I am a technologist with a focus on biodiversity informatics. I believe in empowering people through (open) data, information and knowledge. I work at Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre (SxBRC) building figurative bridges across metaphorical chasms.
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I am a technologist with an interest in biodiversity informatics, open knowledge, open data, and the web. I am influenced by art, design, nature, science, philosophy and culture, but am expert in none. I live and work in Sussex, England.
Without information we cannot take responsibility. With information we cannot avoid responsibility.
I believe in empowering people through data, information and knowledge. Provided with the ability to create, publish, find, understand, interpret and remix data, we gain vibrant insight, inspiration and decision making power.
Knowledge should be for everyone. I want to ensure those in power have data so they may not avoid their responsibilities. I aim to make it as easy as possible for ordinary people to create, manage and publish their own data, and remix and analyse the data of others. I strive to understand and satisfy the needs of people and the environment; to educate, to aid and to inspire.
Since 2003 I have worked at the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre bringing together biodiversity data for Sussex, England so that it may be put to use in informing decisions about -- and ultimately conserving -- our natural environment.
Data about life on Earth – i.e., biodiversity – and the human desire to study, record and reflect on it has a long and rich heritage. The earliest evidence we have of prehistoric man comes in the form of cave paintings depicting animals. It is thought these weren't merely decoration but a means of communicating something; the paintings are data. The Victorian naturalists democratised science, making study of the natural world very much an open pursuit practised – often to an exceptionally high standard – by amateurs and hobbyist, and so it remains today. Anyone with the will to learn and access to patch of land as tiny as a windowbox can study, record and make a meaningful contribution to science and our collective knowledge of the world.
Local Environmental Record Centres play a critical role in working with people to motivate, facilitate and leverage the study of natural history. Centres across the UK gather and organise the resulting species and habitat data – biological records as they're known – and mobilise the information locally to directly impact planning and other decisions regarding our environment. Record Centres also where possible feed data up and out into our national biodiversity schemes and societies, our national database (the NBN Gateway) and global biodiversity data facilities (GBIF), forming the essential human and technological link between grass-roots naturalists and those further up the pyramid.
Technology is rapidly changing the way we go about the art and science of natural history. My work is to understand the technology, to predict as best I can where it is heading, to direct, shape, strategise, and exploit it for the greater good. Much of this involves managing change – the transition from notebooks (of the paper kind, usually accompanied by a pencil) to computers; from unstructured data held on computers to structured databases; from disconnected databases to networked distributed systems; from closed, proprietary systems and data to open and liberally licensed, all while remaining sustainable. These are the challenges. As a technologist, embracing new technology is not the difficulty – I relish it. No, it's leading others safely into this bold new future that's the challenge. That's the hard part.
Everett Rogers' diffusion of innovations shows how new ideas and technology spread through cultures, from the innovators and early adopters, through the pragmatic majority, and finally to the reluctant "laggards". Geoffrey Moore's book, Crossing the Chasm, builds on this idea and argues there is a chasm to cross between the enthusiast, visionary early adopters and the more pragmatic majority. With a tradition stemming back to Neanderthal man (the cave paintings) and popularised in Victorian times, we have an historical culture that can be both a blessing and a curse, delivering rich insight and guidance but also deeply held assumptions and baggage. With a participation demographic covering professional scientists, expert amateurs, casual weekenders, school children and everything in between, and with ages ranging from children to centenarians, setting the balance of audience appropriateness is hard. The diffusion of innovations bell curve sits in relation to one idea or technology; in natural history and biodiversity study, there are multiple curves, and multiple chasms to cross, depending on the characteristics of the participants.
My job is to scout ahead, understand what's coming, then build bridges across chasms. The right bridges.
I took a StrengthsFinder 2.0 test. The results are interesting, personal and a little uncanny (I think, at least). They give a good flavour of what I'm about, which is what this page is for, so I present here my 5 strengths, in order:
- Intellection. Characterized by intellectual activity. Introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
- Strategic. Creates alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
- Input. A craving to know more. Often likes to collect and archive all kinds of information.
- Ideation. Fascinated by ideas. Able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
- Adaptability. Prefers to “go with the flow”. Especially adept at accommodating to changes in direction/plan.