Application of a commons-based approach to biosphere data

Looking at the communities of interest forming around Predator Free New Zealand in the Biological Heritage Science Challenge, it is clear that there are common purpose, common data, and potential large economies of scope from data reuse. Scaling up better integration would be of huge value in helping this community to mobilise for a national-level challenge.

The application of a Data Commons approach to biosphere data integration will, we think, provide a lower-cost solution that could grow with the community and diversify as trust and community-forming grow around the shared challenge. We think this community would be well-positioned to back the kind of Data Commons principles outlined in this report.

The scientists and volunteers who form the bedrock of this community are interested in public and environmental value, not commercial gain through trading data. The value of data reuse is in the ability to have a collective impact at a greater scale than any individual can have using fragmented and siloed data.

The Community of Interest in biosphere data has well-aligned, inclusive values, and various groups are already at the table. We have identified interests in reuse at the predator-free coal face (e.g. bait station management can be streamlined and made more effcient) and reuse cases for central planners and investors. The aligning values are broad-based.

However, there are also specific niche interests, such as scientific interests in “publishing first from my data” that also need to inform any reuse protocols for the community. There may also be competing commitments between parties such as commercial sensitivities in the primary sector and the ecological sensitivities of volunteers. Creating a robust and generalisable set of community protocols requires that these interests are at the table.

This principle of inclusion, together with that of control, enables the development of community-based protocols that allow scientists, for example, to integrate data while retaining the right to publish first.

The value of data reuse is in the ability to have a collective impact at a greater scale

These trust issues, whilst still important, are not as severe as those involving highly personal data. Data reuse is participant-controlled at all levels and thus deeply democratic: people can vote on the board or with their feet. If individuals can exercise control over specific data-sharing activity, such as timing it or withdrawing their data, then this control will translate into higher trust and value, due to people being able to participate with minimal risk.

Although there is probably a limited number (perhaps 20–50) of specific reuse cases for this Data Commons community, there is still value in developing a protocol-based approach rather than a series of discrete point solutions. It is likely to be lower-cost and far more scalable, and new applications will have a very fast time to market.

The biosphere commons is a market that licenses data reuse on a basis of trust, not ownership or on-selling of data; the trade here is the trust. If I put my data on the commons because I trust the commons, I can develop reuses that integrate other data sources to help me with my specific needs. Data reuse should be governed as a common-pool resource for the common good; clearly there is a common good for New Zealand and this Community of Interest in particular in allowing free and unfettered access to the data that forms and mobilises this community.

We think that biosphere data is ripe to be developed as a shared, common-pool asset where the protocols around reuse are collectively developed across the various interest groups within this community to reflect their common interests and their specific interests. If this is achieved, then each participant in the Biosphere Data Commons will be better off individually – they will be able to do better science, better community management, better mobilisation of community interest, and better investment in ecological outcomes. New Zealand will be better off collectively by developing a thriving data sharing ecosystem that informs all aspects of the way we manage our biosphere.

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