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Director’s Update – March 2022

Welcome to our March 2022 newsletter. Looking back, I notice that I wrote in the November Director’s Update that the La Niña event, which had just been announced, may bring floods over summer. And now we have large sections of eastern Australia affected by flooding. Our thoughts are with all those who are experiencing this latest challenge to their livelihoods and property.

In 2021, a major activity for the year related to TERN’s inputs to the Expert Working Group preparing the draft 2021 National Research Infrastructure (NRI) Roadmap.  The draft Roadmap was released in late November and in December 2021, TERN submitted its comments. The draft Roadmap covered climate and the environment quite well and in particular, we commended the commitment to continuity and long-term funding for NRI. We noted that in the case of TERN, the value and strength of continental scale ecosystem monitoring are derived from measures occurring repeatedly and in the same way for years and sometimes for decades, with some of the nation’s most prized environmental data being ‘old’. Given that ecosystems are highly complex with change and tipping points often difficult to detect and predict except with long-term data, the strength of TERN’s data comes from their time depth. TERN is now looking forward to building on past NRI investments to develop longer term datasets and to continue monitoring so that its long-term datasets can become the basis for the innovative and novel perspectives that can be applied to the challenges of climate change by world leading climate and environmental scientists. 

We often receive compliments at TERN for the quality of our communication and engagement products and I want to take this opportunity to thank two of the team who are leaving TERN. First, Kathy Mason, who does all the wonderful graphic design you see on the web and in our other products, is taking her career to the next level by joining an innovative design company in the private sector. Kathy has been associated with TERN since 2010, initially as a freelancer. One of her first projects was to develop the TERN logo and branding materials and these are a lasting reminder of Kathy’s contributions. Second is Mark Grant, TERN’s tireless Science Communication and Engagement Manager.  Mark has also been with TERN for many years and in his case, he is just stepping out of his role for a year to undertake an environmental-related communication and consultation role in the state government sector. Mark will return next March, no doubt with some fantastic ideas on how to improve TERN’s stakeholder engagement.  We thank Kathy for her contributions and wish Mark all the best for the coming year.

If you are interested in a cost-benefit analysis of national research infrastructure, you will be interested in a report prepared by Lateral Economics and released in late February. The report was commissioned by a group of NCRIS capabilities (ALA, ARDC, AuScope, BPA, Pawsey, Plant Phenomics, TIA and PHRN) as an initiative to demonstrate to the public the impact of NCRIS-funded research infrastructure for Australian society and the environment.

The report found that the direct benefit of investment in NCRIS is calculated to be above a $7 return for every $1 invested by government, which is a return on investment (ROI) of 7.5:1. The report notes that by 2022-23 the investment could support the employment of an additional 1,750 scientific and technical staff, support staff, and supply chain and industry staff. Among the impact stories, TERN’s sensors across Australia are mentioned as contributing to bushfire preparedness and the report also highlights TERN’s positive role in continental monitoring of biodiversity.

The report’s authors say, “Based on economic theory and evidence from the time of the GFC to present, we can think of few approaches to providing additional stimulus to the Australian economy that are more cost-effective than increasing investment in NCRIS.”  

A conclusion of the report is that while the impact of NCRIS is clear, the program itself is not often centre stage.

The message to TERN from Lateral Economics’ finding is that if we want to support the continuation of the NCRIS grant funds that enable Australia’s continental-scale environmental monitoring, we need to ensure the outcomes arising from researchers and decision-makers applying TERN data and protocols are broadly communicated. And this newsletter is a great starting point, so please keep reading to learn about some TERN-enabled contributions to Australian society and the environment.

Happy reading!

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