Findings from the Specimen Management Plan Community Survey

Representatives from the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) and the U.S. Culture Collection Network (USCCN), in partnership with the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Natural Science Collections Alliance, held a webinar on February 7, 2023 on the need for a Specimen Management Plan requirement in research proposals that generate living or preserved specimens.  Recommended by the National Academies’ report on biological collections in 2020, this requirement was supported by the recently enacted CHIPS and Science Act.  Webinar panelists discussed the elements of a specimen management plan and its benefits to various stakeholder communities. 

After the program, BCoN and USCCN requested community feedback on the webinar as well as their draft proposal regarding implementation of the specimen management plan requirement.  In total, 39 responses were received, which are summarized below.

  • 36 out of 39 respondents agreed that a Specimen Management Plan (SMP) is a necessary requirement for research funding proposals that generate living or preserved specimens. The remaining three responses were “I’m not sure.”  The hesitancy to express unqualified support for an SMP included concerns about how an SMP requirement would impact compliance with the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol, the potential cost of implementation of an SMP, and whether or not implementing this requirement might discourage collecting in some situations.  
  • When asked if there were any elements missing from the BCoN-USCCN draft proposal, several respondents expressed the proposal should have included more information about benefit sharing (Nagoya Protocol) compliance.  One respondent felt that the SMP was too narrow in scope, i.e., it should apply to previously collected specimens as well as newly collected ones.  Another felt that the SMP should include a sanctioned list of repositories, and another believed that the plan should be more explicit about ownership agreements for specimens deposited under an SMP.  Other perceived omissions in the draft proposal concerned a lack of mention in the plan of specimen loans, the role of publishers, and collections workforce training.
  • When asked about some barriers a collections manager might face in implementing an SMP requirement, several respondents feared that the SMP requirement would increase the workload, especially extra record-keeping and other bureaucratic tasks, for collections managers.  Another concern expressed was enforcement – who will make sure the SMP is followed and what are the consequences for non-compliance?  Some also anticipated push back from researchers about the protocols that many collections have established to streamline the incorporation of new specimens – they envisioned that researchers will perceive compliance as too much work.  Another concern was that the collections manager might be out of the loop when the agreement is negotiated and that key elements will be left out of the plan.  
  • When asked about some barriers a researcher might face in formulating an SMP, some of the concerns that were expressed included a lack of knowledge on the part of the researcher about which collection would be an appropriate partner in an SMP.  Researchers who don’t already have a relationship with a collection may have a difficult time finding a partner with whom to establish this type of cooperative arrangement.  Also, a lack of knowledge about collection processing and management might make it difficult to know whether or not the protocols suggested by the prospective collection partner are the best ones for their collections.  Other perceived concerns are the cost (especially if subtracted from the potential project total), the additional work burden, and the difficulty of estimating the number of specimens that will be generated through a particular research project.
  • 36 out of the 39 respondents agreed that funding support for collections care and management should be an integral part of an SMP.