By Matthew Child

The biodiversity informatics community has rightly spent a lot of resources on developing data management skills across the continent. But how do we ensure the mobilised datasets make their way into policy? The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) collaborated with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) to design the Data Use for Decision-making workshop focussing on skills to package datasets into information products more digestible to end users.

This represents the first time all three institutions have come together to pool their resources and experiences to enhance the continental community of practice. The workshop was hosted at SANBI from the 9th to 13th of April and convened 55 trainees from 30 African countries. Most trainees also attended the Data Management workshop hosted in December 2017, or had attended data management training before, thus ensuring continuity in skills development. Such complementarity was designed to help move the community further along the data-science-policy value chain and grow the community of practice for biodiversity assessment work.

The workshop focussed on four key areas: understanding data quality and fitness for use, producing ecological niche models, producing Red List assessments and “selling” information products to end users using stakeholder and entry point analysis. One of the highlights was an elevator pitch game where groups had two minutes to pitch their biodiversity information products to the (often uncompromising) Minster of Agriculture.

SANBI had a major presence in the mainstreaming component of the workshop, ranging from talks on the National Biodiversity Assessment to using species data in Red List assessments and other international assessments and general heuristics for good mainstreaming practices. Furthermore, the mainstreaming group work exercises were co-developed by SANBI and UNEP-WCMC and can be recycled into other capacity development initiatives implemented by SANBI both in South Africa and in other projects working across the region.

This workshop is a step towards driving coordination and skill development for the GBIF Africa network. Many participants remarked on being inspired to make greater use of their data and thus empowering both individual and institutional agency towards the sustainable development agenda. As such, the event has helped imprint SANBI’s value on the continent as a convener of the biodiversity informatics community and has provided further opportunities for collaborations with partner institutions across the continent, which will feed into ongoing and future projects.

This workshop has helped to operationalize three strategic objectives in the SANBI Regional Engagement Strategy for Africa (2016-2021) including Strategic Objective 2 on supporting biodiversity assessments and planning; Strategic Objective 3 on engaging collaboratively in the region in support of the data-science-policy interface; and Strategic Objective 4 on building capacity across the value chain. Ultimately, we have consolidated a network of scientists across the continent that can contribute in future to international conventions and requests, such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessments, in a coordinated and robust manner.

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