Strategic initiatives

  • Lockwood Range,Kahurangi National Park. Image - Andrea Byrom

    Lockwood Range,Kahurangi National Park. Image - Andrea Byrom

International partnership: Biomes of Australian Soil Environments (BASE)

A key strategic aim for the BioHeritage Challenge is to provide opportunities for New Zealand scientists to collaborate internationally. The team in the Metabarcoding for environmental monitoring (eDNA) project is collaborating with BASE, which aims to develop an eDNA atlas of biodiversity for Australian soils, informatics infrastructure, and standardised methods of analysis for such data. The collaboration allows the New Zealand team to exchange staff and hold workshops to considerably extend their scale and reach and share expertise with Australian colleagues.

A biosphere data commons for Aotearoa

Most data in today’s world are controlled by large private and public organisations, which in practice regard data as their own private property. They share such data only within narrowly defined parameters, where the value of such data is only for the private user. Yet data sharing is key to identifying large-scale trends and to answering big questions. 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, it needs technical solutions relating to storage, and it requires an understanding of the issues around data sovereignty, including the need for Māori governance of data that are uniquely Māori. While data sharing and reuse at scale can create signifi cant value for all parties, this only works if participants can create and maintain a high-trust relationship.

Existing models for enabling data sharing, integration and reuse fail because they do not address how to maintain a high-trust relationship. The dominant approach tends to be to build technically focused point solutions that are highly specific to a particular context. Moreover, data users tend to address only their own needs, frequently overlooking the interests of the data contributor. At best there is lip service to consent and minimal personal control for the contributor, or at worst coercive harvesting of data. Because these attempts fail to develop trusted relationships from the beginning, they become costly and hard to scale. The alternative is to establish a data commons.

A commons-based approach builds trust and scalability by adhering to a set of principles and impacts that embed an inclusive and open approach to data for every participant. In addition, by setting up a protocol-based approach, the data commons is scalable and lower-cost.

The New Zealand Data Futures Partnership, the NEXT Foundation, the BioHeritage Challenge and Inflection co-funded development of a blueprint for an alternative model to enable data sharing in New Zealand. The New Zealand Data Commons Blueprint is published under an open Creative Commons licence. The next step is to test a number of ‘biosphere’ case studies related to New Zealand’s biological heritage in the pest, biosecurity, biodiversity and freshwater domains.

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