Ecolynx Project: Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation

Conclusions and recommendations

Product definition

Process-dependent features

This product is different from most other existing information in services. Aside from considerations of quality of content and its design, its viability is highly dependent on integration of several processes involving its information providers and users. These process factors can be summarized as:

Information-gathering through contact with those most motivated to provide the information, usually involving free exchange of information. This relationship with providers has to be handled with great sensitivity, which needs to be reflected in the design of the product/service and the manner in which the information is made available to ensure cost recovery. This phase will be to a significant extent dependent on interactive updating (see Interactivity with CD-ROM and Web users).

Information processing of the information received is vital as a means of ensuring a quality product/service conforming to particular standards of presentation. This phase tends to be resource intensive in terms of conceptual/research concerns and data manipulation. The smooth integration of associated editorial work is a continuing challenge to the design and use of software essential to this phase, notably in terms of use of information on the Web or presented as feedback messages.

Marketing of the product and service to potential users will benefit considerably from Web facilities and hyperlink integration with other Web sites. Of special concern is the continuing effort to strike a balance between presentation of information at zero cost (both to satisfy minimal needs of a particular class of users and to attract new users) and implementation of one or more systems of charges. This must be done flexibly to satisfy the differing needs of the principal partners and to take account of any special contractual relationships they may have with their own collaborators.

Updating of the information is necessarily a direct and essential consequence of the interactive nature of the product/service and vital to its sustainability through the involvement of active users. This phase feeds back into the information gathering phase. 6.1.2 Product-Process-Service Given the integral nature of user/contributor participation in this product, it should be designed to produce a hybrid "product/service". This will combine attributes of:

  • a single tangible product, in the form of a CD-ROM, in response to any user preference for this medium over a Web product
  • an ongoing service, in the form of a continuously updated Web database, partially output on CD as and when required
  • an interactive process ensuring effective continuing communication between providers of the information in the database, passive users of that information, and active users concerned to improve / query / debate that information in an interactive mode.

Target user group

It is recognised that:

  • datasets for this product/service are largely in English and currently written in a style which may be termed ‘professional/academic’; and that
  • the partners providing content to this product have mandates to develop their data-sets beyond the constraints of what might be termed first-order user specific inquiries, and that they seek to provide users with new facilities in response to what might be termed second- and third-order inquiries.

This product/service should be designed for a ‘professional user-group’, which includes specialists (professional and amateur) in conservation and biodiversity work, policy-makers, researchers, consultants, NGOs, the media and educators. The activities and communications of these groups, especially the last three, should provide one channel for the information provided by this product to reach other non-professional sectors of society. Another channel for non-professional users with Internet capability is that the information be made accessible on the Web. Many students will fall into this category.

It is noted that professional users themselves fall into different groups, the biodiversity professional and other professionals, each with its own particular needs and capabilities. The design of the databases should consider these differences.

In order to ensure that the information products and services meet user needs, a programme of liaison with users should include the following:

  • At the beginning of the Implementation Phase the project, partners would present demonstrations of the prototype information services to a wide range of users, both in workshops/seminars, and in one-to-one meetings.
  • As implementation proceeds, the partners will involve important users in review of new components of the information services as they are developed.
  • Users of all information services provided by the partner organizations will be invited to provide comment on those services and how they might be developed, (see also Interactivity with CD-ROM and Web users).
  • Information providers and collaborators will similarly be invited to collaborate in review of the information services.

These processes will stress active interaction as user-partners rather than a passive user role. In this sense, the project is designed to develop future user needs rather than solely to respond to first-order user needs of the present.

Data ownership

Discussions should be held and agreements recorded in writing at any stage of the project where issues of concern or potential conflict arise for any of the partners. In particular, clarification should be sought (and duly recorded) at an early stage concerning any residual copyright or intellectual property rights matters which could be relevant to the eventual production and dissemination of the product.

It is recommended that the specialist policy and marketing partners in the consortium (IEEP and NSM), who are minor partners in terms of production and ownership of its information content, should be required to sign agreements to waive any commercial or intellectual property rights to the product (other than appropriate mention as contributors). The principal partners, in terms of data ownership (UIA and WCMC), should reach agreement on how they will disseminate the product and distribute any benefits arising from its development and dissemination. A basic agreement should be reached before the contract for the Implementation Phase is signed.

Networks of information

Published or copyrighted third-party images (movies, sounds etc) is the only area where issues of intellectual property rights over content become significant for this project. Indeed the cost of using copyrighted photographs on the Web may be quite excessive without adequate user charges from which royalties can be paid. Solutions will differ for CD-ROM and Web formats, depending on the use of htm.

It is recommended that there should not be any significant budget devoted to acquiring use rights for copyrighted materials. The current solution (in the prototype) relies on the nature of the Web itself to enable direct and easy user access to such materials, if required. The information provided by the partners, in addition to hyperlinking to each other, should aim to:

  • hyperlink to specific websites which may have copyrighted or for-a-fee material. It is then for the user to negotiate an appropriate relationship with the proprietor. Some thought is however being given to "pass through" charging, whereby WCMC or UIA makes a deal for any users with the owner and recovers any costs from those users.
  • formulate search engine queries as hyperlinks, providing users with whatever resources are detectable by the search engine. This has the advantage of keeping the information up to date at zero cost and leaves the user free to explore the results and use them within whatever constraints are indicated by the proprietors of the data.

Review and potentials for implementation phase

The four consortium partners are enthusiastic about the results and potentials of this project. IEEP has enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the development of an information product of direct benefit to itself and others acting in the environmental policy arena. Graham Bennett, Director of IEEP, looks forward to contributing to the user workshops (through the proposed new project partner AIDEnvironment).

NMS has appreciated the focus provided by this project in providing advice for a concrete electronic publishing project and honing its electronic marketing expertise. Ken Friedman’s contribution would be extended during the Implementation Phase to product design issues.

UIA has found this project pivotal in the development of its Web-based information strategy and its long-standing aspirations for participative and interactive online editing of information by international organizations and others.

Quite apart from the value of the integrated information and its dissemination, WCMC regards this project as a vitally important vehicle for increasing the ability of the Centre to provide access to information of importance in biodiversity conservation. Indeed, this project is a "jumping off point" for future information services, for review and update of the information, and for developing collaborative work with other organizations. WCMC has therefore taken steps to review parts of the information services developed so far, with appropriate organizations (including potential users and collaborators such as IUCN, BirdLife International, the CITES Secretariat and the World Heritage Centre). WCMC has been working with some of these organizations to develop plans for the future maintenance of the datasets, and for addition of other relevant data (including maps).

There is considerable potential for increasing the availability of this information further, and for increasing its integration with other datasets and with the information available on the strategies and agreements and their implementation. There is also considerable addition scope for increasing linkages with other relevant information sites on the Web. This would be done as part of the Implementation Phase of the project.

As the consortium has worked to develop proposals for future funding of the project. Opportunities to draw in a wide range of collaborators have become apparent, as has also the potential for co-financing of certain components. These opportunities will be explored in the coming months.

Note that in carrying out this work, the partners have deliberately developed information tools and services that can stand independently, as the opportunities to develop collaborative relationships with other organizations interested in these datasets is thereby improved, and hence the opportunities for co-financing.