The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) has been funded to deliver tools and services to assist users in discovering and using biodiversity data. Ultimately the ALA is intended to serve all groups with an interest in Australian biodiversity. However it is essential that priorities are established to guide the planning and implementation of the project. Such priorities could relate to taxonomic groups of particular significance, to regions of special interest, to specific classes of data, or to information products likely to benefit critical groups of users.
The ALA has commissioned a team from the Australian Museum to survey a wide range of Australian users of biodiversity information to help to develop such priorities. Hundreds of individuals, including officers working for commonwealth and state agencies, researchers from universities and museums, private consultants, and others, have responded to an initial questionnaire including the following questions:
- What biodiversity data do you currently use?
- When looking for biodiversity data where do you tend to go?
- Can you give an example of a task, process or application where you use biodiversity data to achieve an outcome that is core to your work or study?
- If you create biodiversity data, tell us briefly about the data you create. Do you make your data available to others? If so, in what form?
Users have been encouraged to identify all information sources used, including literature and expert knowledge as well as online digital resources.
The survey team has also held workshops to facilitate conversations between groups of users to explore their requirements together. A team carrying out a natural resources assessment for several shires in Western Australia has also been documenting their experiences in gathering data for their work.
The survey team is working to document their findings as an online web resource for use by the ALA and other interested projects (for publication before the end of 2008). This report will seek to identify tasks of importance to numbers of users, the sources of information contributing to these tasks, and the key difficulties facing users in performing these tasks today. The ALA will then use these findings to prioritise data sets and tools which can contribute most effectively to addressing the needs of identified user groups. The approach is also expected to allow the ALA to include representative users to help to measure the benefit of the ALA's activities.
Early results have allowed the team to identify several essential tasks which are important to many users. Sessions 11 and 12 of the TDWG 2008 Annual Conference will be devoted to parallel workshops to explore these tasks:
- Distribution analysis - how to make the best possible use of all available specimen, observational and other data to determine the likely range for any given species.
- Site assessment - how to make the best possible use of all available specimen, observational and other data to report the list of species known and expected to occur at a particular site or in a particular area.
- Identification - how to present users with the fullest and most useful resources for identifying organisms from a given taxonomic group and region (including identification of organisms for which no key is available).
- Maintaining web databases - how to assist those who maintain specialised web databases (e.g. databases on toxicology, ethnobotany, herpetology or the wildlife of a local region) with locating new data resources and maintaining taxonomic currency.
- Recording amateur observations - how to assist and encourage the capture of observational data from amateur naturalists and others, and to manage associated quality issues.
- Including sensitive data - how to integrate and manage sensitive data (of any kind) to meet user needs while maintaining safeguards to the satisfaction of data providers. (This will be discussed in relation to the 5 other tasks.)
In each case, the following questions will be considered:
- What data need to be mobilised?
- How can they be mobilised?
- What data integration services are required?
- What user interfaces and applications would benefit users?
- Are there opportunities for TDWG member projects to work together in this area?