South African National Biodiversity Institute (2019)
African Biodiversity Challenge: Unlocking Decision-Data Pathways for Sustainable Development
Last Updated: July 3rd, 2020
Biodiversity data must be factored into decision-making for sustainable development in Africa. However, the institutions that generate data rarely engage the institutions who might use the data to make decisions. Decision-data “pathways” are the products, institutions, and people that move biodiversity data from scientist to decision-makers. The pathways need to be established and sustained if biodiversity data is to lead to conservation action in multiple economic sectors.
This project will develop these decision-data pathways and is built upon two prior successful, JRS-funded projects led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The first project was aimed at mobilizing African biodiversity data and developing data sharing platforms. It proved to be a significant anchor of biodiversity informatics capacity-development and networking in sub-Saharan Africa, but the success rate of participants was lower than expected. The lessons learned were applied to the second project, the African Biodiversity Challenge: Unlocking Data for Sustainable Development. In this first African Biodiversity Challenge (ABC), stakeholder teams from four countries created plans for data mobilization and competed to publish the most biodiversity data for a cash prize. The project’s design established national Biodiversity Information Management Forums and the prize mechanism supported the successful mobilization of biodiversity data. The Ghana team was awarded first place, contributing nearly half of the 47,000 new biodiversity data records that the teams collectively published to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
However, SANBI and its national partners were less successful in the uptake of data into decisions. They concluded that accessibility of biodiversity data may not be enough to lead to conservation outcomes without incentivizing uptake by end-users. This project aims to increase data uptake by re-orienting the competition to focus on decision-making. The decisions that require biodiversity data will be identified first and then the products that fit the purpose will be designed. Products comprise assessments, maps, indicators, monitoring frameworks, analyses, or any other packaging of raw data from which decision-makers can more easily interpret to make policy decisions. This approach aims to serve demand for biodiversity data and empower stakeholders to establish policy-relevant data pathways that sustain strategic, adaptive partnerships between data holders and end-users.
Key Objectives and Activities
- Engage decision-makers from Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana, and South Africa to gain an understanding of policy frameworks and entry points for biodiversity data in detail.
- Co-design successful decision-data pathways and develop biodiversity information products to respond to user needs.
- Facilitate biodiversity scientists and decision-making technicians to revise the products to meet the needs of real problems.
- Monitor the prize money awarded to the winning team and develop funding proposals to sustain the momentum of the work.
Video Progress Update, May 2020
With COVID-19 restricting travel and meeting with our grantees, JRS invited our projects to submit a short update for the JRS Board of Trustees. Though intended for an internal JRS audience, we loved these videos and share them here with permission. Enjoy!
Each of the teams will produce the following for the competition:
- Entry point and stakeholder maps to identify decision-making processes.
- A training package and resource guideline for the chosen data-decision pathway(s).
- Fit for purpose biodiversity information products.
- A sustainability plan that incentivizes product revisions.
- Mobilization of data streams for the products.
SANBI will award prizes of US$30,000 for first, US$20,000 for second, and US$10,000 for third place. SANBI will provide technical assistance throughout the project and conduct a similar effort within South Africa. The team will produce competition reports and prize-money spending reports to assess project impact.
This project will connect biodiversity scientists with the planning and regulatory decision-making process. By including decision-making institutions from inception to define the problems, scientists will be able to identify opportunities for biodiversity data to influence policy. Success will be measurable positive effects for biodiversity conservation on the ground, recurring demand for revised data products, and adjusted workflows and resourcing to meet those needs.
Results to Date
- All teams have completed entry point and stakeholder maps and reports and are engaging decision-makers.
- The Ghana team has completed institutional audits on decision-making processes.
- In South Africa, the Department of Environmental, Forestry and Fisheries established the Wildlife Economy Certification Task Team, a new technical working group to develop the decision-data pathways.
- A first draft of an open-access mainstreaming toolkit has been developed to help stakeholders plan and implement decision-data pathways.
The inaugural African Biodiversity Challenge demonstrated the power of working in teams to break down silos between data holders and end users and achieve success. A great camaraderie was instilled between team members, which extended to other institutions during the first national Biodiversity Information Management Forums. However, translating biodiversity data into information products more relevant to decision-makers remained challenging. Each team will now work more specifically with end users to design a biodiversity information product that solves a decision-making need. By demonstrating the potential for biodiversity data to lead to action in a short time-span, the teams hope to incentivize broader support and investment for biodiversity information systems and technology in their countries.
The first six months of this project revealed complex groups of stakeholders and a wide range of challenges in developing biodiversity information products. Great progress has been made by all teams in identifying and engaging decision-makers, but varied levels of training and analytical skillsets, as well as COVID-19 impacts, threaten to slow progress as the teams enter the next phase of product development. An emphasis will be placed on keeping things simple and building basic prototypes quickly in order to sustain momentum through product development and data mobilization.
Project Director Biography
Matthew Child managed the first edition of the Africa Biodiversity Challenge from 2017 – 2019. He 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.
Notes From JRS
JRS has been on a learning journey with SANBI regarding the best ways to provide support for self-sustaining capacity development for biodiversity informatics. Over almost a decade of partnership, we have evolved from a view that valuable datasets would motivate use to a view that immediate and local demand for information is the key to motivate data mobilization and access. Historically, the biodiversity informatics community emerged from academic research, taxonomy, and museum collections management. Informatics practitioners are not always comfortable with connecting directly to policy-makers in conservation – and even less so in other economic sectors. We hope that by explicitly funding in the gap between data holders and data users, that we can learn valuable lessons about the processes, politics, skills, and technology needed to complete the pathways from data to decisions. We are excited to see the expanding network of biodiversity data scientists in Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda and hope that this investment will work in concert with our other grants and national efforts to the benefit of national stakeholders.