I’d like to highlight the importance of directly contacting and soliciting input from collections whose staff are normally least resourced to participate in a project like this. While the best-resourced institutions to lead in building a collections catalog are typically located in the global north, many of the most important gaps in natural history collections research are located in the global south. “An emphasis on access [alone] fails to capture the social and material conditions under which data can be made useable, and the multiplicity of conversion factors required for researchers to engage with data” (Bezuidenhout et al. 2017). A catalog of collections that fails to address variations in situated obstacles, resources, and aims among the global north and south is unlikely to make the biggest impact possible on the most pressing challenges for biodiversity and natural history collections. It’s important to recognize that requesting participation in an online consulting process will often privilege those in the know, who feel qualified to speak, have the situated resources in place to participate, and have the authority to make time in their own schedules.
The broader consulting process (i.e. beyond this phase of discussion) should put a priority on actively surveying related efforts in less well-represented countries/regions, including individuals involved in collections, government agencies, and NGOs operating in those areas. Bezuidenhout et al. 2017 provide a useful model for collecting information on situated “conversion factors” that “are the considerations that frustrate or enable individuals’ ability to effectively use the resources available to them in order to pursue their sought after ‘beings’ and ‘doings.’” The study focuses specifically on researchers in biochemistry but could usefully inform our understanding or questions on obstacles and enablers for online use of collections information.
Bezuidenhout, Louise M, Sabina Leonelli, Ann H Kelly, and Brian Rappert. 2017. “Beyond the Digital Divide: Towards a Situated Approach to Open Data.” Science and Public Policy 44 (4): 464–75. doi:10.1093/scipol/scw036.