Written by Clare Blencowe, Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre Manager and Chair of the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres
(With thanks to the Recorder 6 working group & Recorder 6 Consortium for getting us to this point.)
We are pleased to report that there is now a plan to ensure continued maintenance and development of Recorder 6.
This will need to be funded through the introduction of an annual licence fee from April 2019, which for 2019/20 will be set at £25 for individuals and £250 for organisations. This is in line with the average ‘willingness-to-pay’ expressed in responses to the Recorder 6 consultation. We are hoping to be ready to take payments in early 2019 (so if it suits some organisations to pay out of this year’s underspend, they can). The licence fee will need to be reviewed, when we have a clearer view on the number of users paying the licence fee and better understanding of development costs.
Paying the licence fee will give users access to dictionary updates and new releases. Users can continue to use the software without paying the licence fee – it will still work. But you will need to pay the licence fee if you want to get the updates.
Recorder 6 Steering Group
A new Recorder 6 Steering Group will be established to oversee Recorder 6 maintenance and development, and make decisions about how funding from the licence fee is spent. It is proposed that this will have up to 9 members, drawn from the Recorder 6 user community. This will include representatives of National Schemes & Societies, organisational and individual users, as well as Local Environmental Record Centre users.
Payments and contracts
We will need a management organisation, to handle payments and manage contracts. The NBN Trust has volunteered to take on this role and has offered to do this for free, at least initially, as an in-kind contribution towards meeting the needs of the NBN Network. A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the Recorder 6 Steering Group and the NBN Trust will formalise this arrangement, and ensure the NBN Trust discharges this role in a way which meets the needs of Recorder 6 users. Recorder 6 funding will be ring-fenced, and the Recorder 6 Steering Group will have full control over spending.
Responding to User needs
We want Recorder 6 maintenance and development to be responsive to the needs of users. In addition to encouraging use of the NBN Forum, we will be setting up a new ‘Trello’ site, through which users can ‘up vote’ suggested features and add comments. The Recorder 6 Steering Group will use this feedback from users to inform future decisions on maintenance and development – and how to allocate funding.
It is critical that we continue to work closely with the Recorder 6 Consortium, including the developers Mike Weideli and John van Breda – not least because they have such an in-depth knowledge of the Recorder 6 data model and code, and the skills to develop Recorder in its current form (in Delphi 7).
We also want to grow the community of developers with the knowledge and skills required to maintain and develop Recorder 6. This will mean there is increased resilience to whatever changes may come along in future. Andy Foy, a freelance developer from an LERC background, who works closely with the London & South East Record Centres, has expressed a willingness to get involved with this – working closely with Mike and John. The set-up costs for a new developer, taking into account hardware, software & basic training costs, come to around £6,000. We are looking to crowd-source contributions to cover these costs from bigger Recorder 6 users – so that we will still have the licence fee money to pay for maintenance and development. If you have any available budget which could help to cover these costs, please get in touch!
UK conservation agencies’ position on Recorder 6
Following the Recorder 6 consultation, I did write to the UK’s nature conservation agencies to ask if they would reconsider their position regarding funding for Recorder 6 – given that it is such an important tool for managing so many UK biodiversity datasets. You can read Natural England’s response and JNCC’s response. To cut a long story short: if users want to keep using Recorder 6, it looks like we are going to have to find a way to pay for it ourselves – hence introducing the licence fee.
Developing for the future
One idea which has emerged from technical discussions with the Recorder 6 Consortium, is that – in parallel with maintaining Recorder 6 as we know it – development efforts could focus on emulating the Recorder 6 data structure on a new, modern development platform, using open source software. It’s likely this would take several years to get from ‘proof-of-concept’ to an operational version, but it would mean that Recorder 6 users would have a new version they can jump to – and fully preserve the structure and integrity of their datasets – as and when changes outside of our control mean that the current Recorder 6 software is no longer maintainable (e.g. changes to Microsoft Operating Systems). The role of the Recorder 6 Steering group will obviously be critical here in guiding scoping and development work, especially to the extent that it is funded through the licence fee.
User support is another area which we are conscious the Recorder 6 Steering Group will need to look at. It is hoped that we can reinvigorate the Recorder 6 user community, through the NBN Forum and Trello, so that users can benefit from more peer-to-peer support. But we will also be keen to hear from users on whether some funding from the licence fee should be invested in improving Recorder 6 documentation.
I think that just about summarises where we’ve got to. I hope this plan will meet with support from Recorder 6 users – I would be interested to hear your comments.
You can follow this thread and other Recorder 6 announcements on the NBN Forum