Plans for consultation processes within the alliance for biodiversity knowledge

Donald Hobern, GBIF Secretariat, 11 March 2019

The goal of the alliance for biodiversity knowledge is to be as inclusive as possible and open to inputs from all interested stakeholders. We propose therefore to consult as widely as possible at all stages in the planning and establishment of the alliance and also as a model for how the alliance should carry on all its future business.

The focus during 2019 will be on establishing the model, governance and operational plans for the alliance. Several forms of consultation will be used to make this happen.

Web forum

We have opened several discussion threads on the GBIF Discourse Forum to capture early responses and comments on the concept of the alliance. We hope that discussion on these threads will help to define the parameters for subsequent consultations. Please contribute to the discussion by entering any concerns or questions and helping us to understand what issues need further exploration. At this stage, these forum threads are in English, but we welcome posts in other languages and will seek to integrate ideas into the English-language discussions.

We will use this blog to provide perspectives that may contribute to the discussions. If you are interested in authoring a blog post (in English or another language), please email us at alliance@gbif.org.

White papers

We intend to summarize intermediate proposals and final decisions as a series of white papers. We encourage interested stakeholders to coauthor and contribute to the preparation of these papers.

Each paper will then be distributed for wider discussion and further refinement, with versions or summaries offered in multiple languages whenever feasible—starting with the six official UN languages, but extending further as the community wishes. We will use virtual conferences or face-to-face workshops (both discussed below) to support the conversation where significant or complex matters require evaluation.

If we do not reach adequate consensus about next steps, we will repeat the process with additional consultation around a revised document.

Please follow the discussion and register to participate in all stages in this process. By joining the mailing list or following @AllianceforBio on Twitter, you will be kept informed of consultations as they are announced. We also welcome continuing offers of assistance in translating materials into languages other than English.

Virtual conferences

Some consultations will require intensive discussion by many stakeholders. As far as possible, we hope to make such consultations as open and inclusive as possible. For this reason, and to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions, we propose to experiment with "virtual conferences" with the following structure:

  1. Each virtual conference has a defined topic and set of questions that need to be addressed. These may be based on a prepared white paper.
  2. Invited contributors prepare documents, record video presentations or provide other materials to provide background, propose solutions or otherwise stimulate the discussion.
  3. All materials are uploaded to a conference site, ideally with at least summaries in multiple key languages.
  4. A virtual conference normally continues for a defined period of two to three weeks.
  5. Participants from anywhere in the world can contribute at any time to online discussion threads relating to the topic and questions.
  6. A small team of facilitators oversee the discussions and regularly (daily or once every few days) produce summary documents highlighting what seems to be well agreed and what questions remain open. They may invite participants to author or record new materials to support the discussions.
  7. At the end of the conference, the facilitators produce a summary paper from the discussions.
  8. The summary paper is open for review and corrections for a period following the conference.
  9. All materials, including discussion threads, can be saved and made available online for subsequent access.

We hope that a model like this will make it easier to include contributions from all over the world, including from those who may not be free to travel or who can only participate at particular times of the day or week. Savings recouped from travel costs could likely fund both the development of a good tool/platform for this purpose and activities of facilitators and translators.

Face-to-face workshops

Face-to-face workshops are often important for developing mutual understanding and enabling a core group of practitioners or experts to explore an issue and develop recommendations. A downside is the difficulty of ensuring that all perspectives are properly represented, which is one of the drivers for exploring virtual conferences. Face-to-face workshops are likely to be particularly effective for concentrated discussion of detailed technical matters or to develop perspectives at a regional or local level. We aim for all alliance workshops to deliver white papers that can be publicly shared widely and used to seek wider feedback and approval.

GBIF has allocated funding to support workshops and other activities during 2019 and further funds have been made available under the Synthesys+ project funded by the European Commission. Sessions at the biodiversity_next conference in Leiden, Amsterdam in October may also serve as workshops aligned with the alliance.

We encourage stakeholders to plan or to identify conferences and workshops that may contribute to planning for the alliance. Please communicate with alliance@gbif.org to highlight such plans and to coordinate outputs and communications.