Building biodiversity data infrastructure for science and decision-making: information needs and information-seeking patterns in South Africa

Master Thesis


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Biodiversity information is critical to inform science-based policy development as well as to support responsible and accountable land-use planning and decision-making practices. The uptake of available information for these uses is, however, not yet quantified or understood. Here, the extent to which the needs of biodiversity information end-users in South Africa are supported via existing information sources was investigated, at the science, practice and policy interface, using the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI's) online conservation mapping service users as a case study. A quantitative investigation of the information needs of end-users of biodiversity information was made, their information-seeking patterns analysed and the various uses of information by different user groups in South Africa investigated. This allowed for the implications of these needs and behaviour on system design and information provision to be formulated to better design the envisaged National Biodiversity Information System at SANBI. Based on a representative sample of end-users from policy, implementation and research backgrounds, a questionnaire was used and the responses were examined to determine which content was most useful, what barriers and enablers they face when trying to access biodiversity information, and what degree of interdisciplinary information is needed in addressing environmental problems. A sample of 778 (13%) respondents from a total of 5977 biodiversity information users was analysed from across the country. The study found that the lack of appropriate or available information remains one of the three highest unmet needs of biodiversity information end-users. The absence of good prior knowledge of sources of biodiversity information and unreliable and inaccurate information are two additional factors that hinder respondents in finding biodiversity information and achieving their goals. The major implication of information deficiency identified by respondents related to uncertain and/or inaccurate outcomes resulting in ill-informed decision-making. A key outcome of the analysis of the survey results are a series of recommendations on how these issues might be addressed, and it is envisioned that these may be used to help guide the development of a National Biodiversity Information System. A broad range of recommendations have been proposed, principally that the interoperability of information from various adjacent and disparate fields of study be combined with biodiversity information as a means of addressing environmental problems.