ICEDIG - a design refinement project for DiSSCo. Transforming natural science collections for the digital age.

from Deb Paul at iDigBio

The short version.

It is an exciting time to watch as Europe gets ready to launch an interconnected cloud of scientific collections across the continent and beyond. If funded (we will know in June 2018), the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) plans to build a European scientific research infrastructure to support collections, researcher access to data, cross-institutions policies, and comprehensive training to members to support and sustain the network. For example, there are over 100 different collection management software packages being used across the EU. DiSSCO plans to reduce the number of unique solutions to streamline data sharing. ICEDIG “Innovation and Consolidation for large scale Digitisation of natural heritage” just kicked off in January 2018 as a design refinement project. The goals of ICEDIG are to help inform DiSSCo for planning the technical, social, communication, finance, and governance needs of such a project. iDigBio and other invitees such as e-ReColNat, Mark my Bird, Zenodo, GBIF, PREDICTS, CETAF, Naturalis, Picturae, DiSSCo, and the NHM shared their insights in a one day ICEDIG conference essentially offering ideas for the design, potential, and implementation of DiSSCo. Others inspired us with possibilities for linked data (Eero Hyvönen), imaging using light-field cameras (Mark Hereld), taking advantage of the data commons to benefit science (Arturo Ariño), and setting the scene talks from host Leif Schulman and Hannu Saarenmaa.

Read on to delve into the details of ICEDIG’s kickoff conference and DiSSCo’s vision for the future of European collections and support of research and policy goals.

Facilities and hosts for ICEDIG:  Leif Schulman, Kari Lahti, Eija-Leena Laiho (Finnish Museum of Natural History LUOMUS) and The University of Helsinki.


A coalition of 114 museums across 21 countries in Europe seeks funding to build a European natural sciences research infrastructure. The vision encompasses building a Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo). The mission for DiSSCo is “To mobilise, unify and deliver bio- and geo-diversity information at the scale, form and precision required by scientific communities; transforming a fragmented landscape into a coherent and responsive research infrastructure.”

In part, DiSSCo organizers used the NSF Program Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) to inform the underlying model and structure. And of course, it is the ADBC that funds iDigBio and the Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs). DiSSCo seeks funding under the ESFRI umbrella, that is the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures. This EU forum guides development of a European Roadmap for research infrastructure and provides funding support for those project proposals that make it onto the ESFRI roadmap. The excitement builds now as DiSSCo finds out in June 2018 if it will be part of this scientific roadmap for the EU.

Note that DiSSCo benefits from the existing Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF) network, thriving for over 20 years.

ICEDIG - Reviewing the mass digitisation landscape.

In anticipating DiSSCo, the organizers need to review and investigate current technology available to accomplish mass digitisation. As a design study, ICEDIG “Innovation and Consolidation for large scale Digitisation of natural heritage” seeks to evaluate the “technical, financial, policy, and governance aspects” needed to make DiSSCo a reality. The nine ICEDIG work packages divided across three streams (technical, consolidation, support) focus on studying the technology and requirements to accomplish mass scale digitisation of European collections to effectively inform DiSSCo what will be needed to succeed.

“The technical stream is being led by Wouter Addink of NATURALIS and of the DiSSCo Coordination Team. It consists of work packages for Imaging (lead Picturae), Data Capture (lead Meise), Citizen Science (lead U Tartu), and Data Infrastructures (lead U Cardiff). The consolidation stream is being led by Dimitris Koureas of NHM (and again of the DiSSCo Coordination Team). It consists of work packages for Science Needs (lead NATURALIS), Positioning & Legal Aspects (lead NHM), and Design Alternatives & Economies (lead U Cardiff). The supporting work packages are Dissemination & Networking (lead by Ana Casino from CETAF and the DiSSCo Coordination Team) and Management (led by the project coordinator Luomus of U Helsinki). Other partners include CINES, Kew, MNHN, and Plazi/CERN.” (from Horizon 2020 award to ICEDIG /DiSSCo).

