An Information Systems Strategy for the Environmental Conservation Community
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As the cause of environmental conservation emerges as a global priority, the need for a practical information systems strategy shared among conservation organizations becomes imperative. Historically, researchers and practitioners in conservation have met their own information management and analysis needs with inevitable variation in methodology, semantics, data formats and quality. Consequently, conservation organizations have been unable to systematically assess conditions and set informed priorities at various scales, measure performance of their projects and improve practices through adaptive management. Moreover, the demands on conservation are changing such that the bottom-up approach to information systems will become an increasing constraint to effective environmental problem solving. Where we have historically focused on the protection of “important” places and species and more recently “biodiversity,” conservation is moving to a systems view, specifically ecosystem-based management, where relationships and process are as important as the individual elements. In parallel, awareness of the human dependency on functioning natural systems is on the rise and with it the need to explicitly value ecosystem services and inform tradeoffs. Climate change requires conservation to develop dynamic adaptation scenarios at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Finally, the business of conservation is under increased pressure to account for its spending and objectively measure outcomes of its strategies. All of these changes translate to growing, not shrinking, demands on information and information systems. In response to these challenges, this research presents an information systems strategy for the environmental conservation community. It proposes the development of a distributed systems infrastructure with end-user tools and shared services that support standardized datasets. Key strategies include removing the barriers to information sharing, providing valuable tools to data producers and directly supporting heterogeneity in conservation datasets. The strategy concludes with a call for high-level management involvement in information systems strategy and collaborative investment in implementation by the conservation community, partners in government and donors. Without these steps, conservation as an industry may find itself ill-equipped to meet the changing needs of people and nature.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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