State agencies give ÆKOS the thumbs up

Environmental data managers, custodians and informatics experts in state agencies have expressed overwhelming support for and excitement about the innovations being developed for the Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observation System (ÆKOS).

They came together in Adelaide on 24 November for the second national workshop held by the Eco-informatics facility to finetune the continuing development of the data portal.

The ÆKOS information architecture is overcoming the problem of how to improve web access to systematic, plot-based datasets so they can be easily understood and searched consistently across observations, collection methods, measurement and location — a challenge that has proven difficult to solve for many ecological data managers.

The Director of Eco-informatics, Mr Craig Walker, said Eco-informatics released the ‘alpha’ version of ÆKOS in October to demonstrate key information concepts and to seek peer feedback. At about the same time, a video was released to help more than 70 reviewers understand how to drive the portal. Face-to-face demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions with focussed groups of data custodians and researchers have also occurred throughout the nation.

The November workshop clearly demonstrated the strong support of the data custodians for the approaches being undertaken to deliver their complex data through ÆKOS nationally.

‘We’re really excited that state agencies value the leading-edge technology underpinning ÆKOS. Despite the portal being essentially a preliminary, bare-bones release, data custodians are acknowledging the “smarts” of the ÆKOS system,’ Craig says.

‘More and more data managers representing state agencies are signing up to collaborative partnerships with Eco-informatics to enable their plot-based datasets to be included in ÆKOS, and to help us build a system that enables improved comprehension and functionality to support greater access to data.’

After an introduction and a demonstration of the alpha data portal by Dr David (Squid) Turner, participants queried Eco-informatics design and development experts about the ÆKOS ontology, traits and indexing, semantic integration and data federation. After lunch, there were lively and very constructive Q-&-A sessions on data analysis and ingestion, data licensing, and data transfer and life cycle.

Dr Anita Smyth, the Data Facilitator of Eco-informatics, said participants showed great willingness to be involved in the development of the ÆKOS data portal and provide input to TERN’s licensing framework. It was also recognised that there was value in enhancing ÆKOS links with other initiatives of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and Education Investment Fund such as the Atlas of Living Australia and the Australian National Data Service, and in further engaging with scientists who use the data.

‘Peoples’ willingness not just to be involved, but to be active participants, became a recurring theme of the day. It is really encouraging, and builds national momentum for ÆKOS,’ Anita says.

‘Everyone at the workshop is a member of the Data Custodian Reference Group, and many agreed to participate in a discussion forum to offer feedback into ÆKOS developments via the members’ login area of the ÆKOS website.’

The workshop ended with an informal networking session and dinner. Conversations were lively and those present discussed the need to hold a national forum for state and territory data custodians to discuss the importance of biological and environmental data for 21st century science, policy and decision-making.

For further information about Eco-informatics and ÆKOS, visit the facility’s website or contact staff.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter December 2011

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