The ICEDIG Project met in Helsinki for two days during the first week of March. ICEDIG Work Package groups met on day one to outline next steps for each of their groups. The ICEDIG Opening Conference convened on day two. Speakers presented on relevant topics including: vision for ICEDIG and DiSSCo, ADBC insights, national digitisation in France (eReColNat), the semantic web meets biology, 3D and mass digitisation, crowd-sourcing (Mark my Bird), big data archiving (Zenodo), biodiversity data vision from GBIF, the data commons, using data for predictions (PREDICTS), and a summary panel discussion. Panelists included Adriana Thomas (NHM), Ana Casino (CETAF), Dimitris Koureas (Naturalis), Deborah Paul (iDigBio), Donald Hobern (GBIF), and Jeroen Bloothoofd (Picturae).

You can watch the entire day conference proceedings in the ICEDIG video. All the talks are posted as PDFs on the ICEDIG Conference page.

For more about ICEDIG/DiSSCo, see Horizon 2020 award to ICEDIG /DiSSCo. ICEDIG received 3 million Euro from the European Commission in January 2018 and lasts 27 months (to March 2020).

Organizing ICEDIG work through March 2020.

Now, let us go back to day one. The work package (WP) groups met to plan the next 24 months of tasks. To communicate and track progress and products, ICEDIG and DiSSCo are using software to stay in touch with one another and manage this large distributed coalition of institutions and people. As an aside, imagine trying to keep track of many players, many meetings, and many subprojects. Large projects in the biodiversity data community always find it challenging to come up with ways to do this elegantly; no customer relations management software is perfect. Hopefully, as part of ICEDIG and DiSSCo, the leaders and participants will let us know the good, and not-so-lovely bits about the process of project management using teamwork software.

In WP3 (Imaging) we discussed the topic of mass digitisation trying to say exactly what is meant by this term and what kind of workflows may be needed. In WP 2 and WP3 (Science and Society Relevance) we also touched on the need for ICEDIG to inform DiSSCo about prioritizing digitisation. This group plans to coalesce what is known about prioritisation and then survey the broader community to fill gaps. They want to know what information is useful to different stakeholders so they can use this information when trying to prioritize. Some insights for this are in the GBIF Task Force report on Accelerating Discovery of Biodiversity Collections. The top eight (reported) benefits of digitization included: increased use of collections, increased exposure, better knowledge of holdings, better management of data, digital preservation, enhanced data quality, new skills for staff, and better management of physical specimens. But the WP2 group would also like to know if anyone has asked researchers, for example, to prioritize the collections digitization effort from their point-of-view.

WP3 leader, Luc Willemse, explained the desire to build a dynamic way to capture criteria of societal and scientific purpose because these are likely to change. So one part of this WP looks to design and build a dashboard of collections for researchers to use. The idea being to know more about what material and resources are out there before digitization might even take place. Note that several groups around the world are working on various bits of this goal to have a worldwide view of collections (not just those digitised).

Another related project in the proposal phase is Synthesys+ which will have some synergystic overlap with ICEDIG. For example, Synthesys+ plans to work on a loan-tracking system called ELVIS, in addition to offering virtual access to data, and digisation on demand information. Synthesys+ efforts also support informing the DiSSCo initiative.

The ICEDIG work packages:

WP1 – Management, Lead: Kari Lahti (University Helsinki)

WP2 - Scientific and societal needs for digitised data, Lead: Luc Willemse (Naturalis)

WP3 - Imaging and other physical extraction, Lead:

WP4 - Data capture, Lead: Quentin Groom (APM)

WP5 - Citizen science, Lead: Veljo Runnel (UTARTU)

WP6 - Data infrastructure, Lead: Alex Hardistry (U Cardiff)

WP7 - Policy and legal aspects, Lead: Vince Smith (NHM)

WP8 - Design alternatives and economics, Lead: Alex Hardisty (U Cardiff)

WP9 - Communication and dissemination, Lead: Ana Casino (CETAF AISBL)

WP10 - Ethics requirements, Lead: Kari Lahti (University Helsinki)

To find out more.

For ICEDIG contact Leif Schulman and Kari Lahti and for DiSSCo, contact the DiSSCo Coordination Team:

Thanks for the read!