Workshop report

 

Introduction

On Tuesday 24 September 2013, 25 ecosystem scientists from around Australia - representing a range of disciplines, organisations, and perspectives - gathered in Brisbane for the initial ‘starter’ workshop for the Australian Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan.

Initiated by the Steering Committee the workshop was intended to:

  1. Build a shared understanding of the open consultative process for developing this Plan; and
  2. Generate the first contributions of content for the Plan to feed into this consultative process.

In the context of the discussions, “long-term” was considered >10 years.

This workshop is the first of many activities that will be used as part of the open consultation process to engage the Australian ecosystem science community for input into the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan.

 

Below you will find a summary from the workshop including:

Context and scene-setting

Impediments and opportunities for the future of ecosystem science

Where to from here?

 

 

Context and scene-setting

A/Prof Glenda Wardle and Prof Stuart Phinn laid the groundwork for the day, providing background and context for the attendees.

View Glenda’s presentation for an overview of the scope and purpose of the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan, along with an overview of the intended process for developing the Plan:

 

View Stuart’s presentation for a review of learnings from other long-term science planning processes, and an outline of the proposed Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan structure. This structure will be continually reviewed and adjusted throughout the development of the Plan:


 

Group discussion in this session highlighted three key points:

1. Consensus that there is a need for this Plan – a long-term Plan can put Australian ecosystem science in the best position possible for advancing and delivering the evidence base for effective ecosystem science and management, and the multiple natural, social and economic activities that depend on this. Ultimately, this will increase the capability of ecosystem science to deliver useful outcomes and benefits for Australian society.

2. For this Plan to be most effective and useful, it must be developed in an inclusive manner involving relevant groups from across the ecosystem science community and critically involving relevant ‘end-users’ of ecosystem science such as environmental managers, policy-makers and other groups dependent on environmental resources.

3. Support for the current process proposed by the Steering Committee to develop and deliver this Plan.

 

Some of the workshop participants also took the opportunity to go on camera to capture their perspectives on the future of Australian ecosystem science. Click here to view some of their thoughts.

 

Impediments and opportunities for the future of ecosystem science

Prior to the workshop, all attendees were invited to complete a survey with the following questions:

•  Which discipline areas do you think are relevant to the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan? (List as many as you like.)
•  What do you see as the advantages of developing a long-term plan for ecosystem science, in comparison to maintaining the status quo (no coordinated plan)?
•  What do you see as the biggest impediment(s) to delivering ecosystem science and outcomes in Australia?
•  What do you see as the greatest opportunities for advancing the delivery of ecosystem science and outcomes in Australia over the next 20 years?

 

The following presentation shows the summary of survey responses as discussed at the workshop:

 

After brainstorming additional impediments and issues, the group prioritised five broad issues to discuss in detail and develop through the planning processes:

•  Lack of coordination, cooperation and collaboration across silo-ed disciplines, organisations and jurisdictions that collect and use ecosystem data;
•  Lack of awareness and engagement in the wider community and political leaders about what ecosystem science is, what we do, and why it’s critical for the nation’s future;
•  Lack of available and accessible long-term data, and the programs needed to collect and deliver these;
•  Lack of strong questions underpinning ecosystem science activities, which undermines strong outcomes and potential for links to policy/management; and
•  Training in ecosystem sciences and its applications– not being matched with future needs across government, industry, research and education.

 

Smaller focus groups then discussed each of these issues to further define them, and identify possible solutions in response to each. A summary of the top points from each group is provided below.

 

Issue Key points identified by focus groups

Lack of coordination, cooperation and collaboration across silo-ed disciplines, organisations and jurisdictions that collect and use ecosystem data

Possible responses to issue include:
•  Need for a coordinating body for ecosystem science that strategically consolidates existing entities that exist in some form
•  Develop capacity to solve ecosystem problems with cross-disciplinary team (CRCs and R&D corporations are possible successful models for this)

Lack of awareness and engagement in the wider community and political leaders about what ecosystem science is, what we do, and why it’s critical for the nation’s future

Possible responses to issue include:
• Need to support research in the long-term
• Define critical gaps in knowledge for strategic long term prioritisation with science groups and with management groups
• By adjusting the way we ‘package’ the message of ecosystem science in this Plan, we can help to address the lack of awareness and understanding

Lack of available and accessible long-term data, and the programs needed to collect and deliver these

The group identified two parts to this issue:
1. Problems of gathering existing data and making it accessible
Response: Everything is out there, but the issue is solving technology and process problems. Quite a bit is happening in this space already, so just need to reaffirm the support for this to continue.
2. Going forward there is no existing mechanism in the Australian system for long-term commitment to collect comparable data over long time runs (50-200 years). Three key aspects to this:
- How to convince?
- How to choose what to measure?
- How much of it would you do or pay for? E.g. X% of funding towards long-term monitoring?

Lack of strong questions underpinning ecosystem science activities, which undermines strong outcomes and potential for links to policy/management

Clear responses and solutions were not identified.

Training in ecosystem sciences and its applications– not being matched with future needs across government, industry, research and education

Clear responses and solutions were not identified.

 

The content generated through these focus group discussions is the first contribution of content to the draft long-term Plan, which can now be built upon and expanded throughout the Australia-wide consultation process in coming months.

 

Where to from here?

The input provided by the focus groups has been captured and will be fed into the first drafting of a Plan, which will be continually revised and updated in response to further input from the ecosystem science community in coming months, from November 2013 –  March 2014.

The process that will now unfold to develop the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan is centred on principles of openness, inclusivity, and transparency and will include:

  1. An open, online survey to seek input from the wide ecosystem science community to the Plan;
  2. Open Town-Hall meetings around the country to provide further opportunity for the ecosystem science community to discuss and have input to the Plan;
  3. An ongoing cycle of revision and updating of a draft Plan document in response to the input from the broader ecosystem science community; and
  4. Direct engagement with the end-users of ecosystem science to ensure the relevance and utility of the Plan and its content.

The workshop attendees endorsed this process, and provided advice and input to the Steering Committee about specific elements of the process including:

•  The design of the online survey
•  Town-Hall organisation
•  Formation of working groups to progress specific tasks for the Plan
•  Key stakeholders and end-users to engage

This input has already been considered by the Steering Committee and included in the formation of a refined governance structure for the Plan and refined process with detailed action plan to ensure the delivery of the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan.

 

Across October-November 2013 you can expect to hear more from the Steering Committee about the roll out of this action plan, with details of how you can be involved in building the Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan.

 

The website remains the best port-of-call for the latest information and resources about the plan, so check back regularly.