9. Workforce capacity development and inclusivity

Moderators: Anna Monfils, Molly Phillips, Libby Ellwood, and Austin Mast


To fully address workforce training and inclusivity within the DES, our efforts must be considered in a global context. The DES is an opportunity to broaden our community and ensure that through the expansion of biodiversity data that the workforce landscape itself is truly more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible. Future “DES Data Curators” – those who will be charged with maintaining resources created through the DES – will require skills and resources beyond what is currently available to most natural history collections staff. A fully-implemented DES will therefore need to provide training that encapsulates capacity building, skills development, unifying protocols and best practices guidance, and cutting-edge technology that also create inclusive, equitable, and accessible systems, workflows, and communities.

The success of the DES rests in our ability to equip a diverse workforce with the skills necessary to build, grow, and support the data, tools, and resources of the DES. The goal of this topic, therefore, is to discuss how we, as members of the biodiversity community and the current workforce, can coordinate a spectrum of training that: spans formal and informal education, continuing education and outreach; that is inclusive, equitable, and welcoming of under-engaged individuals; that works to address issues of historic inequalities and colonial practices; and that provides appropriate attribution for past and future work.

Questions to promote discussion

On accessibility

  1. How can DES ensure it is not perpetuating historical and current inequities and is working towards a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible biodiversity landscape with its future activities?
  2. What can we do as a community to bridge the digital divide to make specimen data and extended specimen data globally accessible?

On repatriation of resources and data

  1. Where did our specimens and associated data come from, and are we supporting and enabling researchers and research infrastructure from biodiverse regions, or are we removing biodiversity resources from these areas without meaningful collaborations?
  2. Are we preparing the communities who have been historically under-engaged by “parachute science” to participate in knowledge formation and benefits from digital extended specimens?
  3. Are we adequately engaging the historically under-engaged during the build-out of the digital extended specimen?

On skills

  1. How would we define the DES Data Curator?
  2. What skills will they need and what content must they know?

On attribution

  1. Who was not given proper attribution for historical collections and how can we use technology to retroactively correct inequities in credit and attribution?
  2. Who is not getting attribution in modern collections and how can we create more transparent linkages among data and the humans that create data?
  3. How do we adequately communicate expertise or other qualities that would provide context to contributed data in the digital extended specimen?

Information resources

  • Drew, J.A., C.S. Moreau, and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2017. Digitization of museum collections holds the potential to enhance researcher diversity. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1: 1789–1790. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0401-6
  • Evangelista, D.A., A. Goodman, M.K. Kohli, S.S.T.B. Maflamills, M. Samuel-Foo, M.S. Herrera, J.L. Ware, and M. Wilson. 2020. Why diversity matters among those who study diversity. American Entomologist 66: 42–49. https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmaa037
  • Campos-Arceiz, A., R.B. Primack, A.J. Miller-Rushing, and M. Maron. 2018. Striking underrepresentation of biodiversity-rich regions among editors of conservation journals. Biological Conservation 220: 330–333. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.07.028
  • Das, S., and M. Lowe. 2018. Nature read in Black and White: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections. Journal of Natural Science Collections 6: 4–14. Journal Article | Natural Sciences Collections Association
  • Espin, J., S. Palmas, F. Carrasco-Rueda, K. Riemer, P.E. Allen, N. Berkebile, K.A. Hecht, K. Kastner-Wilcox, M.M. Núñez-Regueiro, C. Prince, C. Rios, E. Ross, B. Sangha, T. Tyler, J. Ungvari-Martin, M. Villegas, T.T. Cataldo, and E.M. Bruna. 2017. A persistent lack of international representation on editorial boards in environmental biology. PLoS Biology 15: e2002760. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2002760
  • Stefanoudis, P.V., Licuanan, W.Y., Morrison, T.H., Talma, S., Veitayaki, J. and Woodall, L.C., 2021. Turning the tide of parachute science. Current Biology, 31(4), pp.R184- R185. Turning the tide of parachute science - ScienceDirect
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Greetings! A few thoughts on several items above.

It occurs to me that “On accessibility” might also need to encompass awareness. I wonder about the experiences of others, but on quite a few university campuses that have collections, I’ve noted that other departments may not have a collaborative arrangement with collections. Example, at a major university, agronomy students were either a) not aware there was a herbarium on campus, or b) aware but never visited and their programs did not connect the relevance of their work to work that happens with collections and the collections data.

This ^ (one facet of) “inclusion” is one that, if addressed, may help with other facets of inclusion.

