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PACIFIC, CARIBBEAN, EASTERN & SOUTHERN AFRICA, WESTERN & CENTRAL AFRICA

Stephen Peedell leads the Joint Research Center team on the coordination of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme (BIOPAMA). In this interview, he shares insights about the tools developed by the Joint Research Centre in the frame of the BIOPAMA programme, and his messages to the protected area actors in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Steve Peedell portrait

Steve Peedell studied geography at the University of Leicester in the UK and has a Master's degree in natural resources management. He is specialized in geographic information systems and through his whole career, he has been applying geospatial technology as a way of helping to understand all the complex data that are related to policy.

He has worked on protected areas in Europe, in Africa and beyond, and in other sectors such as water and agriculture, always using geospatial technology, remote sensing and Earth observations as background. Nowadays, he leads the Joint Research Center team on the coordination of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme (BIOPAMA).             

What is the European Commission´s Joint Research Centre (JRC)?

JRC is a science hub. The Joint Research Center is the in-house science service of the European Commission. Our job is to provide the evidence that supports policy covering a very broad set of sectors. We provide the data, tools and services to promote the use of evidence to policy design, monitoring and implementation.

An example of our work, talking specifically about our role in Africa, is this report called Science for the AU EU partnership -Building knowledge for sustainable development, produced at the end of 2017, where we present the key findings of our work, and set out options the decision-making, research and education communities may consider.

What difference is BIOPAMA trying to make in the sector of biodiversity and protected area management?

BIOPAMA tagline is “From knowledge to action for a protected planet”. Whilst in many cases there is a lot of data and information related to issues of biodiversity, we still have an unfortunate trend in many cases of declining biodiversity and increasing threats and pressures to protected areas. There is an issue of going from just documenting what is going on to achieving better outcomes. BIOPAMA challenge is to take that evidence and get it into the hands of the right decision makers so that appropriate data lead to improved decisions both for nature and for people.

data and decisions

Indeed BIOPAMA is very much about integrating the data we already have, then packaging, analyzing and presenting that in a way that makes sense not only for practitioners on the ground but also for decision-makers at the policy level.

BIOPAMA aims to support evidence-based decision-making processes from individual protected areas to the global level. How can we make this happen?

Instead of looking first at the data, we are focused on objectives. What are you trying to achieve? If you look at any regional biodiversity strategy or national biodiversity action plan or an individual site management plan for a given protected area, what you have is a lot of objectives we want to achieve in a certain period. For each of those objectives, we can set indicators and targets that can be measured.

So one major area of action is just increasing the level of communication around data. The people we work with on the ground in national authorities or working at an individual protected area level, they do not have the time to work with detailed raw data or masses of scientific data. We have to translate data into knowledge products that can support decision making, bring out the key interrelationships, trends and priorities that people should deal with, and give some indications of how they can be dealt with by practical analysis of the data we have.

In many cases, of course, we have to fill data gaps. There are all the data that are needed to understand a given problem, particularly the link between biodiversity and people. Therefore, we might have in some areas, for example, great species distribution data, but we do not have any information about human-wildlife conflict or about socioeconomic aspects of protected areas.

From K to A
What is the JRC contribution in this process?

BIOPAMA is jointly implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and The Joint Research Center. Whilst we overlap in many areas and we work very closely with IUCN in the implementation, our particular focus is on the data component and information systems that support the use of evidence in decision-making processes.

In BIOPAMA, our role is to produce the Reference Information System that can be used as a basis to hopefully show how important biodiversity is, not just from a conservation point of view, but also from a development perspective. We are interested in linking people and nature and doing the analysis of data to show that the link is not only very real but perhaps sometimes not completely understood and not brought together fully in the policy context.

In December 2018, we launched the second version of what we called BIOPAMA reference information system, our kind of flagship vehicle for providing information on protected areas and biodiversity for ACP countries.

The BIOPAMA Reference Information System (RIS) is based on objectives and targets in order to measure trends, progress, results of objectives defined by the users, such as protected area managers or national environment authorities, and this information should be used to orient decisions.

Is the BIOPAMA reference information system a new database where we will find all information concerning protected areas and biodiversity?

No. We are not building another database nor compiling every possible data set on biodiversity in one place. Just putting data together is not really the answer. Data exist somewhere, we should link to it. We are trying to put things together without duplicating them. We do not intend to be the knowledge holders; we want to join the dots, hook people up and make the data flow better and in smarter ways so that we can better understand the very complex interrelationships that exist around protected areas.

So, what is exactly the Reference Information System?

The Reference Information System is an open source technology with controlled access to data and an interoperable system. These are very grandiose words for just meaning that the technology behind the system developed at the African, Caribbean and Pacific region level can also be reused at the µregional level without any software licensing costs and that a lot of data can simply be exchanged facilitating the information flow from system to system.

Le RIS
Can anyone access, use or share the data uploaded on the RIS?

We recognize that within the biodiversity domain there is a lot of data that are sensitive in some way. It might be due to the possibility of identifying specific organizations or activities or it might be due to the potentiality of dealing with sensitive subjects such as poaching. Within the RIS we have ways to share that information among selected people with the right authorization and credentials to access that information.

Who is going to provide information and compile data?  And who is going to upload information onto the Reference Information System?

JRC responsibility is to develop the Reference Information System as a very robust framework and maintain information across the whole spectrum of the 79 ACP countries. It is not the JRC role to compile all of that information neither to monitor the performance of protected areas in the ACP.

