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Online Data Sharing for Ecological Consultants

Online Data Sharing for Ecological Consultants

22 Oct 2012

The IEEM Code of Professional Conduct (2011) states that members shall:

Wherever possible, make scientific data collected during the course of their professional duties available to others such as records centres.

Concerns about data ownership and confidentiality can be overcome by inserting a standard clause into all client contracts allowing the release of data gathered during ecological surveys.  However, a more significant barrier is the time and cost of sharing data.  It has been suggested by the consultancy sector that “a common data entry gateway” with “automated reposting to the appropriate LRC[1]” would make it easier for consultants to share survey data.  In a recent survey of 473 ecological consultants, 45% of respondents said that an easier submission system would encourage them to share data[2].

Defra have provided funding through their contract for the development of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) for the creation of a data entry system designed for use by consultants.  This data entry system must be designed with the needs of consultants in mind; it must be usable in the field as well as in the office and it must process species and habitat data into a format that can be used in client reports.  

We therefore propose to put together a small steering group to liaise with the developer throughout the development process in order to ensure that the data entry system fulfils consultants’ requirements and actually makes their work easier.

The steering group should represent the diversity of the ecological consultancy sector, from large corporations to the self-employed, and should include specialists in terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats and species.

Steering group members will be asked to:

  • Provide a description of the full range of data they collect and the formats in which they present it to clients, along with initial ideas on what features they would like to see incorporated in a data entry system (November-December 2012)
  • Review a draft specification of a data entry system and provide input to inform the final specification for development (January-March 2013)
  • Test a beta version of the online data entry system and providing feedback to improve the system before it is made more widely available (May 2013 to end of survey season)
  • Use the final version of the online data entry system to share their data (2014 survey season and ongoing)

Most communication will take place via e-mail and telephone, but we will aim to assemble the whole steering group for a meeting on two occasions in 2013, probably at the beginning and end of the survey season (travel expenses will be paid).

The data entry system can consist of several data entry forms tailored to different survey methodologies.  The forms could be made accessible on a single independent website, but could also be integrated into a consultancy’s own website, a local records centre’s website or the IEEM website, and could also be made available as an app for smartphones and iPads.  All data entry portals will be linked to iRecord for secure data storage on the Biological Records Centre servers, centralised verification by experts and onward data flow to local records centres and other data users via the NBN Gateway.

For further information please contact

[1] Tasker, A. (2010) ‘Where is all the data going? An extra view’ In Practice Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, Number 70

[2] Hunt, T. (2012) ‘Surveying IEEM members attitudes to LRCs and biodiversity data’ In Practice Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, Number 77

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