In addition, at some institutions, work to increase Administration awareness of collections opportunities, e.g. opportunities available to students, and their relevance to cross-discipline faculty/staff/student endeavors has improved inclusion and use.

Perhaps others have some models to share that by increasing awareness they’ve seen inclusiveness improve?

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Having a very active blog and an associated mailing list to notify readers of new posts contributes massively to raising awareness. It makes the collections that bit more accessible. This blog from NHMUK, London has 83 articles in the ‘digital collections’ category alone, and is regularly updated.


I agree that awareness should be included when discussing accessibility. Awareness is an issue not only for inclusivity but also for reaching potential users of these data. In a project I’ve been working on, folks outside of academia who were using specimen data / natural history collections usually were doing it because they had been exposed to collections when in college or had a friend / colleague they knew who introduced them to specimen data. I think that awareness of collections and their data via examples provided and integrated in traditional coursework, may help expose students to the existence of collections. Also word of mouth (from colleagues to colleagues) appears to be what users of data are using most to discover new data resources.


Thanks for your insights @emartin. What have you learned or observed about data literacy, or computational literacy for collections? I’m curious what skills / knowledge / background you would look for when hiring a person who will curate the biodiversity data of the future? (Or think of them as subjects that would be covered at Uni. What are they?)

Thinking more about the skills needed to curate the biodiversity data of the future (I’m including here not only collections data but also observational data from surveys and inventories that do not necessarily collect a specimen), especially as we move towards having data that are increasingly linked, I would envision that having a general knowledge of biological systems and how the various components relate or could be linked to one another would help. I understand that most people specialize, but having a broader view of the potential for linkages across data from related disciplines may help. Having a general understanding of what the data management process entails and best practices for data management would also be important. And communication and how to develop collaborations with people not only within one’s discipline but also other disciplines are key skills the future workforce will need since curating “linked” biodiversity data will require identifying and reaching out to those with expertise in related fields that have data for the DES and also to people with computer skills that may assist with overcoming challenges or looking into new technologies.

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As a humanities scholar, I think this point is highly relevant. Awareness is critical to ensuring that people understand the value and importance of collections and their management and care, including digital/specimen/management and data models that include linking etc. When I was Programme Director at the Centre for Collections Based Research at the University of Reading, I had interdisciplinary PhD students from across the humanities working in archives and collections: I always took them on a peripatetic tour of the University’s (impressive) collections. That meant going to the Herbarium and also to the Cole Zoological Collections. This really opened their eyes to the differences in collection management for, say, literary archives, and natural history collections. In some instances, this actually changed the design of their research questions and involved them more closed in nathist. All of them will remember those encounters forever. University collections have a huge role to play.

There are also senior researchers in environmental history, history of natural history, global history, and history of knowledge production who are not only aware, but spreading awareness of nathist collections and their value through their research (see below). Not only that, but many of these colleagues have the research skills and analytical ability to contribute to the kinds of data (transcriptions, collation of field notes with correspondence, etc) that are needed for the realisation of the dream of the Digital Extended Specimen. It will be critically important to include such highly skilled colleagues in the thinking behind the data models for the DES.

Further, many of these humanities colleagues who are already engaged with nathist collections are also quite advanced in processes of developing inclusion and diversity in their work – be that teaching, research, or decolonial practices. It would be great to share this kind of know-how across disciplines.

Some of us have started an international and interdisciplinary research group (albeit informal) and we have started a research blog about it. It is called ‘collection<>ecologies’ and here is the link: We are the Collection Ecologists – Collection Ecologies

But that is the tip of an iceberg – it would be worth planning an effective, well-structured consultation for GBIF with the humanities and social sciences communities. Happy to be part of that!


Great point! Lots of communities need different types of data and specimen data are just one type of information key to building a biodiversity knowledge base and community that serves many. Thanks for sharing your insights, much appreciated.

Aha, so you’re saying we also need to build some new networks, cross-discipline, and across political boundaries too, I’m thinking? This is one of the questions we have in 11. Partnerships to collaborate more effectively. See question there too please? For example: under “Our shared experiences” – How does your institutional affiliation affect your ability to collaborate? Is collaboration supported outside your niche space? How do you learn about potential augmented data for things in your collection? and What is your network and model and do they cross discipline, geographic, and language boundaries? If so, what makes it work?

Fascinating. Thanks Martha. You took the initiative to look outward from your position, and to help others do the same – to build a richer understanding of “connectedness” and relevance (to one’s work, degree program, and broader interests too, I suspect?). I wonder how many folks have this as part of their role in what they do?

