All Pictures by Jani Järvi (CC BY 2.0)
On the 26th of February, the ICEDIG consortium had the honour of hosting its final conference, roughly a month before the meeting will come to a close. The event was split in two parts. The first one was devoted to the practical applications of (digital) collections and how digitisation can change the way we do research while the afternoon session was dedicated to the project and its main outcomes.
Opening the conference was project leader and director of the Finnish Museum of Natural History - Luomus Leif Schulman. He talked about what digitisation - that magical buzzword promising to improve lives - actually means in the context of biodiversity sciences and how it is done in practice. This included a short ride through the history of digital collections. ICEDIG has been contributing in many dimensions when it comes to making digital collections a reality. Digitisation requires a complete change in attitude to overcome its problems, many of which are not new: Agreeing on data standards, actually digitising collections, overcoming the unwillingness to share data, implementing stable identifiers etc.
Next was Otso Ovaskainen who presented the new ERC Grant project LIFEPLAN that aims to establish the current state of biodiversity across the globe, and to use our insights for generating accurate predictions of its future state under future scenarios. To do so, the project will characterize biological diversity through a worldwide sampling program, and develop the bioinformatic and statistical approaches needed to make the most out of these data and thus wants to generate the most ambitious, globally distributed and systematically collected data set to date on a broad range of taxonomical groups. This means that the data pipelines for LIFEPLAN will generate 1000-5000 terabytes of data. It will also have to foster innovation to fill the need for new methods for DNA, audio and image analysis to automate identification from the global network of sampling sites.
This fascinating look into the world of biodiversity monitoring was followed by Deborah Paul from iDigBio. Her intervention focused on the need of people and skills to free the data trapped in collections. The kind of data necessary for digital collections research or projects like LIFEPLAN. Investing in building these specific digital skills will be essential for the future of collections-based research. She underlined that sharing knowledge, developing skills and finding skilled staff are key issue and pointed out what iDigBio and DiSSCo could learn from each other in that respect. It will also be important to show endurance in the task of building capacity, since this will become a recurring task over the years.
Helen Hardy from the Natural History Museum in London then spoke about what it would actually mean if collections were digital by default, especially in terms of access to collections. Because institutions simply do not know who is not using their collections because of a lack of access. In this context it will be very interesting to follow the development of the SYNTHESYS+ work for ELViS, the loans and visits management system for DiSSCo.
The video recording of these three talks is available here.
During the afternoon sessions, all work package leaders presented their main outcomes from their work on ICEDIG. Just like during the project, many topics were touched upon: from how to prioritise digitisation, how to best use citizen science and the role of private collections, to the more technical side of things regarding techniques of imaging or transcription as well as the handling of data and all questions associated with it. From questions of governance and policies, over experiences from communication and dissemination activities, to very real steps of innovation taken during ICEDIG. The individual talks can be re-lived with the ICEDIG-Twitter feed from that day.
All of these topics as well as the future of the Digital Specimen architecture and the data management plan for DiSSCo will be handed over to the research infrastructure at the end of March, virtually guaranteeing the exploitation of the publicly funded research results, thus contributing to the advancement of science.
The event participants and all the other collaborators of ICEDIG are now back to work, delivering the final project outputs until the end of March, when the Horizon 2020 project will officially end.
We would like to thank the hosts from the Finnish Museum of natural History and the University of Helsinki for their hospitality and all speakers for the great presentations.