Proceedings and conclusions of a workshop on biodiversity data sharing and sovereignty

  • Farmland. Image - Roger Carran

    Farmland. Image - Roger Carran

  • Kawakawa


  • Petrel in flight. Image - John Hunt

    Petrel in flight. Image - John Hunt

We all benefit when researcher can communicate, collaborate and share data. Data sharing is key to identifying large-scale trends, answering the big questions and data modellers need access to multiple big data sets to tackle ‘wild problems’. However, data sharing is a complex issue. Data access requires the removal of legal and financial barriers, technical solutions around storage and access and an understanding of the issues around data sovereignty including the need for Māori governance of data that are uniquely Māori.

BioHeritage and affiliated organisations have institutional and funding requirements for data sharing. These requirements; who can access the data, the extent of the data to be shared, and who bares the cost of data sharing can vary by organisation and data set.

To assist with establishing guidelines on biodiversity data sharing and sovereignty BioHeritage commissioned a report  to establish the issues that need to be considered on sharing biodiversity data especially in the context of private lands, in particular Māori land and to establish a team to draft a future proposal and prepare a manuscript on the topic for publication.

The report was based on a workshop held on the 1 March 2017. The workshop generated a range of perspectives on the issue and enabling groups of individuals to interact who had not done so before. However, the goal of pulling together a team to both draft a future proposal and prepare a manuscript on the topic for publication was deemed to be unrealistic at this stage, because the overall scope is too broad to make meaningful progress.

Report Highlights

The biggest concern of data owners and those who believe they have biodiversity data or knowledge rights is that sharing or even meta sharing will result in loss of control over:

  • the “exclusive” knowledge (which can be associated with identity, influence and reputation)
  • the biota depicted or the land itself
  • the actual or potential flow of benefits from the biota or knowledge about its occurrence or uses

Landowners have diverse perspectives on access to biodiversity data collected from their lands that in part reflect whether they are the data users or data providers. These include:

  • frustration over the inability to access government-held data that may be viewed by government as proprietary (e.g. mining licences allowing land exploitation)
  • the desire to know about the variety of data held by government and research institutes associated with their lands
  • when sharing data or allowing data to be collected from their lands, the desire to meaningfully engage throughout the process to enable landowners to realise knowledge gains from these data
  • concern about such data being used to underpin regulations that are divorced from a deep connection with the land and understanding of it (this is of concern to individual private landowners more than collective landowners, such as Māori groups, because the latter are more accustomed to being regulated, both internally and externally).

Some differences in perspectives between stakeholders wanting access to data and landowners appear to be irreconcilable. Some believe non-government organisation (NGO) environmental advocacy groups have a unique role in speaking for the environment. As such they require access to data to underpin this role. This is sometimes in direct conflict with Māori landowner perspectives that are enshrined in principles such as kaitiakitanga and have their basis in their long-standing knowledge and experience in relation to their land and its biodiversity.

Among landowners there was a clear distinction between Māori groups and individual landowners, in that the former own land collectively, and Māori lands usually cannot be sold. This leads to a divergence in perspectives about suitable use, knowledge of and responsibility for these lands.

Workshop discussions revealed that the nature of the concerns regarding data sharing is very different for collectively owned Māori lands and lands owned by individuals.