The long-term responsibility for populating and using the RIS comes as the partnership with the environment actors engaged in the observatories or resource hubs that we have operating regionally through BIOPAMA. They need to play a very significant role in keeping this going and making sure that RIS is supporting decision-making processes. Indeed, we expect that over time, all actors involved in protected areas and biodiversity can add those objectives, populate the database and use this information to make decisions.

Besides the development of the Reference Information System at ACP, what are the key activities to be implemented by the Joint Research Centre at BIOPAMA?

In this second phase, that runs from 2017 to 2023, JRC is also responsible for the ongoing development of a system called Digital Observatory of Protected Areas (DOPA) at the global scale, which deals with the global situation of over 200,000 protected areas worldwide.

Besides the development of computer tools and information systems in support of regional observatories and countries, we build capacity for the use of the developed tools and their exploitation for improved planning and management. Based on the demand, we can also provide support for monitoring, analysis, visualization and reporting work.

What would be the difference between DOPA and RIS?

The Digital Observatory of Protected Areas (DOPA) is global, it has all protected areas above 25 square kilometres, which represent I think over 95% of the surface area that they cover, missing out some of the very small protected areas. We have some information there and we provide about 400 different metrics and indicators using globally harmonized data.

DOPA screenshot

BIOPAMA Reference Information System (RIS) covers around 9,000 protected areas over 79 countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions. The information is based on objectives and targets, but we will be able to see much richer and more detailed information because the data is originated at the local level, from a specific protected area.

With time, we will get that data from RIS and progressively feed that to improve the global databases. For instance, using DOPA we are able to visualize the global level on species based on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, we may have a much more detailed data visualization on species distribution population for a given protected area or ecosystem in the RIS, and it should be allowing people to analyze threats on a case-by-case basis.

The other key difference is that BIOPAMA RIS focuses also on the management aspects of protected area and biodiversity conservation while DOPA is very much a map based on a geographical system where we generate indicators on spatial data. At RIS we do that too, but it also brings in this management effectiveness, social assessments and other data sets that help our understanding of the complexity of protected area management.

Finally, in BIOPAMA we are trying to stimulate the collection, compilation and sharing of data. And the more that happens, the more we will improve the links between all these different data sets from the ground up. We firmly believe that to have a good global data set we should start at the local level where people really know what is going on and try to feed it up the chain.

After launched the RIS 2.0, what are the next steps?

We are still improving the features of this RIS ACP wide system and at the same time we are taking this new target-based approach and progressively bringing in those functions into three existent regional systems: the Caribbean gateway, the Pacific Islands Protected Areas Portal and the Central Africa Forest Observatory, which are now being extended to cover protected areas, through BIOPAMA.

OFAC screenshot

We will be deploying technical specialists covered from the JRC budget of BIOPAMA to work in each of the regions to develop exactly those tools. So that if you have a target that is at the regional level, in the future you should be able to define that target and the data that are needed to measure your progress towards it within the regional version of these systems.

Definitively, a lot of our effort this year will be focused on building those regional reference information systems, encouraging the use of these systems with a target based approach, helping populate the regional information system to analyze the regional priorities.

Could you give an example of how RIS could be useful to support evidence-based decision-making processes?

An example of the potential use of the regional systems is the ongoing activities in the creation of the State of Protected Area Reports. We need those regional systems to deliver evidence to generate those analyses.

Another case is the new action component of BIOPAMA. The request of funding needs to be clever, closely linked to data and information, and once an action is done on the ground, we expect a feedback loop where we get activities that generate data and bring them back into the RIS system so it grows over time.

Let’s say I am a protected area manager, from where should I start to use RIS?

If you are in a region where we already have established a regional version of the reference information system, then you should start contacting the regional observatory or hub.  You can also participate in the ongoing data webinars where our team shows people in more detail how to use RIS. The idea is very simple: you say what you want to achieve, you identify what you need to measure progress towards that, you ask those data in or, if they are not there, we look through BIOPAMA to find a way to create those data. Then you set that up and you can see over time how you are going from your baseline towards that objective, whatever it is in terms of ecological, social, economic management outcomes.

Would you like to share a message with all BIOPAMA partners?

We want to hear as much as possible from the regions, from the people that are doing all the fantastic work on protected areas that they do. In addition, I would like to take this opportunity to really express my respect for anybody working on protecting areas: you have incredibly challenging jobs. You are very dedicated and we want to help you in those endeavours.

We want to make your lives easier and you able to focus on things that matter. Moreover, we understand that you may not have that much interest in technology and information systems. You have other very important priorities. So we are there to help and we can only help if you tell us exactly what it is you really need. And so if you can help by telling us how we can support you, then we are very open to listening to you, to work with you and to try and tailor our work to what it is that you are looking for.

Our contact email is Stephen.PEEDELL@ec.europa.eu. You can also check the details of the JRC team of experts working on the BIOPAMA programme here.

And don’t forget as well, there's also a wonderful platform called Yammer, which is a professional group that's growing all the time, with  over 600 peopleacross the world signed up to our community. It is a great platform for sharing ideas, questions, data documentsandto get in touch.

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Definition of terms:

Open source technology:  the source code of a specific technology is available under an open license.  Not only technology can be used for free, but users with the necessary technical skills can inspect the source code, modify it and run their own versions of the code, helping to fix bugs, develop new features etc.

Interoperable system: computer systems or software able to exchange and make use of information.

Source: Open data handbook

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