South African National Biodiversity Institute (2016)

African Biodiversity Challenge: Unlocking Data for Sustainable Development

Project Details

Grant Amount: $250,000
Contact: Matthew Child
Contact Email: M.Child 'atsign'
Project Links:

For information on the preceding phase of this project, click here.


Despite the need for, and value of, African biodiversity information, fewer than 4% of the total species occurrence records that have been published through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, GBIF, are of African flora and fauna. Thus, African species, which represent one-fifth of the world’s mammal and one-quarter of the world’s bird species, are dramatically underrepresented. Moreover, most of the records of African occurrences have been published by non-African institutions. The lack of data-sharing in Africa is often attributed to insufficient capacity and weak incentives. Likewise, the weak political traction that biodiversity informatics commands, and the resulting low funding it receives, have been linked to difficulty in communicating the benefits of biodiversity data publishing.

This project will address these obstacles and opportunities with the African Biodiversity Challenge (ABC), which will seek to capacitate and incentivize African countries to mobilize biodiversity data in support of sustainable development. A prior phase of this project, which attempted to stimulate 16 countries to mobilize data and to develop national data sharing platforms, experienced limited success because the geographic, cultural, and political contexts were too numerous and varied to accommodate in a single effort. In response, this project narrows its focus to three countries, and draws on new tools to generate incentive and build capacity, namely, a cash prize for the country that makes the greatest progress in data mobilization, and more in-country training and investment to enable participants to succeed. In making these changes, SANBI hopes to have a more substantial impact in a smaller number of countries that will inspire other countries to follow suit, and to provide technical regional technical capacity for institutional data sharing.

Key Objectives and Activities

The African Biodiversity Challenge (ABC) is a competitive training opportunity that will enhance the capacity of three African countries to manage and share biodiversity data, by providing each with an intensive individualized training program. Project objectives are to:

  • Identify and engage strategic partners in 3 African countries. From a pool of preselected applicants, the project will choose and solidify partnerships with 3 countries to participate in the ABC. By convening partners in each of the ABC countries, the project will contextualize the individual challenges of publishing biodiversity data in each, as well as the lessons learned in surmounting obstacles common to all.
  • Identify data mobilization priorities in each ABC country and develop individualized data mobilization roadmaps. The project will support the capability of each country to carry out plans by providing customized training and support from informatics specialists.
  • Incent roadmap implementation through a competition for a monetary prize among ABC countries for greatest number of published species occurrence records (US$30,000 for first, US$20,000 for second, and US$10,000 for third place).
  • Leverage additional resources to support continued data mobilization.
  • Facilitate knowledge exchange by publicizing data and growth of national biodiversity informatics capacity.

Planned Outputs

  • Publication of 60,000+ species occurrence records through GBIF
  • Publicity and cash prizes for countries with most records published
  • Training in data mobilization for 15 individual partners (5 from each participant country)
  • Publication of 3 project webpages
  • Presentations at 5+ conferences
  • Submission of 3 funding proposals (1 from each participant country) to sustain data mobilization efforts beyond scope of the challenge.

Planned Outcomes

Conservation outcomes will include increased availability of relevant, high-quality biodiversity information to facilitate research, planning, and decision-making processes by scientists, civil servants, and policymakers. Though the direct involvement of the project will be limited to the three countries actively participating in the challenge, the project could serve to inspire other African countries to follow suit, thereby catalyzing growth in data sharing on the continent. It is also expected that the momentum generated during the challenge will motivate participant countries to continue data mobilization efforts on their own well into the future.  The roadmaps developed by each country should provide models for other countries to emulate and for a potential future round of funding.

Last Updated: September 28th, 2017

Related Publications

  • SANBI (2015) Africa Rising: Mobilizing Biodiversity Data for Sustainable Development. Official Conference Report. Cape Town, South Africa. (download)

Project Director Biography

Matthew Child is the Biodiversity Informatics Project Coordinator at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). His work entails supporting and incentivizing functional networks between data holders and end users across the continent to enhance the mainstreaming of biodiversity information into policy.

Matthew previously worked at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa in coordinating the revision of the national Red List of mammals, where he learned valuable lessons in stakeholder engagement and information management. Prior to this, he was involved in the Conservation Evidence project at Cambridge University where he co-authored the first global synopsis of evidence for the effects of bird conservation.

He has published multiple scientific papers and reports, ranging from behavioural ecology to conservation philosophy, and holds an M.Sc from the University of Cape Town and an M.Phil from the Cambridge University. He is currently undertaking a PhD in conservation policy through the Centre for Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria, which he hopes will help establish systems to make conservation research more relevant to policy.

Notes From JRS

The prior project directed by SANBI was very successful in working with stakeholders to identify data needs, processes for mobilizing data and building data partnerships, and strengthening professional networks supported by GBIF, JRS, and others.  However, by spreading attention and resources across a large number of countries, no single country was propelled to a new and sustained level of biodiversity data mobilization. The many lessons of that effort have been applied to the design of this project.  More work will be done in partnership with other organizations, stakeholders will be more involved in design and in processes, and resources will be focused on fewer countries.  Prize mechanisms have proven to be valuable tools to motivate innovation and performance and to attract attention to their goals.  We are excited to fund this new and innovative effort and to work with SANBI and other JRS Grantees to support its success.

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