Martha, I’m personally so excited to see this idea surface. Thank you. I’m always pushing for #STEAM (instead of #STEM) for similar reasons. I’d extend this to our Alliance for Bio community (includes GBIF). We need richer, connected networks (large and small). Do you have ideas for existing network models (collaborations like this that you know about already as examples?) If yes, could you share them here: What is your network and model and do they cross discipline, geographic, and language boundaries? If so, what makes it work?

This is great to hear. We definitely need to learn more about and connect with this community and find out more about the research skills and analytical ability you mention.

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A few comments on these two and related topics.

One of the barriers to ensure accessibility and equality is to acknowledge multiple perspectives or systems of knowledge. In Western natural science domain a certain way of knowing is still privileged. This is not to suggest opting for the binary trope of “western” vs “eastern” or “modern” vs “traditional” – I think the challenge is to support institutions, policies that can bring different perspectives to the same level. Scholars such as Sonya Atalay and Robin Wall Kimmerer have been using the idea of “braiding knowledge” to think about this issue. From the article Indigenous Science for a World in Crisis:

Within the context of research, braided knowledge can refer to multiple forms of braiding and weaving. Work in this area might include examination of cases in which western and Indigenous knowledge complement each other, examples of how community and university knowledge can be integrated and understanding where they are incongruent or contradict one another.

In examining the political economy of knowledge production in western academic institutions, I have found that researching, teaching, and learning are changed, transformed, and improved through various forms of braiding knowledge. I argue that bringing Indigenous concepts of knowledge production into research and teaching practices is part of a larger project of decolonizing our institutions, which is beneficial both within and outside the academy, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and multiple, diverse groups and communities. Braiding knowledge in support of science is not only an ethical imperative, it is essential for our survival as we face devastating climate change.

Our commitments and values will reflect what data sources and links, we prefer to include in our schema, what types of data training we provide to the students and researchers. The article above mentions storywork to increase science literacy and share historical knowledge. In our data intensive domain, this can mean bringing together narrative and unstructured data with structured datasets. We already do that in some extent – bringing literature and specimen data together. “Braiding” also moves our focus away from simpler, linear narrative towards complex, distributed systems.

Another article entitled Stewardship of global collective behavior recently shared by @Debbie, mentions similar ideas within the context of collective behaviour, role of algorithms, and complexity science. The article talks about how friction, noise and latency — often valued as negative elements – can play important roles in promoting cooperation. I found some similarities with the notion of “braiding” and and the following ideas:

While noise, latency, and information decay are often viewed as unwanted in other areas of study, in collective systems they can serve several important functions. Noise can disrupt gridlock and promote cooperation (100), facilitate coherence (101), and improve detection of weak signals through phenomena akin to stochastic resonance (102). Evidence from fish schools revealed that noise and decay are important for preventing the spread of false alarms (39). Further, rapid information flows may overwhelm cognitive processes and yield less accurate decisions (103, 104). Through multiple iterations of high-fidelity transmission, communication technology allows information in tweets and articles to propagate beyond the three or four degrees of separation inherent to noisier forms of communication (83). Facsimiles of false information (e.g., misinformation and disinformation) can now spread across vast swaths of society without the risk of decay or fact checking along the way. Adding friction to this process has become one of the more promising approaches to reducing misinformation online (105).

Given that the impacts of communication technology on patterns of behavior cross the lines that divide academic disciplines, a transdisciplinary synthesis and approach to managing our collective behavior are required. Between the complexity of our social systems, the specter of ongoing human suffering, and the urgency required to avert catastrophe, we must face these challenges in the absence of a complete model or full understanding (14, 134). In this way, the field of human collective behavior must join the ranks of other crisis disciplines such as medicine, conservation biology, and climate science (20).

As we can think about a truly diverse and inclusive workforce landscape maybe we need to embrace the elements of noice and friction widely.


Great discussions so far! Building off of some points that have been raised , we’d like to pose an additional question: What other barriers or challenges are you aware of beyond lack of awareness and the exclusion of multiple perspectives and systems of knowledge?

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@Debbie – I am glad to read that you are interested in the idea of ‘planning an effective, well-structured consultation for GBIF with the humanities and social sciences communities’! You suggest that I post in the Network Model section of the consultation, but I am not sure that this really fits. There are existent networks like learned societies for environmental humanities, for geography, for history of science – but the particular convergence of people who have history of natural history interests and skills and who understand the importance of collections as well is not yet a ‘discipline’ and only has a loose network that is growing fast. I have given some examples of individual research projects here: Extending, enriching and integrating data - #53 by MAFleming

I can give a more structured overview. At institutional level – and of course, an institution is not necessarily a network – here are some developments:

2009-2016: Centre for Arts and Humanities research at the Natural History Museum London
I was one of the people who set up this centre, and we ran a range of humanities research projects related directly to collections and which benefited collection knowledge/catalogues. This included a project about Hans Sloane’s early modern collections, Nathaniel Wallich (in collaboration with Kew).

