On the move: International LTER Coordinating Committee meeting in Namibia develops strategic plans

Network News Fall 2006, Vol. 19 No. 2

August 2006, Gobabeb Research and Training Center, Namibia: The Coordinating Committee (CC) of the International LTER Network met here against the dramatic backdrop of the confluence of three major ecosystems in southern Africa. Among the major ideas spawned by and among the diverse participants was the novel suggestion to establish an ILTER “stock exchange,” in which the market is driven by researchers’ needs and the currency is researcher expertise. “This refers to the need to increase the flow of information and experience among the networks that make up the ILTER,” says Steve

Hamburg, the newly appointed vice-Chair of ILTER. “If everyone barters what they know (e.g. how to run a site, a network, or a specific ecosystem etc.), then the network can maximize the information that is learned and the efficiency of the system and the return on investment.”

The meeting was organized by Joh Henschel, Namibia’s ILTER representative,  with the help of his team at Gobabeb. The meeting’s theme, “On the Move: Monitoring Our Variable Environments” set the wheels in motion for the participants. Over five days, ecologists representing six continents and 25 countries hammered out a strategic plan, and ratified clear, quantifiable, and actionable goals and objectives for the next 12 months. Meeting participants developed consensus that adequate cash (not just in-kind contributions) was needed for the survival of the ILTER Network. In particular, members acknowledged the need to raise operational money for the secretariat urgently.

The meeting created three committees—Science and Programs, Fundraising, and Information Management—to oversee various aspects of the Network’s operations, elected a Chair (Terry Parr of the United Kingdom’s Environmental Change Network), a Vice-Chair (Steve Hamburg, U.S. LTER, appointed by the ILTER Executive Committee), and appointed a treasurer (Jorge Jiminez, Costa Rica LTER Network, elected by the CC). The committees are up and running and showing great progress. The Science and Programs committee (SPC), which is chaired by Patrick Bourgeron of the U.S. LTER, has identified three short-term initiatives to create a strong ILTER science brand, and will draft a science agenda within a few months.

A full day of science presentations provided a platform for participants to discuss successful programs and plan collaborations. Meeting delegates responded enthusiastically to the formation of the Information Management committee. The committee has two representatives from each ILTER region, with Kristin Vanderbilt (U.S. LTER), Avinash Chuntharpursat (South Africa), and Cristiana Cocciufa (Italy) accepting the challenge to become the inaugural chair, vice-chair, and secretary respectfully.

“We quickly realized that one of our major challenges is to assess the different metadata management systems used throughout the ILTER and develop a strategy for converging on a common approach,” says Vanderbilt, the information manager for the Sevilleta LTER in New Mexico, USA. Toward this goal, the committee organized a working group that met at the LTER All Scientists Meeting in September 2006 to address the issue. “The meeting in Namibia was really a catalyst,” Kristen says, “making everyone present realize that the ILTER has matured and needs coordinated information management in order to address new network-wide research projects. It was gratifying to see so much support for information management within the ILTER!”

A draft report of the discussions at the Gobabeb meeting, including the strategic plan that was ratified with only minor modifications, includes a full endorsement of the operation plan for the next five years, the implementation criteria, and a timeline for the next 12 months with respect to the establishment of the secretariat, development of substantive network-level science and products, and fund raising for both the secretariat and the science projects. Governance and legalities, as well as membership criteria, rights, and responsibilities rounded out the products of this fruitful meeting.

Agendas, abstracts, and more are available on the meeting website, http://www.ilternet.edu/about/ilter-annual-meetings/.