplement other initiatives. We found the visual approach useful to capture input from non-technical (IT sense) contributors but I’ve learnt it doesn’t convey well the intention to link and integrate data from many sources and help simplify access to those.

Assuming we are moving towards linking this information, it is clear this shouldn’t be done in a single competing system. There are some examples illustrating that things are beginning to converge

  • GRSciColl now synchronizes with Index Herbaroirum (where the edits happen)
  • The iDigBio catalogue is being merged now with GRSciColl, allowing for shared data management and the API can power the iDigBio services
  • The Atlas of Living Australia and GBIF are now aligning their backend data processing and registries/catalogues. At a minimum they will synchronize and use the same software, but we are considering co-location of some or all of the components.

There is still have much to consider, but my own feeling is that important integrations are being made and excellent perspectives are being brought in as we open up this discussion.

One of the challenges I foresee is that there are differing opinions on the best way to curate content. The DiSSCo / CETAF position is for a designated editor for the institution, there are established catalogues like IH, communities like ASIH, a desire to embed this in the collection management tools and other preferences to open up to anyone by bringing in Wikibase community. Our current thinking in GRSciColl is to try and at least link all these representations, but as things progress the governance (e.g. authorisation) aspects need much consideration. I don’t expect a one-size-fits-all approach will work globally.

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