Biological diversity makes human life on Earth possible. Unfortunately, we are at a time in Earth’s history when an increasing number of species are at risk of extinction. Despite the significance of this issue, the scientists and institutions at the forefront of efforts to understand biodiversity are ringing alarm bells about inadequate investments in this scientific research and infrastructure. Poor communication within the biodiversity collections community and between the community and decision-makers has been identified as a contributing factor. A new report from the Biodiversity Collections Network outlines actions the community should take to better communicate with and engage the public, decision-makers, and other stakeholders.
Biological diversity collections leaders, scientists, communications professionals, and scientific organization leaders met at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for a workshop organized by the Biodiversity Collections Network. The Collections Communications Workshop was convened to consider and offer recommendations about: 1) Opportunities and barriers to communicating the benefits of biodiversity collections to decision-makers and the public; 2) Opportunities provided by national digitization initiatives to engage new stakeholders; 3) Existing communication resources and the need to develop new tools and resources; and, 4) Development of a networked community of communications professionals that could collaborate to deliver a proactive message about biodiversity and biodiversity collections to the public.
“Workshop participants were clear: The time for business as usual has passed,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the workshop organizer. “Threats to biodiversity are increasing. There is a real concern that the scientific community does not have the resources necessary to answer important questions.”
This concern has been reinforced recently as state and federal agencies have reduced or withdrawn support for biodiversity collections. The biodiversity community has responded to these developments in ways similar to those envisioned by workshop participants. The responses have been reactive, however, and not proactive.
“These developments show how important it is that we do a better job of communicating about both the increased demand for spatial and temporal data on biodiversity and the vitally important research that biodiversity collections enable,” said Dr. Joseph Cook, President of the Natural Science Collections Alliance and Director of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. “The report includes a number of significant recommendations for the Natural Science Collections Alliance and we are eager to begin addressing these in collaboration with our membership and partners.”
The Biodiversity Collections Network is establishing a working group to refine and implement the seven recommendations that emerged from its workshop and that are outlined in its new report, “Building a More Networked System for Communicating about Natural History Collections”. These recommendations are:
- The community must articulate a compelling and inclusive long-term vision for natural history collections.
- The community should work with an existing community-serving organization with links to administrators, policymakers, and communicators to foster greater coordination of targeted messages.
- The community must engage new stakeholders to increase the sustainability (i.e., new funding, proper institutional support, adequate workforce) of digitization efforts.
- The community must do a better job of communicating outcomes and benefits of digitization efforts to policymakers, administrators, other scientists, and the public.
- The community must develop metrics for assessing the impact of current and new communication tools and practices.
- The community must develop and embrace innovative communication methods and tool kits.
- The community must support and engage in communications training programs that help all biodiversity collections stakeholders, particularly scientists, become more effective spokespeople for natural history collections.