2012 - ongoing. Humanities of Nature Department, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Set up by Johannes Vogel when he left NHM for Berlin, using the model of the NHM Centre. Currently the most active of these institutional departments at nathist museums, working on colonial histories of palaeontology, on historical relationships between Berlin Tiergarten and the MfN, on logistics of natural history collecting in 19th C., on philosophy of data modeling and digitisation of specimens.

2015 - ongoing. Humanities Institute of the New York Botanical Gardens
Supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation (same funder for JSTOR Plants), the centre runs research projects and is based in the Gardens’ library. Botany and medicine, coffee plantation practices, histories of expeditions to Cuba, etc.

2018 - ongoing. Dumbarton Oaks Plant Humanities Initiative
Funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, working with scholars to directly to correlate the rare books and special collections of DOAKS with JSTOR Plants, and in collaboration with the team of developers at JSTOR Labs.

2020 - ongoing. Kew / Royal Holloway Humanities of Nature project
This project picks up where the Mobile Museums project left off, with the same leadership, and with the intent of articulating the value of the humanities to botanical collections and vice versa. Kew has made a specific commitment to collaborations with humanities scholars in their recent strategic development document.

So there are researchers, there are projects, there are institutional departments, there are learned societies, and there are emergent networks. It could be so valuable to look at where humanities, socsci, biology and collections can help each other to do better research. Some of the connective tissue is really critical to some of the questions relating to the DES: including equity, IP, credit, inclusion, accurate point reference data, data models, decolonial activities, etc.

As part of ICEDIG (development programme for DiSSCo), there was a WP concerning ‘cultural heritage’ and a survey of ‘Humanities Researcher Synergies with Natural Science Collections and Archives’. Unfortunately, not enough time was taken with this (barely two months, and over Christmas!) and the report itself states that there were only 34 surveys returned and ‘humanities researchers were underrepresented owing to short project timelines compounded by the holidays’. Further, ‘D. Koureas began by suggesting that these preliminary discussions could use better follow-up and continuity. In similar situations the tendency has been to put them on a shelf without further intervention.’ Here is where GBIF could step in with your well-developed non-chron, discourse-driven consultation platform!

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Here’s a new question to think about:

How would you define the role of a Digital Extended Specimen Data Curator?

Personally, I’d expect that DES data curation will be an activity performed broadly by the biodiversity research community and beyond (e.g., by amateur enthusiasts), though I’d expect that we can recognize a few core skills and competencies related to DES data curation that it’d be good for specimen curators to have. So there might not be anyone with a job title that is “Digital Extended Specimen Data Curator.”

Similarly, I would expect that the set of data “curated” by a specimen curator might stretch well beyond those data about specimens in their own collection. It might be circumscribed by the taxa for which they are experts.

Others’ thoughts?


Hi Austin, this is a great question. I think there are lots of elements to data management that are currently not taught relative to curation of collections and generation of FAIR data. While some can be acquired, I am interested in developing a list of skills from the basic idea of developing tidy data sets and data archiving to the more complex requirements of related to monitoring online data and annotating virtual data. What “new vocabulary” is needed to understand DarwinCore, Unique Identifiers, Digital records. Once we start thinking about Data Integration, what are the basic and more advanced skills needed by a curator or data provider. I also think we have a new job and discipline where biodiversity literate individuals need to have the computational and technical skills to build the datasets and interface to support the DES. Maybe we already have some skill lists and vocabulary that would help and if we do how can we get that in the main stream training. I feel like we are missing the instruction manual to bring someone from zero knowledge on collection based data to curator level and we need a list of skills so we can facilitate training.


Hi Anna, It is exactly this type of conversation we had to create Data Carpentry at our 2014?(I think) meeting across existing NSF BioCenters IT staff. We really need to get the Carpentries folks as collaborators on this topic going forward. The peer-to-peer structure of the Carpentries also supports naturally, our goals to be equitable and inclusive and responsive to address skills needs in a sustainable manner.

Not a question previously identified to seed discussion, just one that is of interest to me: How critical is language translation to inclusivity, and how would that most usefully occur in the Digital Extended Specimen framework?