The National Biodiversity Network
National Societies and Recording Schemes
Supporting voluntary data-supplying organisations
The principal organisations on which the NBN Trust has initially focused are national voluntary societies and recording schemes. This is partly because they are some of the main contributors of broad-scale species data to the NBN, but also because they tend to have limited resources. Many local natural history societies could benefit from similar help. There are a number of capacity needs in common among voluntary bodies if they are to take up opportunities arising from the NBN, although these vary, depending on the size of the body concerned, the sort of subject matter they are dealing with, and their historic origins:
- Retaining adequate numbers of competent people to maintain the recording effort on the ground. (Issues include: training, recruiting, motivating).
- Maintaining a stable financial basis for ongoing work. (Issues include: lack of financial know-how; low levels of expectation).
- Having clearly formulated policies on recording and making information available. (Issues can include: lack of awareness of need; wish to avoid bureaucracy).
- Having the capacity to adapt to change and to embrace new opportunities. (Issues can include: long-established systems; organisational impediments; formal status or fixed objectives).
- Having the necessary technical capabilities among key personnel (including both know-how and time).
- Having access to practical resources in terms of equipment and accommodation.
- Limitations from scale of operation (in particular, the difficulty of moving from small operations to larger ones as recording activity increases).
In order to focus on these and other related issues, the NBN Trust ran a Societies & Schemes Working Group for several years, which specifically had development of links with and support of voluntary organisations as its remit. This work is now integrated with support for other data suppliers.
Any capacity-building exercise with societies and recording schemes has to be flexible. The NBN Trust has approached this in three ways:
- Enabling key people from different societies and recording schemes to learn, through joint seminars, conferences etc. and through networking with others.
- Encouragement of specific organisations (or groups of organisations) to go through a development planning process to enable them to take up the challenge.
- Work with NBN partner organisations to focus thinking and resources on the voluntary sector.
Development planning is therefore done in conjunction with other bodies which have an interest in supporting biodiversity data, notably government conservation agencies, but also charitable bodies with an interest in supporting biodiversity activities, and with Government itself, which has a strategic interest in biodiversity information. This necessitates prioritisation, based on the needs for information by those potentially supplying funds and the capability of the recording organisations concerned to undertake development. However, the NBN Trust maintains an independent line, and aims to ensure that the focus of capacity building is primarily focused on the interests of the voluntary bodies concerned.
Development of a society or recording scheme might require anything from a full-scale examination of the whole of the organisation to a major project which can be used to underpin other changes. On balance, to get a society or recording scheme into a position to move forward usually requires two things:
- One or more key people in the organisation that have a vision for the future.
- A clearly-formulated plan aimed at the potential sources of funding.
In order to help with the second of these, the NBN Trust has developed some general guidance and a model showing how to bring together a project plan. (see: An Outline Development Plan for National Biological Societies and Recording Schemes).
The outline development plan follows standard project planning methods (review, assessment, definition of objectives, implementation, funding and timescale), and is tailored to make the process understandable by non-specialists. It also aims to ensure that the final plan is fully-supported by all the individuals and organisations that might have a legitimate interest in the plan’s outputs. Feedback and consultation are emphasised as important elements in the production of a plan.
In practice, the Outline Development Plan is best used in conjunction with assistance from the NBN Trust or its partners, in order to co-ordinate consultation arrangements and liaison with potential funding sources. The NBN Trust can also advise on the national policy framework within which any plan might need to fit in order to enhance its chances of success.